PURSLANE (Portulaca oleracea) is a weed in my garden that I curse; it comes uninvited, spreads fast, and keeps on giving. Purslane grows nearly everywhere in the world and is known as a weed, as I see it, or an edible plant. Some cultures embrace purslane as a delicious and exceptionally nutritious treat!
Because purslane grows so rapidly and spreads easily, most research has focused on eradication by tillage or chemicals. The new approach is to eradicate by eating. While I couldn’t begin to eat against the amount of purslane that pops up in my garden, a little now and then is a bit of garden treat. The leaves, plucked from the stems, are somewhat crunchy and have a slight lemon taste. I like it sprinkled on salads, sandwiches, and omelets. It can also be steamed or used in stir-fries and makes a good thickener for soups or stews because it has a high level of pectin. Supposedly it also makes a great low-fat pesto; because purslane is so juicy, only a small amount of olive oil is needed. Purslane is high is Vitamin E and essential omega-3 fatty acids providing more that six times more Vitamin E than spinach and seven times more carotene than carrots. It is also rich in Vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, potassium, and phosphorus.
While it is readily available in my garden, I have yet to see purslane in the markets in Central Iowa. If one is so lucky to not have purslane in their garden or yard but are curious to try it, likely there is a neighbor who would be only too happy to share. Before sampling or eating, make sure that the plant is chemical free and thoroughly washed as it grows close to the ground. And if this is a new food, don’t over indulge. Any number of recipes can be find via Google.
Having said all these good things about purslane, I still see it as a weed and struggle to eradicate it by pulling, hoeing or using chemicals. Using a mechanical tiller is the worst at controlling it as cultivating breaks it apart and, being a succulent, each piece becomes a new plant. Hoeing is effective only if the root is taken and the plant is removed. Any soil disturbance raises long-lived seeds near the surface where they easily germinate. Purslane is not picky about where it grows, loves hot weather, and does not require moisture; but give it tilled soil and a little moisture, and it goes wild. Therefore, the best rule is to get it before it goes to seed; it takes less than three weeks from the time it emerges until it flowers and seeds. A single plant may produce 240,000 seeds which have germination potential for up to 40 years. Mulching helps control purslane as mulch suppresses seed germination. For mulch to be effective, it must be thick enough to block all light to prevent seed germination; 1/2 inch of mulch is recommended.
Purslane . . . weed ’em or eat ’em? I will be weeding more than eating.