Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)


Common names: Purslane, Common Purslane, Pigweed

Taxonomic name: Portulaca oleracea

Family: Portulacaceae

Uses: food, vitamin C deficiency, Indigenous bread making

Area of origin: Seems like everywhere but the Americas

Warnings: none

As Summer gets underway, Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) or ‘Pigweed’ as it is also known, is growing just about everywhere, with no help at all from us at all. Its spreading habit and thick leaves and succulent, red/brown stems make Purslane easy to identify as it pops out from foot paths, sidewalks and gardens. It also has tiny, yellow flowers.

Fleshy leaves and stems, yellow flowers – delicious!

Purslane is a highly nutritious plant with high levesl of Omega- 3 fatty acid, ALA (alpha linoleic acid), potassium, calcium, magnesium, Vitamins A, B, C, E and carotene. It has a ‘depurative’ effect, which means it is used as a purifier in the body and is used as an ‘antiscorbutic’ (don’t you love these words!), meaning that it is used for ailments resulting in vitamin C deficiency.

Purslane plants can be very variable in size. These two plants were growing less than a metre apart, in almost identical conditions, on a driveway .

One of the interesting things about Purslane is that its nutritional level varies throughout the day as it changes its style of creating and storing energy. I won’t bog you down with a lecture on phytochemistry though.

Purslane has been used as a salad vegetable around the world and does well as a green veggie in other dishes. It also makes for an interesting ferment – that’s a good way to use up the thicker stalks. Just cover them in lightly salted water for three to five days until bubbles start to form, then leave until it suits your taste.

Beside eating it as a vegetable, local Aboriginal folk use it as a binding agent when making cakes of Acacia seed flour. Its mucilaginous nature makes it an excellent binding agent at a time when water is scarce.

You wouldn’t believe how many seeds one plant can produce!

I cheat a bit when I grow Purslane. Even though one plant can produce around 250, 000 seeds (you can eat them too!), it’s much easier to find a wild one, dig it up and transplant it into your garden. A little water for a day or so and away you go!

Purslane has some other great uses for the homesteader or permaculturalist beside food for ourselves. It is much loved by pigs (hence one of its nicknames) and chickens. They go crazy for it and it does good things for them, giving the yolks a brighter yellow colour.

Nutritious, tasty and free, demanding no attention and giving so much – what more can we ask?

Thank you, Purslane!

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