Better living through nature
Heidi Cardenas is a freelance writer and gardener in Lake County, Illinois, with a background in human resources. She has written about gardening for various online venues and enjoys The Herb Companion’s valuable resources.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is also called garden purslane, green purslane, common purslane, verdolaga, hogweed and pigweed. It is also known as Ma Chi Xian (meaning horse tooth amaranth) in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is an annual “juicy” herb, or succulent, native to Europe and distributed throughout India, China and Japan. It’s a small plant, growing only six inches high, and is a great salad herb for counter or patio containers. The tiny seeds are easy to germinate for succession planting every six weeks and continuous salad crops that can be cut back for a second flush of growth. The small oval green leaves taste similar to spinach and like spinach, are eaten raw, blanched or boiled. Move over wheatgrass! Purslane can be juiced for a healthy green drink or as an addition to green smoothies.
What does purslane look like?
Purslane plants are low-growing, bushy succulent plants with reddish stems and clusters of small, oval, dark green leaves. Plants that are cut for salads and green side dishes become bushier as they replace cut growth. Purslane produces tiny yellow flowers with five petals that are not very conspicuous, and grow into tiny fruit capsules encasing many tiny black seeds. The plants are pretty in mixed container plantings for salad greens.
Purslane seeds sprout easily if kept evenly moist in light, rich soil. When seedlings are established, put them in full sun and water them at least three times a week. As a succulent, purslane tolerates drought, but does better with regular moisture. Broadcast the tiny seeds atop prepared soil inside or in hot beds in cold springs, or sprinkle right in the garden when the soil has warmed up. Let every other patch in a succession planting go to seed for a continuous supply of fresh seed throughout the growing season. The tiny flowers produce tiny seed capsules, which split and disseminate seed when ripe and dried out. Purslane is a persistent succulent which goes quickly to seed when uprooted to perpetuate, so be careful where you plant it in the garden, as pulling it up only encourages it. It is more easily controlled in containers.
Purslane Health Benefits
Purslane is high in omega-3 fatty acids and a good source of alpha-linolenic acid, calcium, potassium and vitamins E, C and A. Purslane has strong antibiotic, antifungal and antiparasitic properties. It is used effectively in China to treat dysentery, parasites and appendicitis without surgery.
How to Use Purslane
Purslane is a versatile herb in the landscape and kitchen. It is a pretty border plant and rock garden plant, and does very well in mass plantings because it self-seeds profusely. Plant it in the vegetable garden for salad greens. Take cuttings and use them fresh or dried for salads, side dishes, soups and stews, and herbal medicinal preparations. Use the seeds to flavor soups, stews, and savory breads and cakes. Add it to mixed salad greens, blanch it and mix with sautéed onions and steamed carrots for a hot side dish or chop it up and toss it in soups. Juice it with a wheatgrass juicer for a fresh green drink that is also a good cough reliever. A poultice of fresh, crushed purslane relieves burns and sunburn, cuts, boils and sore eyes.
Purslane is one of the herbs in nanakusa-gayu, seven-herb rice porridge, a traditional dish made on Nanakusa-no-sekku, the Japanese new year’s Festival of Seven Herbs. This herbal rice porridge is for relief from overeating or digestive upset and to clean and refresh the digestive system. It’s prepared from a creamy white rice porridge made by boiling rinsed rice in 8 cups of water with sea salt and adding blanched, chopped tender mixed dark greens such as purslane, spinach, turnip greens and dandelion greens. The traditional recipe uses seven different greens: seri (water dropwort), nazuna (shepherd’s purse), gogyou (cotton weed), hakobe (chickweed), hotokenoa (henbit), suzuna (turnip greens) and suzushiro (Daikon radish greens), although many other greens are used.
Add purslane to your garden this year and get your green on!