Saturday, November 28, 2009

Common Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

I'm finally getting around to studying some of the typical weeds I find myself pulling regularly in the garden. I suspect many of them are edible and hope to try eating some, since I'm pulling them anyway! Now is the time to learn while the plants await next spring. So today I'm learning about:

Common Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), also known as Verdolaga, Pigweed, Little Hogweed or Pusley.

Photo by José Luis Gálvez

Summarized from the Wikipedia article linked above (see article for references) unless otherwise referenced:

Apparently the leaves, stems and flower buds (the latter of which I've never seen) are edible and in fact eaten regularly in Europe, Asia and Mexico. There are 40 varieties cultivated. The plant has adapted to grow extensively from North Africa, through south Asia to Australia during past centuries. There is some evidence of this species in North America in the pre-Columbian era. The little yellow flowers appear only if rainfall conditions are optimum and only for a few hours on sunny mornings. Likely why I've never seen them. Like most weeds, the plant grows well in poor quality, drought-prone soils.

Purslane is a succulent herb reported to have a peppery, slightly sour and/or salty taste and can be eaten similar to spinach (fresh in salads, stir-fried or cooked). It is considered to have similar taste to spinach and similar texture to okra [>]. It is also good in soups due to its mucilaginous quality. At one time Australian Aborigines used the seeds to make seedcakes. It is best harvested in morning or evening [>].

Purslane contains more Omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid in particular) than any other leafy vegetable plant. It contains an extraordinary amount of EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) for land based vegetable sources. EPA is an Omega-3 fatty acid normally found mostly in fish, some algae and flax seeds. But note that fish oil typically contains 750 mg/tsp of EPA (source: bottle in our fridge) compared with 0.01 mg/g in Purslane. Doing the math, you need to eat 75 kg of Purslane to get the equivalent EPA from 1 tsp of fish oil. Purslane also contains vitamins (mainly vitamins A, C, some B and carotenoids), as well as dietary minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. It also contains potent antioxidants.

Hmm, maybe I can cut back on my vegetable plantings and encourage growth of Purslane instead!


The Blog Fodder said...

My mother fought this weed all her life. She called it portulaca. When she was civil to it. It would not die and eventually drove her out of the garden in front of the old house. If you hang it on the fence it will go to seed on a damp day. Throw it on the ground and it will reroot. NOW you tell us it can be eaten!!!

Dave said...

Hi Middle Earth:

I well remember purslane from childhood, although I thought it was a rather easy weed to pull and being able to take a nibble now and then didn't make me like it any less. I'm surprised to see it has colonized Alberta though - perhaps my garden has been spared because it is a bit too shady.

Munro & Small (Vegetables of Canada, NRC Press 1997) give purslane a good write-up and don't seem to have found anything to warn about except its weedy nature. Elizabeth Schneider in her excellent "Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini" (William Morrow 2001) has 4 pages of discussion and recipes - and notes that a bunch can cost $15! Looks like you've picked a great weed to start munching.

Middle Earth Garden said...

TBF: The unfortunate ironies of life. The good thing is that you weren't forced to eat it every day as a child.

Dave: Thanks for checking some additional references. Purslane in our yard grows mainly in sunny areas and especially in dry unwatered soil along the south facing wall of the house (blocked from rain by roof overhang). I'm guessing the ones that grow in the dry areas might be a bit tough and chewy compared to the watered areas of the garden. I'll have to experiment next year.

Daniel S. said...

This weed was a stable for Australian Aboriginal people. the leaves and stems eaten raw, the roots boiled and eaten, if you pick them and place them on a hard surface say a plate. After a few days it will drop its seeds, these can then be ground and made into a type of biscuit. its a great versitale food source and thanks to the harshness of australia, it grows well here. i keep it in my garden for use in salads and baking

Middle Earth Garden said...

Hi Daniel,

Sorry for the slow response, I don't get notifications for some reason when people post on the blog.

To be honest I have not put a lot of effort into eating the Purslane as I find it difficult to wash the dirt out (it tends to grow very low to the ground, at least in these conditions). Also, the roots tend to break off in our clay soil, so difficult to get at the roots. I have not tried the seeds, that sounds interesting and worth a try.

Your blog looks interesting, glad to see someone enjoying the outdoors.