My garden is chock full of weeds right now. I recognize a handful of them, but many are a mystery to me. For example, a few days ago someone noted on one of my instagram posts that a weed in the background was Purslane, a plant that I was not familiar with. Apparently it is edible and quite nutritious, as well as an indicator of good soil quality, all wonderful things to hear. Especially because it is currently dominating the weed space in my garden, the only serious competitor being the unstoppable bindweed.
Purslane is not a plant that I would have guessed to be edible. It just looks too delicious. It is a succulent with leaves a little bit like those of a jade plant. They are just so plump and juicy looking, I definitely would have assumed it was poisonous, or at least unpleasant. If it is good to eat, why isn’t it covered in spines like so many other succulents? My best guess is that it just grows and spreads fast enough that no amount of predation creates a serious threat to its continued existence.
History of Purslane:
Purslane has a long history from the mediterranean region to the east. Those folks have been eating it for ages. It didn’t really make its way west until the Brits started meddling in those areas. Since then it has spread all over the place and found its way into everyone’s garden.
Apparently Ghandi loved this stuff. It has been said to be his favorite food, though I have a hard time believing that. A part of his favorite dish, perhaps. But that’s a little like saying your favorite food is spinach–I just don’t buy it. Saag Paneer, sure. Spanakopita, definitely. But not plain spinach.
Purslane is also part of the Cretan super-athlete diet that Chistopher McDougall writes about in Natural Born Heroes. He tends to write about the foods that the athletes in his books consume as if they are somewhat magical. Again, I don’t think that eating purslane is going to turn you into an incredible ultrarunner on its own, but it definitely won’t hurt either. That said, if you haven’t read Natural Born Heroes or his other, more famous, Born to Run, you should check one or both of them out. No matter who you are, they will inspire you to exercise. While recovering from a bad ankle injury last year I listened to Natural Born Heroes every time I exercised and found it to be the absolute best motivation I had ever encountered. Born to Run has a similar effect.
Identifying Common Purslane (Portulaca oleracea):
Purslane is a low-growing succulent which radiates stems from a central taproot. Typically the plant will not grow taller than around 3”, but it will occasionally put up stems to as high as 6”. Stems are typically reddish with green leaves growing in a cross pattern. Sometimes there will only be two opposite leave coming off the stem, but the four-leaf cross, particularly at the tips of stems is standard. The leaves themselves are thick. They are not as thick as many succulents, but they do have a slightly succulent quality to them. The flowers are small and yellow. I would advise consulting other identification guides for purslane and verifying anything against a good image until you are comfortable with identification.
Health benefits of purslane:
Purslane is hugely nutritious, with a whole slew of vitamins and the most omega-3 fatty acids of any green vegetable.
Wikipedia tells us “Purslane contains more omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid in particular) than any other leafy vegetable. Studies have found that purslane has 0.01 mg/g of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). It also contains vitamins (mainly vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), vitamin B, carotenoids), and dietary minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron.”
How to eat it:
Purslane works great as a salad green. I have been tossing it in with salads and sauteed greens all week. But that isn’t a very exciting recipe, so I am going to class it up a bit by making a purslane pesto. Pesto is a great way to take an ingredient like purslane and dress it up with other flavors to make it absolutely delicious, but to still allow it to express itself.
2 cups purslane
2 large cloves garlic
½ cup Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp walnuts
½ cup olive oil
Remove purslane leave from the larger stems. Small stems are acceptable, but you don’t want too much of your pesto to be made up of stem. Rinse before and after to make sure any dirt or grit is removed.
Put ingredients into a food processor and let her rip. Once smooth, taste a bit and adjust as necessary. I find that I often like to add a bit more oil and cheese, and maybe even a touch of salt. If you taste it and it isn’t delicious, make small tweaks until it is.
Fusilli with Asparagus, Red Potatoes, and Purslane Pesto
1 lb. fusilli
1-2 medium red potatoes, chopped large
1 bundle asparagus
The rest of the recipe is pretty simple: boil the fusilli until al dente and the potatoes until they are cooked but firm. The asparagus can be steamed or sauteed, but it is nice roasted. When everything is cooked, put it together, add few big dollops of pesto, and toss to mix. Top with a bit of parmesan cheese and enjoy!