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GardenSMART :: Common Purslane Packs a Secret Punch

Common Purslane Packs a Secret Punch

By Yuvraj Khamare, Graduate Research Assistant, Environmental Horticulture,
University of Florida
Photographs courtesy of Yuvraj Khamare

Purslane is classified as a noxious weed, however this plant possesses qualities that make it a strong contender for the title "superfood." It certainly belongs to the "if you can't beat 'em then eat 'em" category. Common in gardens, flowerbeds, fields, lawns, and driveways, in fact, it is probably lurking in your garden right now.

Belonging to the Portulacaceae family, its scientific name is Portulaca oleracea. In Latin 'Portulaca' means 'milk carrier' as it was known to stimulate lactate production in pregnant women, and 'oleracea' meaning 'of cultivation' or 'suitable for food'. It is also known as verdolaga, red root, duckweed, and little-hogweed.

The precise origin of this well-traveled weed is unknown. Some literature says the Indian subcontinent while others suggest North Africa. It was introduced to North America by early settlers as a food source. In southern Europe, the Mediterranean countries, and Asia, it was used in salads or as a potherb. Its early popularity has since been eclipsed by kale, spinach, and lettuce.  

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The most distinguishing characteristics of purslane are its distinct sprawling habit; the reddish smooth, succulent stems branch from all sides and grow low to the ground creating a mat of foliage. Its leaves are thick, round and succulent, and cluster at the branch tips. Blooming from May until September, it has small yellow flowers, usually with five petals, that only open on hot, sunny days.

Purslane is a powerhouse of nutrients. It has recently been identified as the richest vegetable source of alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid. It is an excellent source of Vitamins A, C, E, and some B-complex vitamins, which are known for their antioxidants properties. It is low in calories and fat but loaded with minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and manganese.

This humble weed is considered gourmet by some standards. Indeed, purslane's texture is refreshing and crunchy and the flavor is tangy with a faint citrus undertone. The leaves, tiny flowers, and seeds of purslane are all edible. The fresh, raw leaves can be used in salads, or stir-fried and mixed with other vegetables. It can also be used as a substitute for spinach in soups and stews. The seeds can be used as sprouts and are also enjoyed by chickens.

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If you are still not convinced of the virtues of purslane and want to get rid of it, there are organic options. The most important method of weed management is prevention. It is such a prolific seeder that once it has become established it is difficult to control. The easiest method for removal is hand pulling, especially when the soil is wet and the plant is still young. Mulching will help to prevent seed germination. Do not discard the plant in your compost pile as it can still mature, drop seeds and find its way back into your garden.

If you find yourself in the company of this friendly weed, consider and appreciate its impressive culinary and nutritive properties before you start pulling it out. This bright, juicy, lemony-flavored plant is loaded with nutrients and boasts many health benefits. Adding this omega 3 fatty acid- and antioxidant-rich food to your diet can help in the prevention of heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease. With such incredible superfood qualities, you may ultimately consider this weed a blessing!

Like any foraged plant, purslane should be eaten in moderation. Do not gather it in areas that have been sprayed with pesticides. Before consuming or using the weed, verify it with reliable sources or with a local expert. There is a poisonous look-alike, hairy-stemmed spurge, that is not a succulent. Unlike purslane, its leaves are thin, and a broken stem oozes a sticky white liquid called latex.


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