Jul 052010
 

purslane-edible-weed

By this time of year, foraging is thin for Israelis. All the tender, juicy wild edibles of late winter and spring have disappeared. Chickweed, nettles, mallows…the wild greens I foraged in March and April are just dried-up skeletons that rustle when the afternoon breeze moves through them.  I think of  dormant seeds dropped on the ground,  roots conserving their strength till the winter rains come again to revive and green the land. And take another big shlook of water, because it’s hot and dry now.

Still, there’s purslane. Purslane loves the heat.  Plenty of purslane in my window boxes every summer. That’s no surprise, because it’s a stubborn weed that’s determined to take over the world. Give it enough water and it’ll grow so big and strong you’ll have to wrestle it out of the ground.

It’s  a low-growing, sprawling succulent with many reddish branches. The fleshy, dark-green leaves show a reddish underside. They’re small, flat, and oblong, growing alternately on the stem and topped by a yellow flower at the end of the stem. The flowers open only in the hottest part of the day. They produce lots of black, sand-sized seeds that are nutritious too.

But I allow purslane to  grow in my window boxes because I like its lemony, salty taste.

It’s amazingly high in vitamins and minerals. A portion of 100 grams will provide you with 2,500 IU of vitamin A raw (2,100 cooked); yet it has only 21 calories. More nutritional goodies in purslane are calcium, iron, thiamin, Vitamin C (raw), and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Traditionally, native peoples eat it to treat arthritis, anemia, Vitamin C deficiency and inflammations. Drinking tea from the leaves is said to bring down fever. Crushed and applied externally, folk medicine uses it to relieve all kinds of inflamed conditions of eyes, gums, even gout.

But let’s get back to purslane as food.

“I have made a satisfactory dinner off a dish of Purslane which I gathered and boiled…” said Henry David Thoreau, adding: “Yet men have come to such a pass that they frequently starve, not from want of necessaries, but for want of luxuries.”

How to eat Purslane.

My own favorite way is to add well-washed, raw leaves  to the salad.

But try purslane one (or more) of these ways:

  • Chuck a handful of leaves or two into any soup or stew.
  • Steam leaves and tender stems briefly and drizzle a little olive oil over them; serve hot.
  • Stir fry them with other vegetables.
  • Pickle the thick, mature stems.
  • A well-known Mexican dish, Verdolaga con Queso, calls for steaming Purslane then adding garlic, onion, a chopped tomato and  one chile. To the hot pan, add minced salty white cheese; stir a couple of eggs into the mixture and scramble them loosely. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Verdolaga con Queso can be served in a folded tortilla (or warm pitta).
  • Batter and fry the tender tips.
  • Substitute young, raw Purslane for lettuce in sandwiches.
  • Add the leaves to chicken, pasta or tuna salads.

The whole above-ground portion of the plant may be eaten, as long as it’s tender. The tough, mature stems are best pickled or made into relish. Always wash Purslane carefully. As it grows right on the ground, it will have dirt on it. And don’t cook it more than 2-5 minutes unless it goes into soup; it will release its beneficial mucilage and get slippery, which is not as pleasant to eat as it is healthy.

Enjoy!

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  14 Responses to “Purslane, Summer’s Edible Weed”

  1. Sounds very interesting. Would this be available commercially for those of us who don’t forage? What’s it called in Hebrew?

  2. Hi, Mirj,

    I’ve seen purslane for sale at the organic farmer’s market at the renovated Tel Aviv train station. Probably other farmer’s markets offer it too. In Hebrew it’s called “reglah” for its many legs – runners that go out in all directions.

  3. Thanks, and good mnemonic!

  4. Interesting, I never paid much attention to that plant before. Now, I’ll start looking.

  5. Hey, Liz,

    You’ll like it, I’m sure.

  6. I’ve been enjoying big, fat purslane for the last two weeks; can’t imagine why more people don’t appreciate this delicacy.

  7. Hey, Ellen!

    Just iggorance, Ellen. My mother grew up regarding it as a salad veg. That was in Nicaragua, almost 90 years ago. She passed that attitude to me, my American baby-boom peers regarded vegetables as corn out of a can. Sad, eh?

  8. Hey, Mimi, an update — my greengrocer at the Carmel Market sells it! It’s great, I’m adding it to all my salads.

  9. Liz, I’ve seen purslane at the Carmel Market too. It’s very lush, obviously coming from well-irrigated fields. I like that lemony, salty taste. I’m glad you’re enjoying purslane. My mother ate it all life, growing up in Latin America. She credits her longevity and good health to purslane and other wild foods that were just part of daily fare back then.

  10. Purslane in window boxes! I hadn’t considered that – will have to see if I can grow some this winter inside – wonder how many hours of sun it needs to grow.

    Am researching purslane for use as an understory cover crop in my apple orchard. Have found one study (online) where it was used as a living mulch with broccoli crops with no loss to the broccoli. I know it grows vigorously here (Michigan, in the US, latitude 43, with winters to F -15. ) – was nibbling some I found in a friends’ (organic) lawn yesterday, and teasing her about it when I realized it might be a good cover crop. Would love to hear from you if you have tried this or know anyone who has.

  11. Hayden, I’ve gardened in window boxes all my life. I can’t help you with the ground cover idea. Maybe you can follow up the author of the study you read for a better-informed opinion. I can tell you that if you leave purslane alone, it grows very strong roots. I don’t see how it wouldn’t interfere with a crop.

    Purslane is a heat-loving plant. If you can give it lots of heat and light during the winter, you may succeed in keeping it going artificially. But I don’t see the point in forcing it out of season. On the other hand…lots of new ideas seem non-viable to others. Try it – it may work.

  12. How wonderful to discover the attributes of this plant! I’ve been volunteering on an organic farm and we spend much of each day eliminating this from the gardens…making room for plants that probably are half as nutritious! Thank you for recipes which I’ll definitely pass along to my fellow workers!

  13. Julie, your comment made my day. How great to know that somewhere, someone got turned on to purslane and will pass the knowledge on! I used to get bunches of it in my CSA box, which I was grateful for because I now live in an apartment and have to grow only a little purslane, in window boxes.

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