Purslane is that ubiquitous weed that grows almost anywhere, but it is mostly weeded. It is persistent, with seeds being able to germinate even when 40 years old, and plants will spring from tiny pieces of leaf. What is not commonly known is that Purslane is delicious and highly edible with a pleasantly sour taste. But before you go foraging around your neighbourhood, make sure that you can identify the plant accurately, and that it hasn’t been sprayed.
Purslane is native to India and Persia and has spread throughout the world as an edible plant and as a weed. It was said to be Gandhi’s favourite food. Many countries embrace it as a natural part of their cuisine.
A common alternative name for Purslane is Pigweed. The 19th Century Englishman William Cobbett said that it was suitable “only good for pigs and the French.” Good on the French! It is from the Portulaca family and is also called Porchellanetta in Italy where it grows wild along the coast.
The 16th Century Florentine Renaissance painter Bronzino immortalised a recipe that resembles today’s panzanella without tomatoes. In his recipe, wild purslane is listed as one of the ingredients. It was probably a dish that was made before tomatoes came into season, and tomatoes added as the Summer wore on. He wrote that a salad of chopped onion, purslane and cucumber beats any other pleasures in life.
The plant has fleshy succulent leaves and stems with yellow flowers that come later in the season. They look like baby jade plants. The leaves can vary from green to red-tinged. The stems lay flat on the ground as they radiate from a single taproot sometimes forming large mats of leaves. Some varieties lift their stems into the air, becoming very attractive and easier to pick. NOTE that Purlsane harvested in the morning will be more tart than Purslane harvested later in the day or evening.
Eat the fresh young plants, especially young leaves and tender stem tips. The taste is similar to watercress or spinach. It is fresh and crunchy, with a tang and a faint citrus undertone.
The leaves, tiny yellow flowers, young stems, and seeds of purslane are all edible. Use it in salads or on sandwiches instead of lettuce or pickles. It is good in stir-fries, omelettes, soups and pickles. Purslane can be cooked as a potherb, steamed, stir-fried or pureed. It tends to get a bit slimy if overcooked. It can be substituted for spinach in many recipes. It can be eaten as a cooked vegetable and is great to use in soups, and stews, or you can sprinkle a few leaves over any dish.
It is very common to use Purslane in a salad, usually in combination with onion, chives or freshly grounded pepper to counteract the cooling effect of the plant.
For the heath conscious people, Purslane is said to be antibacterial, antiscorbutic, depurative, diuretic and febrifuge. The leaves are said to be rich in omega-3 fatty acids which prevents heart attacks and strengthens the immune system. Also rich in iron and magnesium, it may therefore help to nourish the spinal cord, the nerves and the brain fibres promoting memory, concentration and muscle function.
It can be eaten freely, however it does contain a reasonable amount of oxalic acid (about the same amount as spinach); the younger the leaves the lower the content. If this worries you, keep in mind that a high oxalic acid intake is not a problem as long as it is combined with foods rich in calcium (vegetables, greens and dairy) and daily exposure to sunshine for vitamin D synthesis.
Great Purslane Pairings
Eat Purslane with one or more of these great pairings: cucumber, tomato, avocado, snow peas, green mango, white pepper, nuts and seeds, pomegranate, garlic, golpar, lemon, vinegar, marjoram, chives, spring onions (scallions), soft herbs, chilli, radishes, cream, yoghurt, feta and similar soft cheeses, parmesan and similar hard cheeses, celery, lentils and legumes such as Mung beans, toor dal, black beans, and chickpeas, and stone fruits such as peaches, nectarines, and plums.
To store purslane, right after picking, pop it in a plastic bag and put it straight in to the refrigerator or a cooler bag. It will keep fresh in the refrigerator for a week or more. Don’t wash it until just before you are ready to eat.
Our Purslane Recipes are all here, and include: