“We know, mom, you can eat it” my children say as I pause next to a sprawling plant on the edge of the sidewalk. It’s what we do. We hike or walk and I point out leaves and flowers while they humor me. I did the same on camping trip with my mom. Secretly I loved it, all the while rolling my eyes as my children do today.
The plant I was pointing out to them was purslane, an ingredient eaten around the world and throughout history, yet shunned on dinner plates in the United States. I try to understand why just as I read Henry David Thoreau try to discern in Walden: “I have made a satisfactory dinner of a dish of purslane which I gathered and boiled. Yet, men have come to such a pass that they starve, not for want of necessities, but for want of luxuries.” Delicious and healthful abundance is around us.We finished our walk and decided to take a trip to the farmers market. I sneakily snuck a green bunch into my basket. I never mentioned that the salad they ate for dinner contained purslane until we finished and they complimented the tanginess of the greens. “So we foraged, mom?” Not exactly, but it’s a step.
Fossil evidence puts purslane in the Americas before Columbus. In Mexico it is called verdolaga and is used in soups and salads. In China it is known as carti-choy and used in stir-fry dishes. The French call it pourpier. Italians call it portulaca, and many Middle Easterners consume it mainly as a potherb. It is used in soups and curries in South India.
Purslane is a super food yet its status is relegated to a position as a weed to be eliminated from our pristine American landscapes. Tips fill the internet and gardening books on ways to kill or prevent its encroachment into one’s lawn. If you look on USDA info about pursane, it is described as a “noxious weed.” Remember the famous quote from Emerson: "What is a weed?" A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." Discover away.
Purslane is a succulent, meaning it has water-storing leaves or stems. It’s thick, round leaves are almost teardrop shaped. Its red, recumbent stalks form a sprawling matt as it grows everywhere- in crack, sidewalks, and abandoned pieces of earth. The entire purslane plant is edible and can be eaten fresh, cooked, canned, pickled, steamed, juiced, or dried.
I love the flavor, somewhat tart, citrusy, tangy, and lemon-like. But the real beauty of purslane (besides that it grows everywhere) comes from its health benefits. It is high in antioxidants, low in calories, and rich in fiber. Its iron content is comparable to spinach. It is rich in vitamins A, C, and E. One cup equal 450 mg (the minimum recommended daily allowance). One cup also gives 2000 mgs of calcium and 8000 of potassium. It is the highest in Omega 3 fatty acid of any plant, more so than some fish even. This makes purslane a great choice for vegans.
Ideas for purslane:Crisp salad: I chop the leaves, mix with arugula, and toss with lemon juice, fresh grated parmesan, and cracked pepper.
Purslane and potato salad: Take a large bunch (roots and all), wash and dry. Brush with olive oil and place on grill until stems are limp. Tear up leaves and mix with red potatoes that have been boiled for about 10 minutes and quartered. Add olives, feta, salt & pepper and a yogurt dressing. Cucumbers and radishes would be great too.Pickled purslane: Wash. Pull leaves from the stems. Pack leaves in a quart jar. Add a few peeled garlic cloves and a handful of peppercorns. Cover in apple cider vinegar. Place lid and ring on. Store in refrigerator for a few weeks before using. Mmm deviled eggs with pickled purslane relish.
*foraging note: spurge is a poisonous plant similar to and growing near purslane. Its stems are not as thick as purslane. Its leaves grow in pairs across from each other on the stem. Easiest way to distinguish is a white, milkish sap that oozes when the stem is broken.