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.