“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Some days over here are rich with foraged foods. A recent day (nicknamed "wild food Wednesday" by the kids) was one such occasion. We enjoyed nettle and raspberry leaf tea; some garlic mustard and chickweed pesto; a batch of surprisingly tangy dock chips; and finally chickweed and lambsquarter spring rolls.
I was in my bliss.
Because honestly. What's not to love about free, nutrient-rich food?
After all that deliciousness, I thought it was time to bring you another post in the Wonderfully Wild series.
The goal of Wonderfully Wild is to share with you some thoughts on using wild, foraged plants in your family's meals and medicines. Plants that offer us so much more than their cultivated counterparts!
This series is written in real-time as the season unfolds. Nothing overwhelming or too technical, but just some simple herbs and roots and fruits you can enjoy to get your feet wet (sometimes literally!) with wild edibles and medicinals.
Today I'll be talking about a plant you've likely weeded from your garden and discarded without a thought. Today's wonderfully wild weed is purslane.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
The USDA calls purslane a "noxious weed" but nutritionists call it a "superfood". Looking a bit like a skinny jade plant, purslane is a common vegetable in India, Mexico, Greece, Italy, and other areas and is a prolific garden volunteer in most warm or temperate regions.
So what's so great about this houseplant look-alike?
It's nutritious and delicious.
Cool and crisp, juicy and sour-sweet, purslane is a one-of-a-kind garden find. Delicious cooked or raw, purslane is packed with nutrients, including a high dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
Nutrients in purslane include:
- The highest leves lof omega-3 fatty acids of any green plant (ALA-type)
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
Purslane has also been used to treat arthritis, inflammation, and to improve circulation.
To identify purslane in the field we'll look for its key distinguishing characteristics. Use the photographs above as a guide.
Stem: Purslane stems are round, somewhat thick, and hairless. The stems of older plants are often pink to red in color but can also be green.
Leaves: The leaves are shaped in a similar fashion to a jade plant leaf, though thinner. That shape can be described as an oval or oval with a narrower end toward the leaf petiole. Veining is not obvious and when pierced with a thumbnail juice will be evident. Leaves are smooth and succulent.
Growth: Purslane grows in recumbently (or rambling across the ground), sending many branches out at ground level from one point, sharing a root system. The branches often lay on the ground but may also stand upright, depending on species and conditions.
Look-alikes: Spurge is another garden weed that resembles purslane. Thought they share a recumbant growth habit and reddish stems, spurge stems are more woods and thin that purselane's juicy, succlent variety. Spurge leave are also more flat and less succlent.
Think of purslane as a superfood vegetable to include in your weekly meals. Harvest by pinching or breaking off the end of the stems. The ends are most tender, so don't go all the way to the base. If the stems are too thick remove them and eat just the leaves and the more tender stems. I've yet to harvest purslane without nibbling on some right there in the garden. (It's that good!)
Toss springs of fresh purslane into salads or add to soups and sauces as a thickener and nutrient bomb. Try on fish tacos, in spring rolls, in soups, stews, and slaws. Since purslane does contain oxalic acid refrain from eating ridiculous amounts of this plant raw. (All things in moderation, friends.)
My recipe for sesame-ginger purslane coleslaw follows.
Ginger-Sesame Purslane Coleslaw
- 3-4 C finely sliced cabbage, red, green, or combination
- 1/4 C sliced green onions
- 2-3 C purslane leaves and stems (large stem removed)
- 1 C snap peas, chopped
- 3 Tb sesame seeds, toasted until fragrant
- A few springs of Thai basil, sliced (optional)
- 1 clove of garlic (minced) or 2 Tb minced garlic scapes
- 1 Tb peeled, grated gingerroot
- 2 Tb tamari
- 2 Tb apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tb toasted sesame oil
- 1 tsp maple syrup
- 2 Tb oil of choice (coconut oil tastes spectacular in this dressing, but if your veggies are fridge-cold it will solidify when contacting the cold produce. 1/2 and 1/2 coconut and olive is a good choice or just olive if all of your grub is cold.)
- 1/2 tsp sriracha or other hot sauce (optional)
Toss salad ingredients in large mixing bowl. Combine dressing ingredients in a mason jar and shake until combined. (If you are using coconut oil you may need to place your jar of dressing in a bowl of warm water to liquify.) Taste, and adjust seasoning if desired. Pour dressing over salad at the table if you've made more than you can eat at one sitting. (I prefer the flavor freshly dressed) or toss salad with dressing and serve immediately. Enjoy!
Oh, and you can find eight more promising purslane recipes here.