Garden scourge or valuable vegetable? This is a question many people ask about the humble common purslane, or Portulaca oleracea, plant. It thrives globally, growing where it’s not meant to grow, prompting many gardeners to do everything they can to remove it. But this pesky garden, and paddock, weed is actually a powerhouse nutritionally! A veritable super food in fact. So before you try and eradicate it completely from your garden, here are a few points to ponder.
Purslane is a member of the Caryophylalles order of plants, the same order that boasts another super food in beetroot. The families of plants that belong to this order are genetically unique when it comes to their pigments. They produce betalains rather than the more common carotenoids and flavonoids. Betalains are not found in any other order of plants and have more in common chemically with mammalian skin pigments. Both betalains and mammalian pigments are derived from the amino acid tyrosinase and follow a similar pathway to become pigments. Betalains are now the subject of on-going research because they are an extremely powerful group of antioxidants.
Like other members of the Caryophylalles order, purslane is possessed of many bounteous benefits. It contains both betacyanins (red pigment in the stem) and betaxanthins (yellow pigment in the flowers) with all the antioxidant benefits that comes with those.
Some of the many Purslane health benefits include:
- It is one of the highest, if not the highest, sources of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids of all green leafy vegetables. These are in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). 100 grams, or around 3 ½ ounces, produces 350 milligrams of ALA. This is around 20% (for men) and 33% (for women) of the RDA of ALA. Vegetarians and vegans will therefore find adding purslane to the menu is an excellent way to increase their intake of this essential fatty acid.
- Very good source of vitamin A. 100 grams (3 ½ ounces) provides 44% of the RDA. In fact, it contains the highest vitamin A content of any green leafy vegetable.
- Rich source of vitamin C – 100 grams provides one quarter of the RDA
- Good source of the B group vitamins 1, 2, 3, 6 and 9.
- Exceptional source of vitamin E – 100 grams provides a whopping 81% of the RDA!
- Good source of the minerals calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium and zinc.
- Very low in fats and calories.
- High in dietary fiber.
How Does One Eat Purslane
So how to eat purslane….
To taste, purslane is mildly sour but not overpoweringly so. It can be eaten raw, lightly steamed, stir fried or cooked as part of stews and casseroles. The most beneficial ways to eat it are raw or lightly steamed like spinach as these don’t destroy its valuable nutrients. Purslane is more commonly seen in dishes throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Mexico. It has yet to become part of mainstream culinary culture in other countries although recipes are starting to appear online as people become aware of the many health benefits of this common garden ‘weed’.
It makes a great salad vegetable. The leaves can be removed from the stems and added to any type of salad. It works well with a vinaigrette type of dressing or with just a splash of lemon juice and oil. The stems are usually chopped up and added to casseroles and stews but may also be added to salads for extra crunch. In Greece it’s often a healthy, tasty addition to a Greek salad of feta cheese, tomato, onion, garlic, oregano, and olive oil.
Other Uses For Purslane, An Amazing ‘Weed’
Purslane has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a wide range of ailments. Some of the topical uses include treatment for boils, sores, insect or snake bites and bee stings. As an internal medicine, it can treat hemorrhoids, diarrhea and bacillary dysentery as well as intestinal and postpartum bleeding. It’s also been found to have antibacterial qualities, helps combat scurvy, is a good detox and purifier as well as a diuretic, and fever reducer.
Purslane Side Effects
In addition to its many healthy qualities, purslane also has a few other attributes that people with certain conditions need to be aware of. Like spinach and cassava, purslane has oxalic acid that can cause oxalate stones in the urinary tract. Anyone who is susceptible to these should steer clear of purslane. For everyone else, it is advisable to drink plenty of water to help maintain normal urinary volume. Pregnant women are also advised not to eat it and those with weak digestive systems should take care with it too.
If you’re about to take to the purslane growing in your garden with a spade or herbicide, perhaps a better way to get rid of it would be to eat it!