Purslane, also called little hogweed, moss rose, pigweed, portulaca, purslane, and pusley, is a nutritious wild edible that grows in many parts of the United States. While not as well known as other wild edibles here in America, it is a popular food source in the Mediterranean region as well as other areas of the world.
Funny story, but when I identified this plant to my husband as “purslane” he explained that he knew it as “pusley” because that’s what his elderly aunt told him it was. I thought she was simply mispronouncing it but later learned that the name she used was commonly used by older generations here in New England. Now, I find myself calling it “pusley” with a little chuckle to myself.
I know that a lot of gardeners despise purslane because it’s so hard to get rid of once it becomes established, but I welcome it and await its arrival each year with anticipation. While this plant was known to many throughout history, its amazing health benefits are only just now gaining popularity thanks to a surge of interest in wild edible foods.
Wild edible foods are becoming more popular for several reasons. They are free, accessible, and often easy to find. But above all, wild food is a more sustainable source of food in general, as it does not rely on the resources and energy that conventional agriculture uses.
One of the most delicious, nutritious, growable, and versatile plants out there is purslane. Rather than being considered a weed, which most would consider it to be at first glance, purslane is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, including Vitamins A and E, just to name a few. This article will discuss what this amazing plant is, the health benefits of eating it, and how to harvest, grow and cook it.
What Exactly Is It?
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a low-growing, wild edible succulent herb that can be found growing in cultivated and disturbed soil.
How to Identify
I find purslane to be very easy to identify. It’s very obviously a succulent that has paddle-shaped green leaves that remind me of a miniature jade plant. The leaves grow about 1/2 to 3/4 inches long, with a whitish sheen visible on the undersides. It has insignificant five-petaled yellow flowers. The leaves appear thick and fleshy due to their ability to store water which is what helps them to survive drought and the high heat of the warmest summer days.
This herbaceous succulent is very low growing and rarely rises more than an inch off the ground. Instead, the thick, reddish, succulent stem branches and spreads out like intricate water pipes that form a thick mat on the ground.
The seeds are produced when the flowers are fertilized. When ripe, the top part of the seed pod comes off to reveal what looks like a tiny bird’s nest filled with tiny black seeds.
Where Do You Find it in the Wild?
Purslane thrives in hot weather so will typically become available in late spring and all throughout summer. Look for it in disturbed soil, especially in our garden beds, parks, and farmlands. And because it likes the heat and can survive even the harshest drought conditions, you can often find it even when other leafy greens have succumbed to the weather.
What Part are Edible & What Does it Taste Like?
The edible parts of purslane are its seeds, stems and leaves. Eaten raw the stems and leaves have a pleasant tart, lemony flavor with a peppery undertone. Cooked, they are more like other greens that you are used to such as spinach or kale.
The seeds can be used as a tea and can be eaten raw or added to cooked dishes and baked goods as you would poppy seeds. The seeds taste like linseed/flaxseed, but are crisper. Indigenous Australians used purslane seeds to make flour for seed cakes. Each plant can yield thousands of seeds., but because they are so tiny it may take you a long while to collect any significant amount.
What are the Benefits of Eating It?
Nutritionally, purslane is a powerhouse. Here are some of its nutritional benefits:
- Purslane has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable, including kale.
- Purslane has seven times more beta carotene than carrots.
- Purslane is an excellent source of Vitamin A (44% of RDA) – one of the highest among leafy greens.
- It boasts the highest levels of vitamin E of any leafy green analyzed.
- It is packed with glutathione and other antioxidants, as well as iron.
What are the Medicinal Benefits?
Purslane, a traditional Chinese medicinal plant, is used to treat skin problems, sores and urinary problems. The plant can also be taken internally for dysentery and intestinal parasites such as hookworms. It is an effective topical treatment for swellings and stings. It is also antibacterial, antiscorbutic, depurative, diuretic and febrifuge.
The leaves are a very rich source of omega-3 fatty acids which prevents heart attacks and strengthens the immune system.
How to Grow It
Since purslane grows so prolifically where I live, there’s no need to grow it intentionally. I simply wait for the hot days of summer and head out to the garden, where lo and behold, there it is just waiting for me to pluck it up. If you don’t have this same “problem” and wanted to try your hand at growing it, there are cultivated varieties (golden purslane) available in seed form.
If planting from seed, choose a sunny spot with sandy, well-drained soil. Sow the seeds on the surface of the soil after the danger of frost has passed.
Purslane stems (with leaves still attached) can be snipped with abandon, and new growth will follow quickly. The best parts are the new, rapidly growing tips before the plants go to seed. Remember, the stems are edible too, not just the leaves.
I use a colander instead of a basket for gathering because it is easy to take the plants inside and rinse them thoroughly in the sink. I rinse well because their low-growing nature means they often pick up grit from the ground where they spread out.
Another great thing about purslane is that, because it’s a succulent, it can be harvested and transported without wilting. It will even keep for days in the crisper drawer in the fridge. If it does get wilty, simply soak it in cold water for about 5 minutes, and voila! It’s good as new.
Use the tender leafy stem tips in all fresh-food applications. They are excellent in a purslane salad, however, most people mix them with other salad greens to make a more complex salad.
The leafy stems can also be boiled, steamed, stir-fried, and added to dishes the way you would use spinach or other leafy greens. The great thing is that you are limited only by your imagination when it comes to preparing this amazing superfood.
In the modern world, medicinal herbs and wild plants are often dismissed in favor of more cultivated foods and herbs. However, more people are once again discovering the power in these age-old wild healing foods, and are adding them back into their diets to promote health and wellness. Our ancestors were right all along: many of the most powerful healing foods come straight from the Earth. Purslane is one of those foods, and it’s worth adding to your list of edible wild plants.
More to Explore
Interested in more articles about eating wild plants and herbs? Check out these articles.
Medical Disclaimer: The information provided throughout this site is for educational purposes only and is not to be regarded as substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. The information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the guidance of your qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.