Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) should remind you of a weed we commonly see in the cracks on streets and sidewalks. This plant grows easily in poor soil. Its stem is round and smooth and trails the ground like a small vine. Young plants’ green stems turn reddish upon maturity. Their small, egg-shaped to oblong green leaves form clusters and are hairless and succulent. Purslane has been used as food throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Mexico and also as a remedy for arthritis and inflammation in Europe and China. In Chinese herbal medicine Purslane is used to treat respiratory and circulatory problems. In the American culture, Purslane’s status as a weed is beginning to change.
Recent scientific analyses have shown Purslane to be one of the most nutritious greens on the planet, with six times more vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta carotene than carrots. It is also rich in vitamin A, several vitamin Bs, vitamin C and several dietary minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron. Its pigments are potent antioxidants and have been found to have antimutagenic properties in laboratory studies. Best of all, Purslane is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, in particular alpha-linoleneic acid, which can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as make the blood less likely to form clots. Purslane can replace the need for fish oil supplements.
In comparing the nutritional value per 100 g of Purslane with broccoli as stated in Wikipedia, both plants contain the same trace metals, various vitamins, carbohydrates, fat and proteins in comparable amounts. However, Purslane lacks vitamin B5 and vitamin K that are found in broccoli. On the other hand, broccoli is not known to contain omega-3 fatty acids that are abundant in Purslane. One half cup of fresh Purslane leaves contains 300-400 mg of alpha-linoleneic acid. Recently upscale restaurants in New York and California have begun to introduce Purslane in some of their new creations, too. It is somewhat crunchy and has a slightly lemony taste. Try adding it to your salad, stir-fry, stew or soup, or search for a new Purslane recipe online.
Growing Purslane is easy. The seeds can be purchased online or harvested from pods produced by the yellow flowers that open singly at the center of the leaf cluster. Its deep taproots tolerates our clay soil and drought by bringing nutrients and moisture from deep down in the soil to the surface for use by other plants. Being full of nutrients it can be added to compost as a “green manure.” You can add Purslane to your yard as an edible landscape. It will benefit both your garden and your health. This is a wonderful example of how nature provides us with amazing resources.