Get down and dirty in the garden
Freelance writer, community herbalist and medicine maker, Jennifer Heinzel hails from the cold city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Jennifer is an avid writer, especially for anything folklore or myth-related to herbalism. She has written for the Chequamegon co-op, United Plant Savers journal, and NorthPoint Health & Wellness center. Visit Thymes Ancient Remedies to read more from Jennifer.
I previously wrote about the history of purslane, a well-traveled herb renounded for its medicinal properties. This is part two of my purslane profile.
In Europe, purslane enjoyed a respectable social position, with several strains of it being cultivated in vegetable gardens as a green. It couldn’t naturalize in England like it could in China, Mexico or the Middle East, but it was still enthusiastically added to salads with oil, salt and vinegar to cool the blood and encourage appetites.
As with any herb that was used historically, purslane comes with many interesting, as well as bizarre, uses and folk names. This herb was believed and used to guard against evil spirits—provided it was strewn around a person’s bed. It was also used to cure "blastings by lightening or planets and burning of gunpowder,” according to Just Weeds: History, Myths and Uses by Pamela Jones. Distilled in water, purslane was traditionally used to ease toothaches, fasten loose teeth, and treat sore mouths and swollen gums. It is beneficial to eat purslane raw when “one’s teeth are set on edge with eating of sharpe and soure things,” according to British herbalist John Gerard. Its juice, when taken with honey, may treat dry coughs, shortness of breath and immoderate thirst,according to Jones. Jones also says that when purslane seeds are bruised and boiled in wine, and given to children, it soothes “heat of the liver” and head pains caused from “heat, want of sleep, or the frenzy.” Lastly, when applied crushed externally, purslane also reduces inflammation of the eyes, according to British herbalist Nicholas Culpeper. The gypsy herbalist Juliet de Baiacli Levy again greatly recommends this herb. Internally she used the entirety of the plant as a refrigerant and soothing herb, treating blood disorders and fevers very well. Purslane is also a mild laxative (the seeds are vermifuge), and useful in the treatment of headaches, anemia, rickets, blood pressure and diabetes. Levy recommended eating up to two handfuls of purslaneper day. For skin ailments, she also recommends applying purslane as a pulp externally bound with a cotton cloth. Lastly, in the 1930s, a United States Department of Agriculture botanist stated that purslane is very palatable when cooked and heartily recommended it.
Herbalists tend to love weeds. They can survive harsh conditions, are very prolific, and also happen to be extremely nutrient- and mineral-rich. Purslane is high in vitamins A and E, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron. Also, as one of the only vegetables in the world to be super-rich in omega 3s, it's no wonder why so many native cultures ate purslane so enthusiastically! Purslane is also very good at treating circulation and overall heart health: vitamin E is one of the best in the world for circulation and improving heart function, and omega 3s significantly help reduce cholesterol. If you are wary about eating purslane for its slightly slimy consistency and are interested in more omega 3 sources, try flaxseed, soy beans, wheat and oat germs, radish seeds, rapeseed (canola) oil and nuts (especially walnuts).
Purslane is also a good antioxidant, antibiotic, hypotensive and diuretic. This small potherb is a refrigerant, and soothes heat-related ailments such as fevers and blood disorders. Its juice treats skin ailments such as caterpillar stings, inflammation, sores, eczema and abcesses, among other skin diseases. In modern-day China, the entire plant is used to treat diarrhea and urinary infections, and to reduce fevers. In Indonesia, it is used to treat cardiac weakness and breathing difficulties.