Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
Have you ever learned something about a plant that changed how you look at it? That happened to me with purslane. I always thought of it as a weed until one day when another gardener asked for all of the purslane I was pulling out. She said she wanted to eat it. It is very nutritious.
What is Purslane?
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is an annual plant that is related to and looks very much like portulaca. It is not known where it originated. Today it is found all the way from the shores of the Mediterranean through the Middle East to Southeast Asia, Malaysia and the Australasia region. It is assumed that it was spread by humans. Purslane is also found in North America, but it is uncertain how it got there. There is some evidence that its arrival predated European colonization.
Purslane is a succulent. It grows in full sun in almost any kind of soil. In the wild, it grows horizontally rather vertically so the plants are only about an inch tall. They form a dense mat that can be up to 16 inches wide. Newer cultivars grow upright. The leaves and stems are fleshy and capable of storing water making this plant drought tolerant. Unlike portulaca’s thin, needle-like leaves, purslane leaves are broad and round similar to a jade plant.
The flowers are tiny, only about ¼ inches across. Bloom time is late spring through late summer. The flowers are only open for a few hours and only on hot sunny days from midmorning to early afternoon. Pollinators do manage to visit the flowers during the brief window that they are open, but it is not necessary. The flowers are self-fertile and don’t need to be pollinated.
The tiny flowers produce seed capsules. A large plant can produce up to 240,000 seeds each year. Purslane is difficult to eradicate because the seeds remain viable in the soil for as long as 40 years.
Is Purslane Good For You?
Purslane is extremely nutritious. It contains anti-oxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamins A,C and E, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, riboflavin and beta carotene. To give you a better idea of how nutritious purslane is, it has 7 times more beta carotene than carrots and 6 times more Vitamin E than spinach. No wonder people are foraging for it and adding it to their gardens!
It’s tempting to consume a lot of this plant to make sure that you are getting enough of the nutrients, but bear in mind that like many other greens, purslane contains oxalates which in large quantities can cause kidney stones. If you have had kidney stones in the past, you should consult with your doctor before adding purslane to your diet.
How Do You Cook Purslane?
Purslane is a part of many cuisines around the world. The stems, leaves and flower buds are all edible. It can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach, stir-fried, boiled or made into a pesto. It is often used to thicken and flavor soups and stews. Australian aborigines make seed cakes with the seeds.
How to Grow Purslane
If you are brave and don’t mind an invasive plant, you can grow purslane in your garden. The most important thing will be sunlight. The plants must have full sun which is 6 to 8 hours of sun each day. The soil doesn’t matter, they will grow in any kind of soil. That is why you often find it in unlikely places like growing out of the cracks in a sidewalk. The plants are succulents so you don’t need to water. They don’t need to be fertilized. They are not bothered by pests or disease.
How to Grow Purslane From Seed
Purslane is easy to grow from seed. You can direct sow the seed in your garden in the summer when the soil temperature is 90⁰F. Plant the seeds ½ inch deep. They will germinate the following spring when the soil warms to 75⁰F.
You can also start your seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost. They will need to be cold stratified. This mimics the cold weather of winter. Plant the seeds ½ inch deep in a container filled with pre-moistened soil. Cover the container with a plastic bag and put it in your refrigerator for two weeks. Check it periodically to make sure that the soil stays moist. After 2 weeks, take the container out of your refrigerator, remove the plastic bag and place the container in a sunny window on a heat mat set to keep the soil at 75⁰F. Germination should occur in 1 to 3 weeks. You can transplant your seedlings outdoors after your last frost when the soil has warmed. Space them 1 to 2 feet apart.
How to Harvest Purslane
Your seedlings should be ready for harvest in 6 to 8 weeks. You can either harvest the entire plant or if you prefer cut and come again, cut the plant down to 2 inches. It will readily regrow. You can continue to do this all summer. Most gardeners prefer successive sowings so that they are harvesting a constant supply of young tender leaves rather than older tougher leaves.
Keep your plants well-watered all summer. Although the plants are drought tolerant, leaves that receive a constant supply of water taste better than leaves that have been starved of water and are more bitter.
How to Get Rid of Purslane
If your yard or garden is being overrun with purslane, you will need to work very hard to get rid of it. The seeds stay viable for decades, so it will keep coming back for a long time. Hoeing it or tilling it will only spread the plants because they can root from the pieces of plant created by hoeing and tilling. I have found that the best way to get rid of it is to pull up the entire plant, making sure that I have gotten every piece and the entire root. This is best done after a soaking rain when the soil is wet and it is easy to get the entire plant and root when you pull it out of the ground. It’s important to do this as soon as you see the plant. Don’t let it flower or it will produce thousands of seeds. Don’t put the plants that you pull up in your composter. They will take root there. Put them in a garbage bag and throw them out with your trash. It will take a few years, but if you pull up every plant you see every year, it will eventually stop coming up. Just don’t disturb the soil afterwards. That will bring seeds to the surface and then you will have to start pulling out the plants again.
© 2020 Caren White
Caren White (author) on September 02, 2020:
It tastes similar to spinach and watercress.
Jayden on September 01, 2020:
what do the leaves taste like.?
Caren White (author) on July 31, 2020:
Just make sure that the plants are not in an area that has been treated with chemicals before you try eating them. Enjoy!
LHutto on July 30, 2020:
I noticed this weed in my yard recently and I’ve been pulling it up. But the little flowers were so pretty I but thought I pull some and planted it in a pot to see how it would grow. Tomorrow I will go out and pull up this great nutrient source and try in my salads. What a great discovery...Gods work of nature.
Caren White (author) on April 08, 2020:
Hi Lewis. As I noted in my article, the latin name for purslane is Portulaca oleracea. I do not know what it is called in your native language. You should talk to a horticulturist or a local plant nursery in your country to find out.
Lewis Chuah on April 08, 2020:
I understand that in Mediterranean diet, Wild Purslane is a main vegetable cooked. Can I know what is its scientific name ? I am from Malaysia. Can I know what is its name in native. Thank you
Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on February 13, 2020:
I learned a lot from this article about purslane. I had no idea that I had a goldmine of nutrition in my yard or that this annoying weed should be in my next salad. We definitely have plenty to share with the neighbors. LOL I'm willing to try some.