Purslane grown as a vegetable or culinary herb. Image from Wikipedia, uploaded by user Burschik.
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Purslane is a weed that’s been getting a lot of attention as a food crop. Not only is it self-sowing and pretty tenacious (it’s often spotted growing up through cracks in the sidewalk), it has a nutritional profile that makes it worth a look– especially for vegans, many of whom may have diets deficient in certain omega fatty acids. Though purslane still doesn’t quite stack up against salmon when it comes to things like alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and eicosapentaeinoic acid (EPA), it is still a valuable source of these fatty acids for people who don’t consume fish. That isn’t the only thing that might make this plant the next trendy superfood, however.
Other Nutrients in Purslane
Aside from ALA and EPA, purslane also contains abundant levels of beta-cyanins and beta-xanthins. These are both potent antioxidants that may actually have anti-mutagentic properties. A one-cup serving of purslane also provides:
- 11% of the RDA for vitamin A.
- 6% of the RDA for potassium.
- About 1g of protein.
- 2% of the RDA for calcium.
- 4% of the RDA for iron.
- 7% of the RDA for magnesium.
Purslane also contains about ten to twenty times more melatonin, a hormone and antioxidant, than other plants. Melatonin plays an important part in the sleep-wake cycle, and its antioxidant activity helps protect both nuclear- and mitochondrial-DNA.
Tempted? If the nutrient content alone doesn’t persuade you, it’s also amazingly easy to…
Though purslane is native to India, it has become naturalized all over the world. Growing purslane is pretty simple, as it turns out. Right now, in the Sacramento area, purslane is seeding all over. The seeds appear on the plants in small green conical pods, which readily split open to reveal several tiny seeds that look similar to small poppyseeds. Purslane requires light to germinate, so the best way I’ve found to grow it in pots is simply to sprinkle the seeds over the surface of the soil, and lightly scatter some soil over them. Keep moist and in a sunny area, and tiny, bright purple sprouts should appear in a few days.
I’ve also had luck germinating them on a damp paper towel, placed inside of a sandwich bag and set in a sunny spot in a kitchen. Exhale into the bag to keep the top of it from pressing down on the sprouts, and seal it the way you normally would. Using this method, I had half-inch purslane seedlings in about four days. Adult plants aren’t very tall, only about 15 cm at the maximum, making them good for things like window herb boxes.
Once established, purslane is very drought-tolerant and will happily self-sow. In fact, you might find it spreading faster than you can eat it. Seeds are readily available and inexpensive, including these certified USDA Organic golden purslane seeds.
Identify and Forage for Purslane
If you don’t have access to a garden, don’t sweat it. It’s pretty easy to forage for purslane, and it will self-sow like you wouldn’t believe. As with any other foraging activity, don’t take more than 30% of the plants you’re gathering from, and, if the plants are seeding, let the seeds fall. Avoid gathering from sidewalks and roadsides– these plants are likely to have a higher level of heavy metals and other nasties from exposure to exhaust, weed killers, and other things you don’t want in your body.
Identifying purslane isn’t very difficult. It has a thick, reddish stem and plump, succulent leaves with a spoon-like shape. It is possible to confuse it with hairy-stemmed spurge, which is poisonous, but can easily be distinguished by its milky sap.
Purslane stem, leaves, and flower. Image from Wikipedia, taken by Didier Descouens.
Use Purslane in the Kitchen
Purslane, as a leafy green, can be used similar to other greens. It has a fresh, crisp, slightly tart flavor, good in green salads and other raw dishes in place of lettuce or sprouts.
Pinterest user Fulton Market CSA has a whole pinterest board of purslane recipes that are worth a look (if you share a yard with a fig tree like I do, the purslane, fig, and walnut salad recipe is definitely a must-try), while Chocolate and Zucchini has a list of 45 Things To Do With Purslane. I’ve also pinned a few purslane recipes that I can’t wait to try out.
Use Purslane in Magick
Practitioners of herbal magick have other uses for purslane, too— it’s associated with love, protection, sleep, happiness, luck, and psychic power. When strewn around a bed, purslane is said to keep away negative energy and magickal malefactors. When carried, it’s said to attract love and luck, and help protect soldiers going into battle. Purslane also helps protect against nightmares, which can make it a valuable addition to a dream pillow or sachet used for other dream work. Since it’s so easy to grow and has a variety of magickal associations, purslane makes a great addition to any witch’s garden.
Last but Not Least…
Bisphenol A and other endocrine disruptors have a deservedly bad rap. Though conventional wisdom is “the dose makes the poison,” there is no safe dose here– how much is “okay” when it comes to altering your endocrine system? Unfortunately, BPA is also abundant in plastics, receipt paper, and other products most humans come in contact with every day. It ends up discharged into water, where it makes its way into soil, and can have a far-reaching impact in local wildlife, including food animals. Even though purslane is a pretty badass plant when it comes to nutrition, that isn’t even the neatest thing about it. It has also demonstrated the ability to remove BPA from aquatic environments.
Does this mean that eating purslane might help remove BPA from the human body? Nobody really knows yet, and much more research is needed. The simple fact remains that this little weed can have a big impact on the environment and your diet. Of course, common sense should still be applied– purslane is a non-native species– but careful application of it could help seriously clean up our soil, water, and eating habits.
Interested in other oft-overlooked wildfoods like purslane? You might want to check out the soon-to-be-released book The Wild Wisdom of Weeds by Katrina Blair, with a foreword by Sandor Ellix Katz:
Urban foragers may enjoy Dandelion Hunter: Foraging The Urban Wilderness by First Ways blogger Rebecca Lerner: