Monday, 29 July 2013

Common purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Common purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is an herbaceous annual from the Portulacaceae family. Also known as green purslane, summer purslane, golden purslane, garden purslane, verdolaga, sun plant, pigweed, pursley, moss rose and little hogweed. It is found in many parts of the world including Europe, India, China and Japan. Although not indigenous to the British Isles it is a frequent casual visitor. It is very common in North America where it is considered a weed!

An image of common purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Common purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Common Purslane has a long history of use in herbal medicine and has anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-oxidant properties. It contains protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, vitamin A, C and E, beta-carotene, pectin, minerals, flavonoids and melatonin. Battram's Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine says it is no longer used medicinally.

Growing methods

Sow seeds from April until August in trays or pots under cover or outside after the first frosts. Seeds will germinate at around 15 to 20°C. Once seedlings are big enough, pot on to larger containers or plant out in their final position.

Plants like the sun and warmth and prefer well drained soil with extra water during dry periods. Purslane grows rapidly and should be ready to eat 6 to 8 weeks after sowing. Use as a 'cut-and-come-again' plant. Leaves will readily re-grow after picking.

There are green and golden leaved cultivars available. Golden leaved plants are less hardy but considered more succulent. Purslane is traditionally a trailing plant but the modern garden varieties tend to be more upright in their habit with larger more succulent leaves.

Purslane can be used as a cut-and-come-again plant. Leave the plant in the ground and snip off the stems as required. It will grow new slightly smaller stems.

An image of purslane used as a cut-and-come-again plant.
Purslane used as a cut-and-come-again plant.

Raw edible parts

The whole plant is edible raw. Purslane has a refreshing crunchy texture with a salty peppery flavour. It adds a rich saltiness to salads and can be used to thicken soups as it has a mucilagenous quality very like Okra. Use the chubby paddle-shaped leaves in salads or soups. The stems, which are a lovely red colour, can be pickled raw in vinegar and herbs.

Purslane can be dried in a dehydrator for later use. Drying causes the plant to use the water stored in the stems to develop seed pods. Dried seed pods can be used as a flour. We've never had enough seeds to make the flour so know nothing about using it.

Other similar plants

A similar looking plant and one available for wild foraging in the UK is water purslane (Lythrum portula) from the Lythraceae family. A rather low growing fellow, found around reservoirs, ponds, bogs and other wet areas such as rutted tracks. It has raw edible leaves.

Also sea purslane (Halimione portulacoides) from the Chenopodiaceae family which can be found in salt marsh areas. It has raw edible leaves.

Another useful member of the Portulacaceae family is pink purslane (Claytonia sibirica). Also known as claytonia or Siberian, miner's lettuce. This evergreen annual or perennial is more hardy and can be found in leaf very early in the year. It is naturalised in Britain. The whole plant is edible raw.

Winter purslane or claytonia (Claytonia perfoliata) is another to add to the list. Also known as miner's lettuce and India lettuce. Similar to claytonia sibirica, it is a great winter salad crop. The whole plant is edible raw.

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