The Overlooked Purslane

Jonathan Townsend

Posted on July 20 2012

The Overlooked Purslane

Just as it is across half of the United States, this part of Indiana where I live is under the oppressive effects of extreme drought. I’ve given up on my lawn. The grass crunches beneath my feet and breaks off at the ground with each step. I fear spontaneous combustion should the sun even look at it wrong. The only signs of life in my yard are the towering weeds which have shown themselves once again to be the most well-equipped to survive.

The other day I braved the heat and went outside to uproot those few remaining living things. I felt a bit “Grinchy” doing so. As I made my way to the front of the house where the tallest stand thrived, I was delighted to find a splayed-out clump purslane growing up through the crack in my scalding hot sidewalk.

Purslane is considered an exotic weed in most parts of the U.S., but there is some fossil evidence that it was at one time native to North America. It is common throughout many parts of the world. It’s a succulent plant that stores water in its leaves, stems, and roots. It reminds me of a diminutive version the jade plant I have growing in my living room. Both purslane and my jade plant seem to be equally resistant to drought.

Both the stalks and leaves of purslane are edible. It has a snappy texture and its taste can vary depending on the time of day it’s harvested: pick it before the sun rises and it can have a slightly tart flavor; by midday, it’s likely to taste more mild with a hint of earth. And what’s especially nice about this plant is that it’s extremely high in Omega-3 oils — more so than any other leafy plant you can find in the produce section. It’s also high in Vitamins A, B, and C. If you suffer from kidney stones or gout, however, you may want to be careful about making purslane a regular addition to your diet, as it also contains high levels of oxalate, a contributor to these ailments.

Purslane can be found in a number of 18th century cookbooks. It was typically used in soups and stews, as well as eaten raw in salads. It was also used as a garnish, often being blanched and pickled. Here are a few recipes:

The Compleat Housewife, Eliza Smith, 1739

By the way, a “walm” is a bubble according the O.E.D. Boil the stalks in salted water for a dozen bubbles…in order words, blanch them.

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