Purslane, scientifically known as Portulaca oleracea, is a remarkable trailing plant that thrives in poor soil conditions. Though originally introduced to North America from India and Persia, it has become a widespread invasive species. Purslane, also known as pigweed, little hogweed, fatweed, and pusley, is well-adapted to surviving in harsh environments. It can be found sprouting in the cracks of sidewalks and driveways, even in the scorching heat of summer. It is a hardy plant that can often be seen in container gardens, flowerbeds, fields, waste grounds, and roadsides where it naturally propagates, likely through the droppings of birds and other animals.
Purslane as a Savior
Purslane holds an essential place in the traditional medical systems of India, including Siddha, Ayurveda, and Unani Tibb. Indian practitioners have long recognized the plant’s therapeutic properties. The juice extracted from the entire plant is commonly used to combat gastrointestinal worms in children. Purslane is also consumed to treat scurvy, as it is rich in vitamin C and acts as an antioxidant. Additionally, it is believed to aid in the treatment of lung, kidney, and liver diseases. The leaves are eaten to alleviate scurvy, urinary problems, and even gonorrhea. Tea made from the plant is utilized to combat parasites, while the leaves serve as external remedies for skin problems and mastitis. The seeds, on the other hand, have astringent, demulcent, diuretic, and vermicide properties, making them effective against gastrointestinal worms.
The Propagation of Purslane
Purslane flowers bloom at the tips of its succulent stems from late spring to late summer. These vibrant flowers open mid-morning and close at various times throughout the day, depending on the surrounding temperature. The flowers eventually give way to egg-shaped capsules containing brown to black seeds.
To propagate purslane, the seeds first need to undergo a process to break their natural winter dormancy. They should be placed in moist sphagnum peat and refrigerated in a freezer bag for two to three weeks. Following this period, the seeds are typically sown in a commercial planting mix in peat pots, seven to eight weeks before the last expected frost date. When kept in a well-lit environment with a temperature of around 75 degrees Fahrenheit, the seeds should germinate within one to three weeks. In late spring, the seedlings are then planted outdoors, with a spacing of 6 to 24 inches between each plant. Purslane stems grow parallel to the ground, radiating outwards from a single taproot, often forming large mats. Once established, purslane requires minimal care, thriving without the need for excessive watering or fertilizing. It grows rapidly, producing flowers for approximately three weeks. However, it can spread rapidly if allowed to go to seed, necessitating diligent hand-pulling to prevent further propagation.
Unraveling the Mystery of Bloomless Purslane
Purslane is known for its beautiful and vibrant appearance, but when it fails to bloom, it can be disheartening. Several factors may contribute to the absence of flowers on portulaca plants. Although this species is resilient and can thrive under neglect, it still requires specific conditions for optimal growth.
Purslane prefers poor, dry, and well-drained soil. If the soil is overly rich or excessively soggy, it may hinder the plant’s ability to bloom. While adding sand or a small amount of compost can help rectify the situation, it may be more effective to relocate the plant to a different spot.
Despite its ability to withstand challenging conditions, Purslane benefits from regular watering. As a general rule, one deep watering per week is sufficient during hot and dry weather. However, additional watering may be necessary if the soil drains quickly.
Purslane thrives in intense heat and ample sunlight. A lack of sunlight may be the cause of insufficient blooming. Ideally, portulaca requires six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily to achieve its full flowering potential.
For those who wish to encourage blooming, deadheading is an effective practice. By removing old blooms, new blossoms can be stimulated, rejuvenating a plant that may be struggling to produce flowers.
The occurrence of aphids and spider mites can also hinder blooming. Aphids, tiny pests, can cause significant damage when they infest a Purslane plant. Similarly, spider mites, which favor dry and dusty conditions, may be responsible for inhibiting flower production. Timely treatment with insecticidal soap spray can effectively control these pests. It is best to apply the spray during the cooler parts of the day, such as morning or evening, to minimize damage to the plant.
The Culinary Delight of Purslane
Not only is Purslane a versatile plant with various medicinal applications, but it is also a flavorful and nutritious addition to culinary endeavors. With its red stems and small green leaves, Purslane possesses a slightly sour or salty taste, reminiscent of spinach and watercress. One can employ it in many ways, adding it to salads, sandwiches, soups, or stews, or using it as a garnish.
In the Mediterranean region, Purslane is frequently featured in soups and salads due to its potential health benefits. It is known to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, courtesy of its abundance of omega-3 fatty acids.
In Mexico, Purslane often finds its way into omelets, stews, and many other traditional recipes. The wilder varieties are particularly sought after for their intense flavor. Some describe Purslane as having a lemony taste, while others liken it to spinach. Portulaca oleracea, the wilder green variety, bears tiny yellow flowers and is considered a noxious weed by many farmers due to its ability to self-seed when disturbed. Conversely, Portulaca sativa, known as golden purslane, is a favorite among chefs and is often found in herb gardens.
The nutritional content of Purslane is truly impressive, making it a valuable addition to any diet. This succulent plant is composed of approximately 93% water and boasts a range of essential vitamins and minerals. Notably, it is an excellent source of vitamin A (from beta-carotene), providing approximately 26% of the daily value (DV). It is also rich in vitamin C, contributing 35% of the DV. Purslane contains significant amounts of magnesium (17% DV), manganese (15% DV), potassium (14% DV), iron (11% DV), and calcium (7% of the recommended daily intake or RDI). Furthermore, it contains limited quantities of vitamins B1, B2, B3, folate, copper, and phosphorus.
What truly sets Purslane apart is its exceptional nutrient density. With a mere 16 calories, it packs an incredible nutritional punch, making it one of the most nutrient-dense foods available.
Infuse your diet with the goodness of Purslane by trying this delicious recipe for Purslane ChowChow:
- 16 Roma tomatoes, diced
- 4 tomatillos, diced
- 3 cups of purslane leaves and new stems, diced
- 4 green chiles, diced
- 2 yellow and 2 red bell peppers, diced
- 1 white or purple onion, diced
- 1 bunch of green onions, diced
- 2 to 4 jalapeños, diced fine (for those who prefer a spicier salsa)
- 1 bunch of fresh cilantro, diced fine
- The juice of 2 limes
- 2 garlic cloves, diced fine, or garlic powder to taste
- Lawry’s seasoned salt, to taste
Enjoy the vibrant flavors and health benefits of Purslane with this delightful salsa recipe.