Backyard Nature Wednesday: Purslane

Common purslane (Portulaca oleracea) grows throughout many regions of the world. It has been so widespread for so long that its beginnings are a bit hazy, but it is believed to have originated on the Indian sub-continent. It is now found in the wild throughout the Old World, and there is evidence that it reached the Americas in the pre-Columbian era. It is now well naturalized in all of these places, including in my backyard.

Purslane is a close cousin of the ornamental succulent called portulaca which many gardeners grow from seed or purchase plants from nurseries. It is known by many common names, such as hogweed, pursley, moss rose, pigweed, and verdolaga. Though it is considered by many to be a weed, it can be quite pretty and it has surprising nutritional and health benefits.

Purslane can serve as a leafy green vegetable, good in salads. It is rich in dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The fresh leaves of the plant contain more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant. Consuming foods rich in omega-3 may help to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease as well as other diseases.

Purslane is an excellent source of vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant and an essential vitamin for vision. It is also a good source of vitamin C and some of the B-complex vitamins.

Although it is primarily used fresh in salads, purslane can also be sauteed or gently stewed and served as a side dish with fish and poultry. It can be stir-fried with other greens such as spinach. In the South Indian region, it is extensively used in soups and curries, often eaten with rice.

Purslane is an annual, but it reseeds itself extensively and I find new plants growing in my garden, sometimes in surprising places, every spring. The flowers are actually quite pretty, although they open only for a few hours on sunny days. They are single blossoms located at the center of a leaf cluster. Most of the flowers in the wild seem to be yellow and I used to have yellow ones, along with the pink, growing in my yard, but over the years, for whatever reason, the yellow seems to have fallen by the wayside. In recent years, I've only seen the pink blossoms.

If you have purslane growing in your garden, don't just reflexively pull it out as a weed. Consider its ornamental possibilities. And by all means, consider its many uses in the kitchen. You might find that you like its slightly sour and salty taste. Moreover, its health benefits are unquestioned. 


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