Friday, July 10, 2009

The allure of purslane

Portulaca oleracea

"Common Purslane (also known as Verdolaga, Pigweed, Little Hogweed or Pusley), is an annual succulent in the family Portulacaceae, which can reach 40 cm in height. It has an extensive old-world distribution extending from North Africa through the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent to Malesia and Australasia." (source: Wikipedia)

As I mentioned in my last post, many consider this plant a weed, and it is easy to understand why. It's pretty doggone aggressive and fast-growing. And I think it will tolerate just about any soil condition or amount of rain or dryness, so this makes it all the more hardy. But, just like with Dandelions, one man's weed is another man's salad.

Once Dave found out it was edible, and decided that he liked the taste, he figured we might as well use this "weed" to our advantage. Mainly as a food item, but it turns out that is a great mulch item in the garden as well! It is growing around all of our tomato plants, and most of the other true weeds can't compete. Additionally, this dense mat of low-lying vegetation serves to shade the ground, thus keeping it cool on a hot day and also helping to conserve moisture in the soil. How's that for companion planting? Good for the garden: check.

It is well documented that purslane contains high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids (likely the best vegetable source of omega-3s), as well as a whole host of vitamins and minerals Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Manganese. Good for us: check.

The taste, to me, has a hint of lemony tang and also a peppery bite. The succulent stems are pretty crispy, and the leaves can be, too. Purslane definitely has a mucilaginous quality to it (think okra or flax seeds), which was a turn-off to me at first, but this quality seems to be less prevalent (or at least less off-putting) when the stems become more mature. I don't recommend eating purslane when it's young (i.e. when it first starts to sprout) because the taste hasn't had a chance to develop. When it's young it just kind of tastes like... grass. Blech.

Dave is currently in search of the perfect pickled purslane recipe. (The stems/stalks of the plant become quite large this time of year, and are a good candidate for fresh pack pickling.) He has tried a few different recipes, one of which yielded "pickles" that were awesomely similar in taste to Klaussen spears. Purslane is also good in a green salad (gives it a nice crispness factor), and I think I would like to try stir frying it or sauteing it sometime soon.

I have seen purslane being sold in garden centers as a flower, and I think there are some varieties that have showier flowers than others, but I can't vouch for what the stems and leaves might taste like in those varieties. If you're unfamiliar with this plant and would like to try it for yourself, I would recommend checking at a local farmer's market. I wouldn't be too surprised if stores like Whole Foods might sell it, too. Or, check your own garden. You may have a crop of your own, just waiting to be harvested.


Kelly said...

Wow! We are going to have to give it a try. I like the idea of using it as mulch. That will certainly save me a lot of trouble of pulling it! :-) Great info...

RuthieJ said...

OK this is great news, because I have tons of this growing in my garden. I'm going to try it in with a lettuce salad.
Keep me posted on any other good recipes that you figure out because I'm willing to try them too.

Heather said...

Ruthie - I suspect lots of folks have this growing in their garden. Have you tried it out yet? If I get/find/devise any recipes, I'll be sure to let you know.

Anonymous said...

I found a few sprouts of purslane growing in my garden this past summer, so we ate all but one plant, which we saved for harvesting its seeds. That baby grew to about two feet across, and once we got all the seeds we wanted we ate that, too, LOL! Next year we're sowing the seeds in among our corn as an edible ground cover. Yummy yummy!