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What is Purslane?

Purslane can be used in omelets.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 April 2014
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Purslane refers to several succulent plants often viewed as weeds unless intentionally planted. The sight of these red stemmed trailing annuals, which can reach about five to six inches (12.7-15.24cm), with approximately two inch (5.08 cm) long green leaves, may be cause for celebration among some chefs and annoyance among gardeners who didn’t intentionally plant it. Though there are several groups of plants in this family, you should choose to grow Portulaca oleracea variety sativa, or cultivated purslane, for the best tasting choices.

Several studies on purslane for consumption have revealed that this plant is an excellent one for the diet. The leaves are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, possibly the highest vegetable source of Omega-3, and higher in beta-carotene than is spinach. Stems have great Vitamin C content too. Further, a cup (100 grams) only has 15 calories, so you get a highly nutritional food for few calories.

Chefs also contend purslane is an incredibly delicious food. It’s known as a succulent herb that has great crunch and a slight peppery taste. It can be used in salads, folded into omelets, or used as a crunchy green on sandwiches. Many contend that cucumber salads with yogurt toppings are even better when this crunchy plant is added. Certainly it can’t be denied that the nutritional content of such a salad is much higher.

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This herb is very popular in Mexico, where it may be called verdolagas. It might be added to tortillas, or even salsa to create extra taste. Middle Easterners use seeds of the plant for bread. Don’t be surprised that if this plant shows up at your favorite gourmet restaurant in Europe or North America — purslane is quickly becoming a favorite among top chefs.

There are several varieties of Purslane that are cultivated for looks more than taste. These are often called Portulaca grandiflora and have large showy flowers. Though this variety is still edible, it’s often considered bland.

Instead, look for purslane that is either growing wild, or try growing the cultivated herb. You’ll need a very sunny location with dry well-drained soil. Experts on the herb also suggest harvesting your plants before sun-up or after sundown, since they will be most moist. During daylight hours especially on hot days, the herb loses some of its juiciness as it bakes in the sun.

Given the nutritional benefits of the herb, you may be able to find it in either gourmet or natural foods stores. Most often, it’s found in late spring through summer. Yet since the plant propagates so easily, consider growing your own for the freshest purslane you can get. Furthermore, if you find you have this as a weed on your lawn or in your garden, go ahead and pluck it, but try eating it instead of tossing it on the compost heap. You may be surprised at its fresh and delicious taste.

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