How to Identify Purslane: A Nutritious and Edible Weed
The minute you look at purslane, you can tell that it wants you to eat it. The plump leaves and stems give an obvious invitation. It's a sturdy one, growing in huge patches at the edges of yards and sidewalks, a treasure to urban foragers.
This article will provide purslane facts and recipes to bolster your appreciation of this virtuous wild plant.
Getting Acquainted With Purslane
The binomial name for purslane is Portulaca oleracea. Portulaca is Latin, coming from portula, which means "gate," in reference to the gate-like covering of the seed capsule. Oleracea is also Latin and means "kitchen vegetable."
The Spanish name for purslane is verdolaga, while another English name for it is "pigweed."
There is controversy about whether purslane is native to North America or was carried over. But some research suggests that the American Indians were eating it before they made contact with Europeans.
How do you identify purslane?
Purslane tends to grow close to the ground in dense patches that spread wide.
Take a look at the pictures below for visual cues.
How to Identify PurslaneClick thumbnail to view full-size
Beware of Spurge!
Prostrate spurge (Euphorbia maculata) is another weed that somewhat resembles purslane, but it's toxic—it won't kill you, but it can make you ill.
Spurge has a similar growing pattern (low on the ground). But the leaves are thinner and smaller, and sometimes they have a spot of reddish coloring at the center of the leaf. The stems of the spurge are hairy and the flowers look different.
The foolproof way to differentiate between the two is by breaking a stem. The stem of the spurge oozes a milky white sap. If there is white sap, it is not purslane!
Photos of spurge can be seen at Wikimedia Commons. (I avoid putting images of other plants on my weed pages, because I wouldn't want a picture of spurge to show up in a Google search for purslane.)
Nutritional Information About Purslane
There is a nutritional information page on purslane at NutritionData.com. It reads:
"This food is very low in Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6 and Folate, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Manganese."
One of the things everybody talks about is the fact that purslane has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy plant known on earth.
This report from The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health tells in depth about the nutritional benefits of purslane and other wild plants: Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Antioxidants in Edible Wild Plants.
The leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds of the purslane plant are all edible, but I've only eaten the stems and leaves myself. They have a slightly sour edge (not as strong as wood sorrel) and a hint of a mucilaginous quality (not as strong as mallows).
Purslane is terrific as part of a salad. Though I've never tried it cooked, they say that the mucilaginous quality becomes more pronounced when it is cooked. So it is sometimes added as a thickener in soups and stews. It is also recommended for stir-frying.
In Spanish, purslane is called verdolaga, and I saw several Mexican recipes that used it as an ingredient. I also just discovered that purslane is call khorfeh in Iran, and is featured in Persian dishes. And reader Wafeek informs us that purslane is used in a Lebanese dish called fatoosh.
Here are some purslane recipes I found:
- Codillo Aquiahuac (Mexican Pork With Purslane)
- Greek Style Purslane Pesto
- Domatesli Semizotu (Purslane With Tomato)
For a whole host of additional purslane recipes—including pickled purslane and verdolago con queso—check out this horticulture page at Texas A&M University.
Medicinal Uses of Purslane
- Purslane is regarded as a cooling herb and is suggested for help with fevers and inflammatory conditions.
- Some recommended it for skin problems, similar to the use of aloe vera.
Additional Fun Facts About Purslane
- Henry David Thoreau talks about having purslane for dinner in Walden.
- In the Ultimate Guide to U.S. Army Survival Skills, Tactics, and Techniques, the U.S. Army mentions purslane in their chapter on "Survival Use of Plants."
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Can the purslane flowers be a deep pink?
There is a plant called pink purslane, but it is a different species than the P. oleracea.Helpful 12
How do you use purslane?
It is generally used as a raw vegetable or a cooked vegetable. I love it in salads.Helpful 11
What is the phosphorus content of purslane?
A source I looked at says that there is 18.9 mg of phosphorus in a 1 cup serving of purslane. (http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and...Helpful 7
Is purslane soporific? In Saudi Arabia I grew "rejleh", and relied on it as a sleep aid. We made a soup from it. Delicious! I'm sure that "rejleh" is a regional name for purslane, or portulaca.
There are some herbal guides that say purslane has soporific qualities.Helpful 5
I bought purslane at Lowe’s and it has pink, red, and salmon colored flowers. Is it edible?
I googled "purslane at Lowe's", and the first entry I saw on the Lowe's website said that their purslane is "related to portulaca". I would think that if they say it is related, that means that it is not actual portulaca. So I would consider it an unknown plant and I would not try to eat it. You might be able to contact Lowe's and find out the actual binomial (Latin) name of the purslane they are selling. Once you know the Latin name, you can look up the plant that way and find out for certain.Helpful 1