Edible Weeds: Purslane

In each of the places I’ve lived and gardened, there have always been one or two dominant weeds. I accept that weeds are a (sometimes necessary) part of gardening. When my husband came upon a vintage book on edible garden weeds, we decided that we had to sample the weeds that we’d normally dispose.

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This is the first summer in our new house and the dominant weed here is purslane, also known as Verdolaga, Pigweed, Little Hogweed, Pusley or Portulaca oleracea in the scientific world. It’s a low-growing succulent plant that quickly spreads over the soil to form dense mats. The leaves are small, fleshy and paddle shaped and almost resemble miniature jade plants. It grows abundantly across North America and many areas of the world and can be found everywhere from orchards to industrial yards.

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What I found of particular interest is that, like many other “weeds,” purslane is enjoyed in other parts of the world as a food source. It has been eaten for thousands of years in Persia and India and is still grown as a food source in Europe, Australia, Asia and South America.  Some eat it raw as a salad green, others add it to stews, some use the seeds to make flours and meals and others boil it or stir fry. It’s amazing to think that there is so much free food available that isn’t being consumed!

Many common weeds are edible, including milkweeds, thistles, certain types of daisies, and of course, dandelions. Many of these are also considered noxious, and were perhaps initially planted as an ornamental or a food source and then not kept in check. What I find worthy of note is that the majority of “weeds” in North America are not native. They were carried over, either accidentally or on purpose, by Europeans who settled here.

The best and safest way to get rid of weeds is to pull them — and instead of throwing them in your garbage, or perhaps even your compost pile, why not check if they’re edible? Luckily, purslane has a relatively short taproot and can easily be plucked from the ground.

It was so exciting to sample purslane for the first time. We decided to keep it simple and chop it into bite-size pieces, then lightly blanch it, stems and all, followed by a quick fry in butter and then topped it with some lemon juice, white wine, salt, pepper and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Purslane is quite nutritious. It’s richer in iron than any other leafy vegetable except parsley, and the addition of lemon juice often aids in the absorption of iron. When cooked its texture is soft, similar to cooked spinach or chard, and it also has a hint of natural acidity.

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It’s our new favorite green, and we enjoy eating it at least once a week with supper. You can’t get much more local than weeds from your own backyard or neighborhood! Eating “weeds” also discourages the use of harmful herbicides that are often unnecessary. The word “weed” is subjective; just because it wasn’t planted by a human, doesn’t mean it’s not useful!  Knowledge of edible weeds is especially handy should you get stranded in the wilderness; there are many stories of people surviving because they had the knowledge of what plants to eat (and which ones to stay away from).

And one more reason to pick and eat your weeds while they’re still young: purslane can become a troublesome weed, especially when it goes to seed — and each plant can produce up to 50,000 seeds!

Happy weeding and eating!

*Words of warning: Please make sure you learn to correctly identify and cook any plant before eating it.  Unfortunately, not all weeds are edible and many plants have “evil twins.” Don’t eat plants found in areas where chemical herbicides or fertilizers are applied, or in those areas with high vehicle traffic exhaust.

Purslane_boil.jpgFried Purslane
Serves 2

2 cups (500 ml) fresh purslane leaves (and stems, if young), washed
2 Tbsp (30ml) butter or olive oil
1/4 cup (50ml) dry white wine
2 Tbsp (30ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated parmesan cheese to taste

Bring water to a boil, add purslane, reduce heat and simmer for 3-5 min. Drain.

Melt butter or oil in a heavy skillet. Add blanched purslane, wine, and lemon juice — cook until liquid reduces slightly. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, grate fresh parmesan cheese on each serving.

Serve hot and enjoy!

Have you ever cooked with weeds? Tell us about it in the comments below!

**originally published on etsy.com; Aug 30, 2010