Purslane (portulaca oleracea), also called verdolaga, pigweed, little hogweed, or pusley, is a weed, or is it? It is naturalized the world over and is a very very successful plant. It can grow in cold northern areas, it is succulent so it can withstand droughts (not unlike sedum actually), it can handle poor soils, and it has this neat trick whereby if it is uprooted it will use stored energy to produce seeds. So all those gardeners that uproot it as a weed and toss it elsewhere are really just spreading it. As such it can be invasive.
But is it a weed if it is a food crop, something cultivated for thousands of years in other parts of the world, and still eaten there today? A superfood with more omega-3s than any other leafy vegetable (so long spinach), as well as oodles of of other vitamins and cancer fighting antioxtidants and health benefits? A plant that is so versatile it can be eaten raw, sauted or stir-fried, even used in soups and stews? Supposedly it also has medicinal properties for a healthy GI tract. Does that sound like a weed to you?
A weed we eat isn’t new, but one that tastes good is, to me anyways. The most commonly eaten weed, dandelion, is just bitter to me, not something I like at all. Purslane though is good, crunchy and fresh, a satisfying texture.
Purslane is a prostrate growing succulent, most resembling ground cover sedum. It has reddish stems and oblong rich green leaves. The stems, leaves, seeds, flowers, are all edible, anything above ground really, so eat the whole thing. If you see this growing in your garden and you want to pull it up, well, I can’t stop you, but if you do pull it up, make sure it ends up in a salad bowl and not your composter.
It grows everywhere, chances are it is growing in your yard right now. I personally seem to get it whenever I get store bought bagged composted cow manure. But I’ve also now planted it on purpose in my yard to get it to grow.
I’ve not found seeds for the prostrate variety most commonly found growing wild, however if you have some you can easily collect seeds thanks to the aforementioned survival property of the plant going to seed after being up rooted. Simply uproot one and hang it upside down over a paper bag, you’ll get your seeds, and once you plant it in a permanent location it’ll reseed readily year after year. The seeds I have found are for an upright variety, I found those on ebay.
When harvesting purslane you could pull it up, but why? Use scissors and just cut off some stems, and they’ll grow back. Constant food for you all summer long. Some people can get confused and harvest a weed called spurge (which is poisonous) when harvesting purslane. I don’t think they look much alike, but I’ll repeat the warning just in case. Spurge is not a succulent, it has a wiry stem, and when broken the stem has a milky sap. Purslane is a succulent with clear sap.
So you have an easy to grow, well adapted, nutritional powerhouse that can take drought, poor soil, is easy to seed save, can be continually harvested from, and cooked and eaten in a myriad of ways. Sounds like food to me. Try carmelizing a pan of onions, add some balsamic vinegar and purslane.