Purslane: A “Superfood” Without a Marketing Team
Aliases: Verdolaga, Pigweed, Pursley, Pussley, Rigla, Pourpier, Ma-Chi-Xian, Arachne, Portulacca, Hogweed
Binomial Etymology: Portulaca oleracae
Port- is “carry;” -ul *a is “little or scar;” -aca is “a point/silence/healing;” oler- is “greens/vegetable;” -acae is a generic ending to plant names (Borror, 1960).
Binomial Pronunciation: Porch-You-Lock-Uh. Ole-Your-Ace-E-Uh
USDA Classification: Weedy, invasive, both introduced and native.
An ancient ally, purslane’s relationship with humankind stretches into the yawning darkness before written history. The Chinese have utilized it for thousands of years as a medicine and it was known to ancient cooks as a delicate addition to soups and “sallets.”
Although purslane is widely believed to be the greatest terrestrial source of omega-3 fatty acids, it is unlikely to be marketed as a superfood because it cannot be sold to you; it is growing in your backyard right now.
This annual is a familiar, prostrate/low-spreading weed. Stems: thick, mucilaginous, radiating from taproot, blushing reddish, smooth. Leaves: succulent, solid green, oval/obovate/spatulate, tapering toward the stem like chubby mouse ears. Flowers: five-petaled, opening on sunny mornings, occurring at leaf axils. Seeds: small, black, numerous. Fruit: small, capsule-like.
This cosmopolitan weed can be found growing in the cracks of sidewalks, waste areas, cultivated gardens, and sandy soils receiving full sun.
Purslane is excellent raw or as a crisply mucilaginous addition to fresh salads. The flavor can be described as salty lemon. Purslane can also be used like okra to thicken soups or gumbo, and to make pickles. I’ve found them to be fantastic when prepared as tempura. In the 17th century, purslane was fermented — like sauerkraut — with fennel, and also used as a main potherb in onion/pea soup (Rohde, 1936). If the viscous texture doesn’t appeal to you, tossing the cooked greens with breadcrumbs, eggs, and baking the mixture is said to help (Drake, 1957).
The small black seeds can be collected in late summer by wilting the plants on white paper. They can be eaten raw, in soups, or used to make bread. Turkish people have been known to prepare fresh purslane with yogurt and garlic (Ozbucak, Kutbay, & Akcin, 2006).
The plant has been used topically as a burn dressing, or on bruises(Moerman, 2009). It is traditionally utilized as a febrifuge (fever reducer), antiseptic, and vermifuge (worm expeller) (Zhou, 2015).
Purslane has been studied widely for its antiulcerogenic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and wound healing properties (Zhou, 2015).
Purslane was said to be planted, and worn to ward away evil spirits(Northcote, 1903).
The name, purslane, is derived from an amalgamation of its Latin name, portulacca, and its archaic French name, pourcelaine (Stephens, 1994). It was highly valued as a garden herb in green or golden form in 17th century England, being mentioned several times in passing by Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626) in his posthumous publication, Sylva Sylvarum. Pliny the Elder (AD 23-AD 79) reported that the ancient Greeks referred to purslane as adrachne (Daubeny, 1865). In Greek mythology, Arachne was a mortal weaver who challenged the goddess Minerva to a competition in needlework. After being defeated by the goddess, Arachne hangs herself in despair, and is subsequently transformed into a spider (Ovid, 1833). Noticing the prostrate growth habit of purslane, it is not hard to imagine the ancient Greeks associating this plant with the spider (Class: Arachnida).
“Lord, I confess to when I dine
The pulse is thine-
And all those other bits that be
There placed by Thee.
The worts, the purslain, and the mess
Of water Cress.”
“I have made a satisfactory dinner, satisfactory on several accounts, simply off a dish of purslane…”
“…the garden patch requires your energy, plus its own; and the more war is waged upon [weeds], the more does it seem to encourage the purslane, which thrives like a freebooter in this sort of warfare.”
“I found in my yard a purslane that was get-
ting in its work before the frost. It was a
new plant, barely three inches long, and
the weather had been windy and raw. But
in a few days it had not merely come out
of the earth; it had lowered, fruited, and
opened the lid of one of its cups, showing
the seed within, black and perfect. It had
crowded into a week the usual life of a
Purslane is high in iron, vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, and phosphorus. It is said to contain outstandingly high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. (Mahr). By all accounts, purslane is a nutritional powerhouse.
Portulaca Rice Pudding
*approximately four portions
1 cup jasmine rice (pre-cooked)
1 cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup coconut milk
½ cup purslane (chopped finely)
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/3 cup rasins
Sugar to taste (.8 oz for me)
½ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp ginger
Simmer purslane, pre-cooked rice, and milk for 5 minutes or until mixture thickens.
Add heavy cream, coconut milk, turmeric, ginger, raisins, and pumpkin seeds.
Increase heat to a boil for five minutes
Chill and serve
Spurge (Poisonous) — Euphorbia sp.
Key differences: Purslane is hairless and exudes no white latex when damaged.
Rohde, E. S. (1936). A Garden of Herbs (4th ed.). Boston and New York: Hale, Cushman, & Flint.
Stephens, J. M. (1994, May). Purslane — Portulaca oleracea L. Retrieved July 9, 2016, from http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mv118
Northcote, R. (1903). The Book of Herbs. London and New York: John Lane: The Bodley Head.
Moerman, D. E., & Moerman, D. E. (2009). Native American medicinal plants: An ethnobotanical dictionary. Portland, Or.: Timber Press.
Mahr, S. (2011, August 22). Common Purslane, Portulaca oleracea. Retrieved July 9, 2016, from http://wimastergardener.org/article/common-purslane-portulaca-oleracea/
Herrick, R. (1896). The lyric poems of Robert Herrick. London: J.M. Dent.
Thoreau, H. D. (1910). Walden: Or, Life in the woods. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Kirkham, S. D. (1908). In the open; intimate studies and appreciations of nature. San Francisco, CA: P. Elder & Company.
Skinner, C. M. (1898). Do-nothing days. With illus. by Violet Oakley and Edw.Stratton Holloway. Phildelphia, PA: Lippincott.
Zhou, Y., Xin, H., Rahman, K., Wang, S., Peng, C., & Zhang, H. (2015). Portulaca oleracea L.: a review of phytochemistry and pharmacological effects. Biomed Research International, 2015925631. doi:10.1155/2015/925631
Daubeny, C. (1865). Essay on the trees and shrubs of the ancients: Being the substance of four lectures delivered before the University of Oxford, intended to be supplementary to those on Roman husbandry. Oxford and London: J. H. & J. Parker.
Ovid, 4. B.C.-17 or 18 A.D. (1833). Ovid. London: A. J. Valpy.
Drake, H. A. (1957). Common edible wild plants. South Lancaster, Mass: College Press.
Borror, D. J. (1960). Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms (1st ed.). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.
Ozbucak, T. B., Kutbay, H. G., & Akcin, O. E. (2006). The Contribution of Wild Edible Plants to Human Nutrition in the Black Sea Region of Turkey. Ethnobotanical Leaflets98–103.