Monday, 30 January 2017

Purslane: Nourishing Produce or Annoying Pest?


Purslane, one of the most common garden ‘weeds’ in the world and is most often considered an unwelcome guest. It was originally a native to India and Persia, but has for a very long time, been found extensively around the world - from Africa to Australia, Asia, America, Europe and the Middle East.

It pops up in gardens, pokes out of the corners of stairs and pavements. I recently found a few morsels tucked up in a corner next to our little rural tennis clubhouse. I'm not sure I'd eat these ones - quite a few dogs mark their territory around here, but when I find it it my garden, I am so delighted to have it's presence.

Purslane thrives in dreadful soil, and grows where most other things will not -  which is why I appreciate it so much.

Many dig out purslane and curse it, but actually, since antiquity it has been regarded as a valuable edible and medicinal herb, and it is a great companion in the garden. 

It’s one of those so-called ‘weeds’ I have been encouraging in my garden. I am known to dig up useful 'weeds' from forgotten corners of my neighbourhood and transplant them into my garden - dandelion, chickweed, radium weed and others. Usually though, they just come themselves without any effort whatsoever, which is a really great reason to love them - simple practical functional abundance!

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is an annual succulent, known also as  pursley, pigweed, or verdolaga, amongst a plethora of other common names. Here are some of the many reasons that I think purslane deserves a place in my garden:

Purslane is Edible 

Purslane is very edible. The leaves, stems, flower buds and seeds of purslane are all edible. 

As a leaf vegetable, purslane can be eaten raw or cooked - in salad, juice, stir fry, quiche, soup, curry, stew, sauces.... Many cultures around the world have special recipes for using purslane. Young leaves are a little crunchy with a lemony taste, and a bit like watercress or spinach - perhaps a little salty tasting too. The young leaves taste really good in salads and sandwiches, the yellow flower buds as well.  I like to add it to dips and blend it in with basil and other super greens to make a wonderful pesto. There is s much enormous potential for this delicious and nutritious ‘weed’.

The little black purslane seeds, found in the finished flower heads, can be used as a tea. The seeds actually can be eaten raw or cooked - they have a flavour a bit like linseed. Apparently indigenous Australians used to use the seeds of purslane to make flour for their seedcakes. In dry parts of Australia each plant can yield 10,000 seeds (more than cooler wetter climates) and the seeds can remain viable 7 years or more. 

If you are going to cook purslane, I recommend that you cook it for a short time at a low temperature to preserve as much of the nutrients as possible. Also, it will go a bit slimy if overcook it - which is good if you want to thicken your soup, but I'm not such a fan of a slimy green side dish.

Purslane is a Healthy Food

Purslane is low in calories and fats, while being rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals. 

Purslane has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable - a good source for vegetarians. Omega 3's are considered to be important for preventing heart attacks and strengthening the immune system.

Purslane has seven times more beta carotene than carrots.

Purslane is an excellent source of Vitamin A (44% of RDA) - one of the highest among leafy greens - powerful natural antioxidant and an essential vitamin for vision and skin. Purslane also contains vitamins B, C and E, and also minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron.

Purslane is a Hardy Pioneer Plant

Purslane is an incredibly hardy plant that can withstand compact soils and drought - it is tough. It can grow in sun and shade, without water, fertiliser or any help at all. Not only can it survive and flourish in very difficult situations, but it actually to prepare soil for other plants. I think of it as a helpful pioneer - opening the soil with it’s taproot, so other roots can follow. The deep tap root of purslane draws also up moisture and nutrients to the surface allowing other plants around it to benefit.

Purslane can be used as a Cover Crop

Purslane covers the soil to create a living mulch which helps to protect soil and retain moisture.  It adds organic matter as it dies back too.

Purslane for Animals

Pigs, chickens, goats, cows all love purslane and it is reported to help increase milk production and wellbeing of cattle.

Purslane is a Medicinal Plant

Throughout history, purslane has been used for many ailments.  There are too many to mention - check out some of the resources below for more details on this.

I appreciate purslane to help sooth burns, insect bites and caterpillar itching - just crush up some leaves and either apply as a poultice or squeeze on the juice.

Some plants deserve to be more widely recognised. I think purslane is one of them.  It certainly contributes to a healthy, diverse and sustainable food system.



Note about oxalic acid:
Purslane contains oxalic acid, a naturally-occurring substance found in some vegetables, which may crystallise as oxalate stones in the urinary tract in some people.  Cooking destroys the oxalic acid so people with rheumatism or gout should avoid eating it uncooked, but remember, cooking it too much also destroys it’s benefits. Isabell Shipard discusses in ‘Herbs are Special’ that a high oxalic acid intake is not necessarily considered to be a problem if foods rich in calcium (vegetables, greens and dairy products), as well as daily sunshine for vitamin D synthesis, are also typical in everyday life.


Note about harvesting weeds
Make sure if you are wild harvesting that you know that it is a clean site.

To read more:

  • Low, Tim (1991) Wild Food Plants of Australia. Harper Collins Australia.
  • Grubb, Adam and Raser-Rowland, Annie (2012) The Weed Forager’s Handbook. A Guide to Edible and Medicinal Weeds in Australia


5 comments:

  1. I have tons of this! I will be trying it out soon!
    thank you for article

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  2. I have tons here, have to pull it out when I need to plant something else, when we had chickens they would get a bucketful each week.

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  3. We have this wonderful plant in our salads virtually every day. I pot it up and take it to a local "Swap It" day where it is snapped up quickly. Haven't tried it but I believe you can pickle it as well. When I've got too much (it grows super well in our wicking beds), it makes a great addition to the worm farms, compost and Bokashi buckets! I find Chickweed gets away from me a lot quicker than Purslane!

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  4. One of my favorite foods. I use it in salads, smoothies & omlettes whenever it's available. I love free food especially when it's so nourishing. Bill Bilodeau, St. Petersburg, Florida

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  5. I've never thought to eat it...have it growing and keep pulling it out...will give it a go.

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