Purslane: the superfood that grows like a weed!

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Do you have this weed in your backyard? Do you eat it? I do!

Growing your own food is one of the most zero waste practices possible. And since purslane is considered a weed, it’s pretty easy to grow!

Purslane is technically a succulent, and calorie for calorie, it’s one of the most nutritious plants out there. It’s actually an Australian native but apparently can be found in many locations. It’s packed with vitamin A, vitamin C and magnesium. Purslane contains more omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid in particular) than any other leafy vegetable yet studied. 100 grams of raw purslane has 15% of your daily value of iron and 300 to 400 mg of alpha-linolenic acid. Purslane tastes a bit like arugula and works great in salad, stir fries, soup and smoothies. You can steam and freeze them for later use, or dry them and grind them into a superfood powder.

 

tina

Photo: tinamarinaccio.com

I have found them at farmer’s markets, in the wild, and have purchased packets of seeds. If you find them fully grown, you can replant them in soil like other succulents and they’ll root and spread quite quickly. They also seed readily and can sometimes be invasive in the garden (hence why they’re considered a weed.)

I consider purslane to be one of the most zero waste foods you can grow. The plant requires relatively little water, is drought and heat tolerant,  and it propagates easily. And depending on what time of day you harvest it, it has a noticeably different flavor and is considered tangier and more tart in the morning versus later in the afternoon.

So even if your thumb isn’t quite green, give purslane a try! They’re easy to grow on balconies, in pots, or just sprinkled throughout your garden — but be careful, they spread quickly!

SPURGE – A poisonous look-alike (And why you should really just buy seeds or plants from a farmer’s market, garden supply, or grocer) 

spurgeSource: umd.edu

Before you start looking for wild purslane (even if it’s in your backyard), go with or double-check with an expert until you know what exactly what you’re looking for. There is a plant called spurge that looks similar to purslane, except its poisonous. In fact, most edible plants have a poisonous evil twin. Similar exterior, totally different personality. Even our good friend the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has a poisonous lookalike called Cat’s Ear (Hypochaeris radicata).

Spotting the difference between spurge and purslane:

hahaha pun. There are some key visible differences between the two plants:

  • The stems of spurge are much thinner than purslane stems, and spurge leaves are thin. Purslane leaves are thicker, almost like jade but a bit softer.
  • The leaves on spurge stems grow in parallel pairs (see image above). Purslane leaves grow out from the stalk in star-like clusters of four leaves. Sometimes 2 leaves will be present before the rest of the cluster forms,  or some of the developing leaves will be small compared to the other in the star-cluster. (Think whorled leaf configuration.)
  • Spurge has serrated, indented or toothed leaves. WARNING: sometimes these serrations and teeth are very tiny and/or widely spaced–appearing smoother. Purslane leaves are smooth
  • Most (not all) spurge has hairy stems and some have hairy leaves. Purslane stems and leaves are hairless.
  • When spurge leaves are broken, a white milky sap [called latex] is released. This sap can cause skin and eye irritation! Purslane DOES NOT have a white milky sap when broken.  WARNING:  The milky sap can dry up in some spurge, or is in such a small amount it’s hard to notice, make sure to use all identification points.

 

Similarities between spurge and purslane:

  • Spurge and purslane grow low along the ground, generally under 3″, and they too can grow higher.
  • Spurge and purslane has a main, central root called the taproot from which the weed grows long stems that extend outward. These stems and leaves can develop their own smaller root systems.
  • Both are green and can have tinges of red

SPURGE:unimaine

Source: umd.edu

I really hope that blurb doesn’t put you off trying purslane, but hopefully puts you off harvesting it from the wild until you are 100% sure you can identify it.  Like I said, almost all wild edibles have a poisonous lookalike. So I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling anyone to harvest anything from the wild without giving them the full picture.

TO BE SAFE: BUY SEEDS FROM A GARDEN STORE OR PLANTS FROM A FARMERS MARKET/GREEN GROCER. Then plant them all around your home and watch them go. Weeeeeee.

Purslane generally inexpensive (about $3-$5 per 1/2 pound)  and you know for sure what you’re eating. Again, to propagate:  pop off the top of one of the purslane stalks and plant it in some soil and let nature do the rest. Water it lightly until its established, then it is pretty tolerant.

Problem flippin’ solved.

 

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Oxalates:

Oxalates/Oxalic Acid is a concern for many people, especially those who suffer from kidney stones. And purslane is certainly high in it.

According to Research Gate:

“Raw leaves, stems and buds have been reported to contain high levels of oxalate and, therefore, they are not recommended for regular consumption for people who have a tendency to form kidney stones … The stems and buds contained a mean of 75.0% soluble oxalates while the leaves contained only 27.5% soluble oxalates.

Boiling the leaves, stems and buds resulted in a loss of soluble oxalates from the tissue which resulted an overall 27% reduction in total oxalate in the tissues.

Pickling the whole plant resulted in a loss of soluble oxalates from the tissue by leaching into the vinegar, resulting in a reduction of total oxalate content of the pickled tissue by 16%. Larger leaves contained 40% more total oxalates than the small leaves while the oxalate content of the stems ranged between 4.9 and 6.2 g total oxalates kg-1 fresh weight. The leaves contained 33% soluble oxalate while in contrast the stems contained a mean of 67% soluble oxalates.

Overall, the results of this experiment confirm that cooking and pickling purslane reduces the soluble oxalate content of the processed tissue. Reduction in the soluble oxalate concentration of the tissue will reduce the potential of this high oxalate containing plant to increase urinary oxalate output which could then lead to an increased incidence of kidney stones. This is particularly important as purslane has a number of positive nutritional attributes which suggest that it should be part of a healthy diet.(SOURCE)

[ellipses and bold added for emphasis]

Sources:

  1. NCBI: Purslane Weed (Portulaca oleracea): A Prospective Plant Source of Nutrition, Omega-3 Fatty Acid, and Antioxidant Attributes
  2. The 14 Healthiest Vegetables on Earth
  3. Oxalate content of raw and cooked purslane
  4. Foraging: Identifying and Eating Purslane (avoid poisonous spurge!)

Additional: The World’s Deadliest Tree is part of the spurge family

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