If you’ve ever planted a garden, then you understand the fine science called “weeding.” We pull, chop, cut, and curse those plants which seem to appear overnight, often looking better than what we’re cultivating. But, there is a light at the end of the tunnel; one which could change your way of thinking about weeding. Some of the plants you are dismissing as weeds are in fact edible and healthy. Common Purslane, found in almost every garden, happens to be one of those plants.
The name “purslane” is actually a blanket name for seven similar plant varieties with similar characteristics. It’s commonly known by many different names, some more colorful than others; pigweed, hogweed, duckweed, fatweed, and pussley are some of them. All plants in the purslane family have thick rosette or spoon shaped leaves and a thick, often reddish colored stem. Both the leaves and stems are smooth and when the plant is broken has clear fluid. There is one plant which resembles purslane called Spurge. Spurge has thinner leaves and stems but what clearly differentiates it is the milky white sap that leaks out when the stems are broken. Spurge is poisonous so it’s critical that you use the tests previously discussed before harvesting anything. Some varieties of spurge also have hairy stems.
The plant is native to the Middle East and India but has been spread through the world both on purpose as a food and by accident as a weed. Because purslane is highly adaptive, growing in any type of soil, and has a very short, 60 day, growing season, it can be found worldwide. The plant is an annual but the seeds can stay viable underground until the next season. It’s also one of those plants which can reproduce by cuttings. If the plant is chopped up and left in the soil, expect to see it multiply exponentially. If you really want to rid yourself of it, then it must be pulled out by the roots and disposed of. Once you learn of the amazing nutritional values purslane provides, you’ll reconsider pulling it or even calling it a weed anymore.
Purslane was once considered a common food in the United States and because each plant can produce up to 240,000 seeds, it was easy to encourage reproduction. There is no clea reason as to why it fell out of favor, but plenty of reasons why it should be part of everyone’s diet. The leaves, stems, and blooms are all edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. When harvested early in the morning it has a lemony taste with a slightly sour overtone. It’s also been described as tasting like cucumber or raw green beans.
What’s even more appealing is that It’s loaded with nutrients. These include vitamin E (6 times more per serving than spinach) and an essential omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). But it gets even better, as purslane provides seven times more beta carotene than carrots and it’s not even orange. It’s also contains hi levels of vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, potassium and phosphorus. For best results, look for young plants and use them like you would watercress. A serving of purslane is one cup, which has only 9 calories but 15% Viatmin C, 11% Vitamin A, 6% Potassium, 7% Magnesium, and 4% Iron. It also contains folate, lithium, several other dietary minerals, and 2 types of betalains. Betalains are anti-inflammatory and benefit conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Before you run out into the garden and gather up a bunch or purslane, remember that introducing anything new into your diet should be done slowly. Some ideas to prepare purslane are pesto, in garden salads, added to stir fry, as a substitute for spinach or lettuce on a sandwich, and you can even pickle it. An Internet search can help you with specific recipes or use your imagination for something truely your own.
Natural Medicine Applications
As with all plants and herbs, we can their find healing properties. Purslane has some uses that are amazing. Because it’s high in magnesium and melatonin, purslane is a great antidote for those times you’ve over-indulged on caffeine. Being so rich in vitamins and minerals, it’s considered an immune booster. Foods high in omegas like purslane are great for psoriasis. It’s also great for headaches and overall heart health. There are many more claims made, but it’s clear that purslane needs to be part of your regular diet. So head out to your garden and take advantage of that wonderful green disguised as a weed.
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