Often yanked out as a weed, purslane is decidedly edible.
Common purslane (Portulaca oleracea) requires little or no care in our California gardens and landscape. Also known as pigweed, pursley, and fatweed, this prostrate spreading succulent is an excellent addition to salads and sandwiches, plus it makes for a refreshing snack as you work in the garden! The leaves and young stems are crisp, moist, and lemony, something akin to spinach and watercress. Common purslane is not to be confused with Winter purslane (Claytonia perfoliata), also known as Miner’s lettuce. The two plants are very different, aside from both being edible.
Purslane is filled with lots of good nutrients. It has especially high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. According to Mother Earth News, purslane contains, “six times more vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta carotene than carrots.“ Purslane provides high levels of antioxidants and vitamins A and C, along with potassium, iron, and magnesium.
Purslane also contains pectin, which allows it to be used in cooking as a thickener (and helps reduce cholesterol). When overcooked, it may become slimy, like okra, so crushing the leaves is a good idea when adding it to soups and stews. If cooked lightly, purslane can also be used in stir fry dishes. That being said, oxalates are also present, so purslane should not be eaten by people prone to kidney stones.
While purslane is an annual, it is well equipped to reproduce without human intervention. According to Sonoma Master Gardener Stephanie Wrightson, a single purslane plant can produce “240,000 seeds, which may germinate after 5 to 40 years” so it is a good idea to monitor the plants for seed production if you want to get rid of purslane and you’re in luck if you don’t! Purslane seeds love freshly turned soil, as it brings them closer to moisture and sunlight.
While common purslane grows in a horizontal mat, you can also buy seeds for garden purslane (Portulaca oleracea) or golden purslane (Portulaca sativa). These plants are more upright in their growth (up to 18 inches tall) and the leaves are larger and more tender.
To grow purslane seeds, plant them 4 to 6 inches apart, only about 1/4 inch deep. Keep them moist until they have germinated and put out some mature growth. Once established, the leaves and stems can be harvested at any time. Purslane can also be grown in containers, indoors or out, and it makes an attractive windowsill garden addition. Frost will kill the current generation.
While I have never seen any pests or diseases affecting the purslane in my yard, there is a weevil, (Hypurus bertrandi), also known as portulaca leafminer that is known to attack purslane in California. There is also a purslane sawfly (Schizocerella pilicornis) that is found in California.
An interesting note: purslane harvested in the morning is crisper, while the same plant harvested in the afternoon is sweeter. Purslane can handle dry and irrigated locations. Personally, I encourage it under my fruit trees. The plants cover the ground, protecting it from erosion, other weeds, and water loss, while the shallow roots do not seem to interfere with the trees. This living mulch serves me well in the garden and in the kitchen!
Do you have purslane in your garden? Have a nibble and let us know what you think in the comments!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!