Not all garden and sidewalk weeds are created equal, a not all are a scourge. Some are delicious, healthy, and pop up from the cracks in the concrete right when you need them most. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is one such annual summer herb.
Purslane unfurls itself from between other plants in landscape beds, outdoor containers, and along concrete edges in the heat of the summer, sprawling out with succulent leaves and thick round stems dotted by small yellow flowers. It can be found across the US, though its origins are Indian.
Delicious raw, steamed, cooked, or fried, Purslane is a great addition to summer salads, fresh salsas, and sautéed vegetables. You can even pickle the stems or chop them up raw and sprinkle over scrambled eggs!
Purslane is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamins A, B, C, and E, and beta-carotene. It’s been used as a medicinal herb for treating insomnia and depression.
I found this purslane on the edge of a concrete garden bed next to a busy road, just living its life! I plucked it whole, as there are many other plants nearby, and potted it up when I got home to help it live on. You can leave the pot in part shade at first while it acclimates to its new home and move it to full sun later, given you can provide plenty of water. You could even dress it up in a hanging basket on your porch!
When foraging for purslane, trying to harvest in the early morning and or early evening when the sun is low and the plant isn’t as stressed by the sun. Keeping in mind the word, “succulent,” as this is a clue to identifying it. You can harvest cuttings and propagate if you want to make space in your own garden, or harvest the entire plant (it pulls up easily). If you do take the plant, make sure there is more nearby: you never want to forage more than 10% of a given population to ensure the plant population’s survival.
At home, repot the entire plant, or place cuttings in water to propagate them or maintain until use. You can also store cuttings in the fridge, but remember this plant needs water! Dampen a tea towel and spritz the cuttings with water, then roll the towel up around the purslane somewhat snuggly and keep in the crisper drawer for a couple of days. However, it’s best to use this herb fresh!
Careful! There’s a toxic plant that closely resembles Purslane called Spurge (Euphorbia spp.). It has a more woody stem and smaller, finer flat leaves (sometimes with dots on each leaf). Though it has a similar growth habit, it’s easy to tell the difference, if you remember Purslane’s succulent appearance.
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