Every now and then, I do a little piece highlighting one of the edible plants that grow nearby, often without us even realizing it. There are so many things that we classify as weeds that, in reality, are completely edible, often very healthy, and surprisingly delicious. And the best part is, because they’re weeds, you don’t have to do anything to take care of them. It’s quite fun to go out and gather a salad consisting of nothing that you actually planted.
Today’s weed is purslane, a low-growing succulent. If you think that it looks like that portulaca that you plant for flowers, you’re right: it’s a member of the same family. It will radiate outward along the ground for a foot or more if you let it. The reddish stem is covered with fat, fleshy, rounded leaves, and the flowers do resemble the ornamental portulaca’s, though they’re much more inconspicuous.
Purslane is a common weed around here, and much of the country too. It has been part of the culinary tradition in places like India and along the Mediterranean coast for centuries, if not longer. And with good reason: purslane contains more Omega-3 fatty acid than any other plant source. In addition, it has more vitamin E than spinach, more beta carotene than carrots, high levels of vitamin C, and a number of other key nutrients like magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
The taste is similar to spinach, with just a hint of sour. Because purslance is a succulent, the leaves are juicy and crisp and add a nice texture to many dishes. It emerges late because it likes warm weather, but once it does, it will grow until frost. Pick the leaves and tender tips of stems (they’ll get tough as they thicken up). It will pop up just about anywhere: in the garden, in the driveway, even from cracks in the sidewalk.
I like to add them to salads, but also sautee them along with other vegetables (just add them in the last minute or two of cooking so they retain some of their texture). In other cultures, purslane is commonly a component of creamy salads as well as soups (it will act as a thickener). And if you really can’t tolerate the taste or just the idea of eating weeds, toss some into your smoothie; you’ll never notice it and still get all the benefits. And remember, the more you eat, the less you have to deal with in the gardens!