The bad news is that common purslane is considered among the worst agricultural weeds in the world and can become an aggressive pest in gardens. This creeping plant is often lower than a lawnmower blade, but the stems often spread out a foot or more from the center of the plant, shading out surrounding plants. Once established in an area, it can be hard to eradicate. Anyone who has battled purslane can’t help but laugh at someone who propagates it.
The good news is that common purslane has a long history, worldwide, as a cultivated vegetable. Recently, it has become a trendy “new” food. We now recognize it as a superfood: it’s high in Omega-3 fatty acids (ALA and LNA), antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, calcium, manganese, iron, Vitamins A and D, and more. Calorie for calorie, it’s one of the most nutrient-rich foods on earth. Considering that it grows for free, it’s much less expensive than buying salmon for your Omega-3s.
One note of caution, however: Because, like spinach or sorrel, purslane contains high amounts of oxalates, you should not eat too much at a time, and people who have kidney stones or other kidney problems should probably avoid it. (Check with your doctor or dietician if you are concerned.)
Purslane has a rather tart, lemony flavor, and it doesn’t cook down the way spinach does. Plants may vary; cultivated varieties growing with plenty of moisture may be more tender and juicy than weeds growing in hot, dry locations. Avoid eating plants from places treated with pesticides, street runoff, or other exposure to possibly toxic chemicals. Finally, wash purslane thoroughly to remove dirt and grit particles.
How do you eat it?
- Eat it raw, in tossed salads. Put it in a Greek salad with tomatoes, feta, onion, olive oil, lemon, salt, and oregano or thyme. Use it with plain Greek yogurt to make a tzatziki or raita. Use it as a microgreen garnish.
- Make wilted purslane salad, with crumbled bacon on top: Make a hot vinaigrette out of the bacon grease, water, vinegar, sugar, and salt, and pour the hot dressing over the purslane, causing it to wilt.
- Try it simply sautéed (say, with garlic or shallot), or in a stir-fry.
- Use it in casseroles (say, with rice, chopped onion, cheese, and broth; or layered with sliced hard-cooked eggs, topped with a white sauce mixed with shredded cheese).
- Batter and fry it, as you would morel mushrooms or dandelion flowers. For a spicier version, you could use a basic recipe for Indian vegetable pakoras.
- Use it in soups, adding it at the end and simmering it just long enough to wilt the leaves.
- You can sauté purslane briefly in oil, then use it in sandwiches (say, in a grilled swiss cheese sandwich, where the lemony flavor plays off the nutty flavor of the swiss cheese) or in tacos, where purslane’s tartness complements the rich flavors of avocado and pork.
- Purslane can be included in a pickle crock, along with a variety of other wild greens such as grape leaves, greenbrier leaves, cattail shoots, day lily shoots and unopened flower buds, redbud pods, and so on.
- In Mexican cuisine, purslane is called verdolagas (or Mexican parsley) and is often cooked and served with pork, where its tartness complements the pork’s fatty richness.
Native Americans ate purslane raw or cooked, and they used it medicinally to treat worms, ear aches, bruises, and burns.
In the Middle East, certain races of purslane have been cultivated traditionally as livestock fodder and as vegetable crops.
Worldwide, purslane had been used to treat many medicinal problems, including burns, headaches, digestive upset, arthritis, osteoporosis, cough, shortness of breath, and more.
Henry David Thoreau, in his great American classic Walden, wrote in its first chapter, “Economy,” about the pleasures of a simple meal of purslane, “gathered in my cornfield, boiled and salted. . . . And pray what more can a reasonable man desire, in peaceful times, in ordinary noons?”
The genus name, Portulaca, has the Latin word portula, or “little gate,” as its root. It refers to the little lid of its fruit capsule, which opens to release the seeds. The species name, oleracea, means “edible” and signifies its use as a vegetable. (The species name of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and kale is Brassica oleraceae; the species name of spinach is Spinacia oleracea.)