Puslane is delicious and nutritious. A great option for those who are just starting to forage and haven’t yet developed the taste for it yet.
It is also super easy to grow and is a great little ground cover that helps to stop the soil from drying out too much in summer.
Soft, succulent purslane leaves have more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy green and even more than some fish oils. So if you are a vegetarian, like me, then you will love this little plant! Great for those who want to avoid anything from the sea, which incidentally is not a bad idea since Fukushima ruptured.
Purslane, Common purslane, also known as pigweed (although confusingly quite a few different plants are called pigweed), porselein (Afrikaans), little hogweed, or pursley, and moss rose. In Xhosa it is called iGwanisha.
Latin: Portulaca oleraceae
Best identified: by its leaves that are very succulent looking and distinctive.
Purslane usually grows spread out flat on the ground. It can be found growing in almost any unshaded area, including flower beds, corn fields, and waste places. It grows all over the planet, thriving in hot dry situations. It will die back at the first sign of cold. In the Western Cape it comes up in early November and dies back in Autumn (literally after the first big cold front). It grows quite quickly and thrives on neglect.
Parts used: All parts of the purslane are edible, though the lower stems can be tough. Some people prefer eating only the leaves.
Eat the freshly picked plant as soon as possible and preferably raw to benefit from this nutritional powerhouse! Best to harvest when the plant is in seed as this is where all the omegas are found (like flax). Please always give some seeds back to the land – this will help to ensure bumper crops in the future. Always harvest with love in your heart and gratitude for these abundant gifts from nature (giving thanks to the plant).
Food: Chop raw into salads (Greeks pair it with potato salad), or stews, soups, stir fry’s or gumbo. It is a super addition to smoothies.
Use it in lieu of corn flour to add body to soups or sauces (with none of the GMO risks). Goes beautifully with Mediterranean vegetables, salads or tapas. Add chopped to fritters, or to a stuffing mix for squash flowers.
Try it the Dr Oz-family way by mixing it with yogurt and garlic.
Generally fall under the title ‘imifuno’ which loosely translates to wild spinach / pot-herb… and includes any number of edible leafy greens growing wild – often famine food in poor rural areas. Many of the poorer people live off these plants and interestingly they are most often the healthiest people in the villages.
In South Africa it has long history and is considered a veldkos (field food). C. Louis Leipoldt’s (1880-1947) author of Leipoldt’s Cape Cookery writes:
“Purslane (porseleinblaar) that grows profusely in every Cape garden in late winter and spring was, in the old days, and should be today, a favourite vegetable. Its little succulent leaves were gathered, washed and braised with ginger powder, mace, pepper and salt in fat; a tiny spicule of garlic was added, a wineglassful of wine was stirred in, and the result was an amazingly delicate, luscious and sapid puree, that was served with rice and potatoes.”
Animals: It’s used in America to treat arthritis in horses. Chickens and other farm animals love purslane. Chickens are excellent little omega-3 converters. May be included as part of a balanced diet for any farm animal – thus improving the health of the animal and the quality of the produce.
Purslane has more omega-3 fatty acids than in some of fish oils (and none of the mercury risks)! Purslane is also loaded with vitamins A, C, E and Coenzyme Q10. This strong antioxidant cocktail helps to protect the skin against environmental damage.
This wonderful green leafy vegetable is very low in calories (just 16 kcal/100g) and fats; but is rich in dietary fibre, vitamins, and minerals.
Fresh leaves contain surprisingly more Omega-3 fatty acids (α-linolenic acid) than any other leafy vegetable plant. 100 grams of fresh purslane leaves provides about 350 mg of α-linolenic acid (ALA).
Research studies shows that consumption of foods rich in ω-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and help prevent development of ADHD, autism, and other developmental differences in children.
It is an excellent source of Vitamin A, (1320 IU/100 g, provides 44% of RDA) one of the highest among green leafy vegetables. Vitamin A is a known powerful natural antioxidant and is essential for vision. This vitamin is also required to maintain healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural vegetables and fruits rich in vitamin A is known to help to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
Also present in purslane are two types of betalain alkaloid pigments, the reddish beta-cyanins and the yellow beta-xanthins. Both of these pigment types are potent anti-oxidants and have been found to have anti-mutagenic properties in laboratory studies.
It tops the list of plants high in vitamin E – provides six times more vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta carotene than carrots. It’s also rich in vitamin C. Purslane has some B-complex vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine and carotenoids, as well as trace amounts of dietary minerals such as iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, selenium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and manganese.
The importance of Omegas:
Omega-3s are a class of polyunsaturated essential fatty acids. Your body cannot manufacture essential fatty acids, so you must get them from food. Unfortunately, the typical American diet contains too few omega-3s, a shortage that is linked to a barrage of illnesses including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Artemis Simopoulos, co-author of The Omega Diet, says purslane is one of the richest known plant sources of ALA. In addition to ALA, other omega-3s include eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) acids mostly found in aquatic plants and animals, especially oily fish. Nutritionists now think all forms of omega-3s need to be plentiful in our diets plants such as purslane may be part of the missing link to better nutrition.
Ethnobiologist — scientists who study the relation between primitive human societies and the plants in their environment — believe that the plants humans ate long ago provided a greater proportion of nutrients than the plants we consume today. They estimate, for instance, that humans 40,000 to 10,000 years ago consumed an average of 390 milligrams per day of vitamin C from wild plants and fruits. In contrast, the average American today consumes just 88 milligrams of vitamin C per day. One cup of cooked purslane has 25 milligrams (20 percent of the recommended daily intake) of vitamin C.
Purslane contains oxalic acid, a naturally occurring substance found in many leafy greens and some vegetables, which may crystallize as oxalate stones in the urinary tract in some people. 100 g fresh leaves contain 1.31 g of oxalic acid, more than in spinach (0.97 g/100 g) and cassava (1.26 g/100 g). People with known oxalate urinary tract stones are advised to avoid eating purslane and certain vegetables belonging to Amaranthaceae and brassica family. Adequate intake of water is therefore advised to maintain normal urine output. Cooking does break down some of the oxalates.
Special caution is advised for those people with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones, hyperacidity as it may initially aggravate their condition. Best avoided by people with a pre-existing kidney disease.
Medicinal: In Greek popular medicine, purslane is used as a remedy for constipation and inflammation of the urinary system. A common plant in parts of India, purslane is known as “Sanhti”, “Punarva”, or “Kulfa”. In North India it is known to act as a liver tonic and is used in diseases of the liver.
Known as Ma Chi Xian (pinyin: translates literally as “horse tooth amaranth”) in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is used to treat infections or bleeding of the genito-urinary tract as well as dysentery. Purslane is also used extensively in Chinese Medicine as an herb which clears heat toxin.
The fresh herb may also be applied topically to relieve sores and insect or snake bites on the skin.
Try this recipe… you just need to boil 250 grams of purslane leaves in 500 ml of purified water. Blend the mixture and strain to remove annoying bits. Drink the mixture every day for one month. Since purslane is also a great remedy for constipation, it helps prevent haemorrhoids as well.
Antibiotic and antifungal effect and it also kills parasites: in one study of 192 patients, 80% were cleared of parasites in one month of treatment.
Treats appendicitis: a decoction (strong tea) of purslane and dandelion (known as pu gong ying in China) treated 31 cases of clinically diagnosed appendicitis (only 1 needed surgery; all others recovered with no medical intervention).
Charmaine Solomon writes of its medicinal uses: In Indonesia purslane was traditionally prescribed for cardiac weakness. The latest research in Western medicine reveals that it is one of the few vegetable sources of omega 3 [fatty acids] which have an anti-inflammatory effect. It has a high iron and Vitamin C content, hence its use in the prevention and treatment of scurvy.
Garden: It makes a fantastic ground cover. Drought tolerant. Plant in warm sheltered sunny spot. Generally, purslane plants can be watered one or two times a week. Fertilizer is not necessary, nor will insects, pests or disease be a problem with your purslane. Definitely one of the easiest foods to grow!
Disclaimer: Consumption of any wild plants is at your own discretion and own risk. For personal safety do not use wild plants if you have a medical condition, are pregnant or lactating, and do not give plants to minors unless under supervision. Never use any plant as a medicine or food unless you are 100% sure of its identification. Many plants are poisonous; in some cases certain parts of a plant may be edible while other parts may be poisonous. Use only plants that are organically grown, where you can be sure that it has not been sprayed or treated with poisonous chemicals. When in doubt – leave out. I take no responsibility for any poisoning, illness or discomfort due to the incorrect identification or use of a plant. You are strongly advised to consult a medical practitioner before treating yourself or your family with home remedies. If you are using a plant for the first time, try a tiny bit first to judge your tolerance – if irritation occurs avoid using it.
Perhaps you would like to come along to one of my workshops and learn about wild food and medicine… how to live more lightly on the land… ways to be more self-sufficient… and how to share in the absolute abundance that nature has to offer to those that hold the knowledge. Join this growing group of people who are adding valuable free nutrition and plant diversity to their daily menu’s and becoming healthier in the process.
The workshops are usually held in my home and garden space here in Villiersdorp (an hour and a half from Cape Town).
My workshops are packed with information on various plants… I cover the abundant seasonal weeds – primarily because these plants are pioneers and the most abundant, freely available food source on our planet (growing around the world)… these wild foods are packed with way more nutrition than most store bought greens with none of the risks. I also cover some of the indigenous wild foods and berries (depending on what is in season)… we forage for our lunches… drink herbal infusions.
You will also learn practical information on how to use many of these plants in medicinal ways – for example: how to stop bleeding, how to make a field dressing… which leaves to eat to get rid of a headache, etc. I will also show you how to make one or two amazing products that I use regularly – I have used it on everything from foot rot on the chicken, to really bad eczema, and even on a human skin fungus – all problems were pretty much healed in a week! I also share with you a few other recipes to encourage you to be more self-sufficient (learn how to make your own sunscreen, toothpaste, etc). The medicinal plants we cover are primarily indigenous ones that grow all over Southern Africa… but I also cover a few non-indigenous ones that I have come to love over the years.
This really is a most rewarding adventure that takes you back to the heart of nature!
By Tracy Armbruster
- Wild about Weeds part 1: Veldkool
- Wild about Weeds Part 2: Nettle
- Wild About Weeds Part 3: Dandelion
- Wild about Weeds Part 4: Purslane
- Wild about Weeds Part 5: Mustard Family
- Wild about Weeds Part 6: Dune Spinach