A green, leafy vegetable, purslane is best known as a weed – but it can also be eaten. It’s delicious both raw and cooked. Referred to scientifically as Portulaca oleracea, it is also referred to as fatweed, pusley, and hogweed – admittedly, none of which are very attractive or enticing names!
Purslane can be found growing in the wild in many parts of the world. A succulent plant, it has rubbery-looking leaves and contains nearly 93% water.
With red stems and tiny green leaves, it is often compared to watercress or spinach (it has a somewhat sour flavor). In fact, you can use it in similar ways, like in sandwiches or prepared salads.
Because it’s a weed, purslane can grow just about anywhere. You might find it in drought-stricken environments as well as popping up in sidewalk cracks.
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Varieties of Purslane
Did you know that there are all kinds of purslane, including the wild type of this plant that grows rampant on your lawn and in your garden?
Portulaca oleracea is the bright green, wild type that you’ll see growing in your garden. With yellow flowers and a delicate appearance, it’s not exactly unsightly to look at, but it can be an inconvenience in your garden.
It actively reseeds itself when the plants are disturbed, making it tough to remove.
Golden purslane, or Portulaca sativa, is found in herb gardens. This type of purslane is popular among chefs as it has a variety of culinary uses.
It’s frequently used in Mediterranean dishes along with in meals like stews and omelets. Many people say it tastes just like spinach, while others say it has a lemony aftertaste and a flavor not unlike that of watercress.
There are also a couple of ornamental varieties of purslane to be aware of, both of which are often sold in hanging baskets at nurseries. These are Portulaca grandiflora and portulaca umbraticola.
There are dozens of varieties within these two, but all produce brightly colored blooms and are great for cultivation in a drought-prone environment. The plant produces flowers all summer and fall in warm weather.
Purslane is known as an excellent source of vitamins A, C and E and the essential amino acids. Reports describe Purslane as a “power food of the future” because of its high nutritive and antioxidant properties.
Purslane leaves contain Omega-3 fatty acid which regulate the body’s metabolic activities. Purslane herb is known to have one of the highest known concentrations of Omega-3 fatty acid in any plant.
The stems of Purslane herb are known to be high in vitamin C. Purslane has tons of magnesium and manganese along with notable quantities of iron, calcium, and potassium.
It also contains trace quantities of vitamins B1, B2, B3, folate, phosphorous, and copper. All at just 16 calories per cup, I might add!
Purslane is widely used as a potherb in Mediterranean, central European and Asian countries.
Purslane is also widely used as an ingredient in a green salad. Tender stems and leaves are usually eaten raw, alone or with other greens. They are also cooked or pickled for consumption.
Purslane is used in various parts of the world to treat burns, headaches, stomach, intestinal and liver ailments, cough, shortness of breath and arthritis.
Purslane herb has also been used as a purgative, cardiac tonic, emollient, muscle relaxant, and in anti-inflammatory and diuretic treatments. It is believed to be a natural remedy for insomnia and has many of the same health benefits as other leafy greens.
Purslane is popularly preserved for winter by pickling Purslane in apple cider vinegar with garlic cloves and peppercorns.
Purslane appears among a list of herbs considered to help benefit conditions such as osteoporosis and psoriasis.
How to Find Purslane
Purslane can be found growing just about anywhere. It has smooth, red leaves and leaves and stems that mostly are flat.
These can be opposite or alternate and are usually clustered together at the stem ends. The plant occasionally produces yellow flowers.
These appear randomly throughout the year and depend on rainfall in order to open up. They generally only stay open for a few hours a day, and only on very sunny days.
This plant has a taproot that is incredibly tough and fibrous. It can break through tough, compacted soils and even extremely dry ground. As a result, you’re apt to find this tenacious plant growing in any corner of an abandoned garden.
What’s interesting to note is that although we view purslane as a weed, this wasn’t always the case. IN fact, Indian immigrants first brought it here with them from their shores, knowing how valuable it was as an edible crop.
Most people don’t deliberately plant purslane in their gardens because it grows so well – and voraciously! – on its own. However, if you really wanted to, you could easily plant this crop in your vegetable garden.
It actually has a few notable benefits to be aware of. It not only provides ground cover for nearby plants, helping to keep the moisture stable and level, but it also has deep taproots that can draw up nutrients to be used by these other plants.
It also helps drive down into the soil, loosening up compacted dirt for plants that would otherwise have a tough time getting their roots through.
To grow purslane, you will need to grow this plant from a propagation. To do this, cut a piece off the stem of an existing plant.
Place it in potting soil (or honestly, even regular garden soil – this plant is such a vivacious grower, it won’t take much to get it going). After a few weeks, the plant will be growing wild on its own.
An alternative to growing purslane from a propagated cutting is to start cultivated varieties indoors. Do this in a seed tray in the late spring and transplant it in the summer.
You should harden the plants off before transplanting them into the garden, as they can be somewhat frost- and cold-sensitive. Plant your purslane plants about six inches apart.
You can also direct sow seeds into the garden after the threat of frost has passed. Thin to six inches apart and plant once more in late summer for a fall crop. Purslane can also be grown in a container or indoors.
Once it gets started, you don’t need to do much to care for it. A bit of water here and there can help, but the plant is so drought-tolerant that it doesn’t need much of that, either. Fertilizers and weeding are not necessary.
If you want to harvest some purslane, you will want to pull it up completely. Then, remove the stems from where they are attached to the root. You can feed the root to your chickens or just compost it.
You can also save the seeds. Make sure you wash each individual stem carefully, as each one has crevices that hold in soil. It can be tough to get all of that dirt off!
Common Pests and Diseases
Purslane is a primary source of food for wildlife, so you may have some trouble keeping certain animals off your purslane plants. Sparrows eat the seeds, as do certain species of mice.
Deer will also eat the leaves, but they are known for being distributors of seeds as they pass through their digestive tract and are still viable afterwards.
In some places, you may have problems with sawflies, aphids, snails, slugs, and gnats.
Keeping the soil relatively dry and well-weeded can help prevent these pests from becoming an issue, as can row covers and natural treatments like diatomaceous earth.
Purslane, when grown in wet conditions, is also sometimes affected by root rot and stem rot. Again, keep the soil around this drought-tolerant plant dry to prevent this issue.
If you have more purslane than you know what to do with, don’t worry – there are several ways you can preserve it. The easiest way to do so is to stick it in the refrigerator for long-term storage.
Unlike many wild greens that you can gather or grow, this plant is not prone to drying out so it will last in the refrigerator for up to a week without losing its flavor.
You can also freeze purslane. Just cut off the root, wash it well, and blanch it first. To do this, you will want to boil it for three minutes and then toss it immediately into a bowl of ice water.
Let it cool, then put it into freezer bags and spread it out so it lies flat. Put it in the freezer and it will remain viable all year long.
Purslane can also be dried and turned into a powder. Again, you will want to wash the leaves well. Remove the leaves from the stems and put them on a single layer in your dehydrator.
Alternatively, they can be dried in the oven. Use a mesh screen to keep the leaves from falling through the trays.
Set the temperature on your dehydrator (or your oven) to 135. Turn the purslane often and wait twelve hours for it to dry out completely.
Once it’s brittle, you can put the leaves in a blender and process it until it is a powder. It will last for several years in this form, but is best eaten within a few months for the best flavors.
If you’re on the hunt for some good purslane recipes, consider giving these a try:
- Steamed Purslane
- Purslane Salad with Cucumbers and Tomatoes
- Purslane Pesto
- Purslane Chimichurri
- Purslane Stew
- Purslane and Chilled Zucchini Soup
- Verdolaga (Classic Purslane Recipe)
The entire purslane plant is edible, and it can be eaten fresh or cooked. It can even be canned or dried for long term storage!
I picked some tonight, washed it, and ate the entire plant raw. It was delicious! The taste was very much like lettuce; bland, but good. You could also steam, boil, or saute it if you preferred.
Isn’t that AWESOME?!
Obviously, I won’t be pulling it out of my garden beds anymore. Or at least, I’ll transplant them if they become too invasive.
Yay for wild edibles!! I do believe I’ll add some purslane to my salad tonight!
Do you have purslane growing around your home? Have you ever eaten any? If you’ve never tasted it, you gotta give it a try! I’d love to know what you think!
updated 03/27/2020 by Rebekah White