Posted on Jul 22, 2015 | 0 comments

Oh my! This wonderful versatile little ‘weed’ is one of my favorites – and that is NO exaggeration! In fact, in our present home (only been here for 1 /2 years) I was not able to find any and had to buy seeds! Now that is a first for me. Buying weeds…well, glad I did. My newly planted purselane is thick purselaneand lucious and beautiful and ripe for the picking for a garden salad! Yes, that’s what I said – ripe for my salad! And oh what a salad it will be – filled with fresh lettuce, a few nasturtium flowers, beet tops, purselane and some odds and ends of our edible landscape. The pretty little flowers and the fat juicy petals of the purselane are the bonus! Just consider the benefits of purselane and you’ll be ready to add it to your own salad!

Purslane is a small-leaved plant whose reddish stems look like a network of tiny plumbing laid along the ground with offshoots of small leafy stems. It is easy to find, and easy to care for and will take over whatever spot it lands in.

The official stuff:

Family: Portulacaceae
Species: Portulaca oleracea
Official Species Name: Portulaca oleracea L.
Synonyms (Historical Names): Portulaca neglecta
Mackenzie & Bush:
Portulaca retusa Engelm

and the common stuff:

  • Purslane
  • Pursley
  • Pusley
  • Portulaca
  • Little hogweed

An herbaceous annual weed naturalized from Southern Europe, it is widespread and abundant in North America, primarily where humans have invaded and where soil has been disturbed. It loves wet summers and is not found in abundance in cold regions and high elevations.

Healthy benefits

Nutritionally, purslane is a powerhouse and has more than double the omega-3s than kale – and we ALL know what a powerhouse kale is touted to be!  It has over four times the vitamin E of turnip leaves, more than any other leafy green ever analyzed. It has glutathione and other antioxidants and about as much iron as spinach. It also has reasonable amounts of other nutrients as well as phytochemicals, like all these leafy greens. So you can see – purslane is one of the best bests for a nutritional pack to your diet.

Rich in omega-3s
Many people studying the Mediterranean diet think that it is foods like purslane and other omega-3 greens that give the Greeks their good balance of fats. Olive oil only contributes some of the omega-3s; the greens, walnuts, oily fish, and a few other foods give them the rest of what they need.

Where it grows and what it looks like
Purslane is a hot-weather plant. It will not sprout until the ground temperature is somewhere between 76 and 90 degrees F. A strong hot sun warming the soil along with good moisture are required for it to sprout below 80 degrees.

Purslane-Pg-132-bottom-300.jpgThe sprouts are green with a reddish tint. The first four leaves look like little rounded propellers surrounding a reddish engine tip. At first, these early leaves are elliptical, but they get a little fatter near the tip very quickly. The tips of these leaves are about as rounded as you can get, not pointed at all.

In general, purslane sprouts and grows best in the hottest four months of the year. Once established, it is very drought resistant. If a young plant is growing in dry conditions, growth will slow and the plant may be tiny. This can be seen often in the cracks of sidewalk cement. The plant starts growing, but the moisture dries up. In these conditions, the plant is so small that it goes unrecognized by most people.

If a healthy more-established plant is exposed to very dry conditions, its stems will pull the moisture from the leaves and drop them. The stems, however, survive longer and can grow new leaves when moisture returns. If conditions continue to dry, even the stems will die.

As long as the days are long, vegetative growth continues. Great growing conditions will hold off flower and seed development for awhile. I’ve seen individual stems up to eighteen inches long.

Purslane is a succulent, a plant that retains a lot of water in its leaves and stems. Those leaves and stems appear thick and fleshy relative to their size. This ability to store water is what helps this plant thrive in heat and survive drought.

 

Stems: As long as there is direct sunlight, purslane will spread out, with thick primary stems that tend to resemble reddish-green piping. The plant crawls along the ground in huge mats. Sun-exposed open space can be completely covered by purslane. Unlike some other plants that crawl along the ground, purslane does not root at its nodes. If, however, you chop up thriving plants, like when turning over the soil, you may get a surprise. If there is enough moisture in the soil, many of the cut segments may begin rooting and grow new plants.

This is particularly troublesome for farmers who want to get rid of purslane. They plow, plant new crops, then water new seeds they’ve planted during the hottest time of the year. Guess who loves those conditions? Purslane and wild-food enthusiasts.

Purslane has limits on its growth. Shade and competition will kill it. Anything that restricts sunlight can kill it—not necessarily the whole plant, but parts can atrophy and die, leaving the rest of the plant to grow where there is sun. Purslane competes with itself as well as other plants. The earlier that purslane emerges from the soil, the longer it can stay in vegetative growth, continuing to develop its potential. Where you are in North America will determine when temperatures get hot enough and days get long enough for purslane to sprout. Southern climates will be earlier; northern climates will be later—it could be April, May, or June. Individual plants can live for two to four months.

Purslane-Pg-134-top-300.jpgFlowers: As purslane reaches a certain age or as growth conditions decline, it starts producing flowers. Individual flowers open only on bright hot days and last for only a day. As long as the plant continues to grow new stems, flower and seed production will be progressive. This means that older stems will flower first, with younger ones flowering later.

Seeds: Of course, seeds are produced when flowers have been fertilized. When ripe, the top part of the seedpod pops off, revealing what looks like a little miniature bird’s nest of black eggs. These seeds quietly sit there until some disturbance forces them out of the nest. This could be an animal knocking the plant as it walks by, a raindrop hitting it, or a strong wind blowing through. The seeds do not travel far from the plant unless they hitchhike on some clothing or digging tool, or if the soil is moved.

Since purslane stores moisture, pulled plants do not stop the seed-ripening process, making eradication difficult. Seeds fall to the ground as the plant is pulled, and seeds continue to mature and drop if you pull the plant and leave it. Even worse (or better).

Harvesting purslane
While it is perfectly possible to eat the tiny plants growing in cement cracks, I typically only gather purslane when it is growing lushly in more desirable places. Vigorously growing purslane is not hard to find. The best parts are the new, rapidly growing tips before plants go to seed. By “best,” I mean that they will work fine in your most delicate salads served to your most-finicky wild-food-fearing friends—and at fine restaurants everywhere. Gather the leafy stems—not just the leaves. Plucking the leaves individually would be the best way to procrastinate from doing anything important in your life. The leaves are too small to pluck except for specific purposes.

Some larger individual leaves can be used as a garnish. Kids love plucking the leaves. Lovers who are gambling on their relationship do the “she loves me, she loves me not” thing (daisies are good for that too). And remember, the stems are part of the food! Say this again to yourself: the stems are part of the food—a great part.

Stocking up
If you plan on using purslane as greens, either fresh or cooked, and you have lots of purslane to choose from, just collect the tips. The last inch or two of the leafy stems will be the most delectable. Why not? You can be choosy. If you can’t find much purslane to gather, either let the plants go to seed for next year or collect whatever you can and use whatever you get.

While gathering, if you are thinning an area to allow something else to grow, pull purslane out by the roots. Be careful to keep all the root material together as you carefully stack them for transport. Doing this will help you in the cleaning process later.

Once collected, purslane travels well. Because it’s a succulent, it does not wilt quickly; but it is still helpful to spray-mist your take unless you collect it with root material. Moistening the dirt on root material just makes a big mess. Keep harvested purslane cool until you can trim and wash it in cold water. Its solid structure makes it easy to clean. Use your harvest fast for the best quality.

For tips on preparing purslane, check out these cooking tips. And this great article and more like it can be found at Canadian Gardening

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