Happy Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday! Some of the community gardens are experiencing an abundance of purslane, a powerhouse plant that is commonly dismissed as a weed. Buckets full of harvested purslane have us excited to learn more about its benefits and find some creative recipes.
The purslane plant – also known as pigweed or verdolaga - has been highly revered in many aboriginal cultures as well as traditional Chinese medicine. With its origin being the Mediterranean region, it has been a common leafy vegetable for much of Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Every part of this incredible plant is edible – the stems, leaves, flowers and seeds – making it an easy addition to your cooking. Purslane has a salty, somewhat sour taste to it, appealing to our lesser activated taste buds.
Purslane is a fast-growing succulent and does well in drier soils and climates, thriving in harsh growing conditions and growing happily in this region throughout the spring and summer and well into fall. Wild purslane tends to grow into a dense mat and has small leaves, whereas varieties that have been cultivated have larger leaves and might grow more upright. A certain variety even grows up to 18 inches tall. With wild purslane being abundant here, you might not need to grow your own. However, if growing a cultivated variety it’s best to start the plants indoors and wait until the last frost before transplanting them outside. If you’re wanting to try purslane but don’t want to risk it taking over your garden, it can grow quite happily in a container or even as microgreens!
You can harvest your purslane by the whole plant, or if you’re wanting to get multiple harvests out of a plant be sure to leave at least 2 inches on the stem to allow for regrowth. The malic acid in purslane is what creates its tart flavor. This might determine the time of day you would harvest your purslane, as the malic acid is high in the morning (more crisp with a tart flavor) and lower at night (sweeter, more mild flavor). After harvesting, it’s best to refrigerate purslane as soon as possible because warm temperatures will stimulate its mucilaginous properties.
Purslane is probably best known for its copious amounts of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), offering the most out of all green leafy vegetables. For those being conscious of the declining population of wild fish or those not eating fish at all, purslane serves as a great alternative for the essential intake of ALA.
Vitamins A, C, E and multiple B vitamins are also coursing through this prolific plant, providing 44% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A and 35% of vitamin C in a 100g serving. The beta-carotene content of purslane is 7 times that of carrots and its vitamin E content is 6 times higher than what you could get from spinach! Calcium, copper, fiber, iron, magnesium, manganese and potassium are also significant nutrients you gain from eating this plant. Purslane also contains carotenoids and two different betalain pigments that provide powerful antioxidant properties.
The abundance of omega-3 fatty acids in purslane help contribute to a healthier balance of cholesterol in the body, supporting overall health of the cardiovascular system and disease prevention. The potassium in purslane also contributes to heart health, serving as a vasodilator that reduces blood pressure and relaxes blood vessels.
You can support better blood circulation and much more by eating copper and iron rich purslane. These minerals help increase oxygen in the body, produce red blood cells, promote faster healing and metabolism, and support hair health!
As we’ve emphasized before, vitamin A is a key vitamin for supporting skin health, and purslane leaves are full of it! Eating these leaves can help diminish wrinkles and aid in skin’s healing process, thus fading scars and eliminating blemishes. If applied topically, vitamin A will help reduce inflammation which is why purslane has become a common ingredient in certain natural skincare salves and oils.
This richness in vitamin A also plays a role in supporting the health of your eyes, by fighting off free radicals that would otherwise damage the eyes’ cells and cause macular degeneration.
Purslane is a powerhouse of minerals – calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese – that all contribute to healthier, stronger bones and help prevent osteoporosis.
Purslane is of great use to the intestines, offering compounds such as alanine, citric acid, dopamine, glucose, malic acid and more that help maintain intestinal health. Traditional Chinese Medicine uses purslane (Ma Chi Xian) to help treat diarrhea, hemorrhoids, intestinal bleeding and more.
Purslane has proven to be a superfood and has attracted many studies that have found a multitude of benefits. Researchers were able to prove that within 24 hours purslane was able to remove all traces of BPA from the water being tested. Studies on inflammation have shown that purslane can be a more effective anti-inflammatory and pain reliever than compared to certain prescription drugs. Purslane can also be an effective muscle relaxer due to its abundance of potassium. Additionally, in a past study irregular menstrual bleeding was reduced with the consumption of purslane seeds.
As a succulent, the purslane leaves are quite crunchy. The flavor is often compared to spinach or watercress, so it’s an easy substitute on your sandwiches or salads. It’s also commonly used in stir-frys but be careful not to overcook it to avoid a slimier texture. That sliminess, due to high pectin levels, will make it a great addition to soups and stews to increase thickness. Other great uses of purslane are in smoothies, juices, omelets, pesto, for pickling or growing microgreens!
Purslane does contain a lot of oxalic acid, so if you’re prone to getting kidney stones it might be a plant to limit in your diet, however, boiling purslane will eliminate most of the oxalic acid while still offering these other health and medicinal benefits discussed above. And of course, be sure to harvest purslane from sources you know have had no pesticide use rather than random sidewalk cracks along the road.
I hope this has helped break down the misjudgment of this plant as “just a weed”. It’s important to recognize that weeds are only weeds because humans decided they were a nuisance; however, all of these plants have inherent wisdom and a vital purpose to the ecosystems in which they live. Some of them happen to be edible and a great source of nutritional and medicinal benefits to us, so we might as well embrace these free food sources!
- - -
- GreenMedInfo LLC - Powerful and Proliferative: the Formidable Purslane by GreenMedInfo Research Group
- Hobby Farms - 6 Tips for Growing Purslane - On Purpose! by Jesse Frost
- Nutrition and You.com - Purslane Nutrition Facts
- Organic Facts - 10 Amazing Benefits of Purslane by John Staughton
- The Old Farmer's Almanac - Purslane: Health Benefits and Recipes: A Weed Worth Keeping by Celeste Longacre
- UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County - Purslane by Master Gardener Stephanie Wrightson