By Cary Neff, Experience Life
Purslane is said to have been one of Mahatma Gandhiâ’s favorite foods. But here in the United States it’s widely considered a weed. It’s time to put this nutritional plant on our plates instead of the compost pile.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), also called miner’s lettuce, pigweed and hogweed, is a succulent ground cover that grows wild throughout North America. Its leaves and stems, which may be bland or tart, taste like a slightly peppery cucumber. The tear-shaped leaves can be ultra-thin and tender or broad and fibrous. Harvested in midsummer, purslane’s smooth, green or red stems are slender and delicate. At the end of the growing season, the thick stems are tough and stringy and should be discarded. This delicious vegetable can be gathered in many places, does well in most home gardens, and is becoming more available in farmers’ markets, ethnic markets and restaurants.
Purslane’s leaves are high in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid we usually get from fish or flaxseed. It also contains small amounts of EPA and DHA, longer-chain omega-3s rarely found in any food except fish and fish oil. Omega-3s nourish brain cells and may decrease the risk of depression, hyperactivity, migraines and Alzheimer’s disease (some promising studies have also shown that omega-3s might ameliorate the symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mood disorders). They also support the immune system, prevent inflammation and some types of cancer, lower cholesterol (LDL), and help the body regulate blood pressure and clotting. They’ve been found helpful in treating type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Purslane is also a source of calcium, potassium, iron, glutathione, essential amino acids, and vitamins E, C and A. Pregnant women should avoid purslane since it can cause the uterine muscles to contract.
Next: 6 ways to eat purslane, plus kitchen tips
For a flavorful salad, toss raw purslane with other lettuces, like arugula, butter lettuce, spinach, mache or romaine. Add a lightly sweet and tart dressing, such as honey mustard.
- Enhance ordinary mayonnaise-based salads — chicken, egg, tuna, shrimp and turkey — by replacing celery with chopped purslane sprigs and stems.
- Use purslane in sandwiches instead of lettuce.
- Raw purslane makes an attractive garnish.
- In recipes that call for watercress, try purslane instead.
- Stir purslane into soups and stews, just as you would use spinach.
- To cook, steam purslane for one to two minutes. Or saute it in a hot pan with olive oil until it’s lightly wilted. Serve as a side dish.
- Refrigerate purslane in an open plastic bag with a paper towel at the bottom. It will keep for about a week.
- Before eating, cut off roots. Soak leaves and stems in cold water to remove any dirt, then dry. Cut off and discard heavy stems.
- Because of purslane’s variable tastes, always sample it before using it in raw or cooked recipes. Younger small leaves will be sweeter and more delicate. If the purslane has matured and has larger stems, make sure the flavor is not too strong for your palate.