Discover the Delights of Growing Purslane

Purslane, the vibrant and tangy green, has captured the attention of food enthusiasts and nutritionists alike. Renowned writer Michael Pollan even dubbed it one of the most nutritious wild edible plants in his book, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.” With its versatility and health benefits, you can cultivate purslane as a microgreen year-round or as a vegetable during the summer. Despite its abundance, growing and harvesting purslane requires some finesse. In this article, we’ll delve into the world of purslane, exploring its benefits, cultivation techniques, and culinary possibilities.

Unveiling the Marvels of Purslane

Purslane, scientifically known as Portulaca oleracea, is an annual succulent that has had a diverse history. It has been considered a useless weed and a potent medicinal plant at different times. Commonly referred to as little hogweed, pigweed, fatweed, or pusley, this green beauty has recently gained recognition as a nutritional powerhouse. Packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, it even boasts seven times more beta carotene than carrots. The Portulaceae family also includes ornamental varieties like wingpod purslane (P. umbraticola) and moss rose (P. grandiflora), cultivated primarily for their flowers. In contrast, common purslane resembles a miniature jade plant, with edible leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds. The leaves have a refreshing citrusy and salty taste, accompanied by a peppery kick reminiscent of arugula. Its small yellow flowers bloom from midsummer through early fall before producing seeds.

An Ancient Tradition

Purslane’s cultivation spans the globe, from its likely birthplace in north Africa and southern Europe to North America, where native communities have cultivated and foraged for it long before the arrival of Europeans. Historically, it has been grown in central Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean region. While you can find cultivated purslane at your local nursery, foraging for the wild variety offers a pungent and intense flavor. Cultivated purslane, which thrives in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 10, usually boasts larger leaves and a more upright form.

Planting and Propagation

Purslane is typically propagated from seeds. However, stem cuttings, divisions, or transplants are also viable options. Sowing seeds directly in moist soil after the last frost, at a temperature of around 60°F, allows them to germinate in seven to ten days. Once sprouted, thin the seedlings to eight inches apart. If you prefer to start indoors, begin at least three weeks before the last frost, transplanting after the first set of true leaves emerges and the risk of frost has passed. Ensure a smooth transition by gradually acclimating the seedlings to outdoor conditions before planting them in your garden.

Further reading:  The Ultimate Guide to Zz Plant Care

Additionally, stem cuttings offer a straightforward route to propagation. Cut a six-inch stem from the parent plant, removing the leaves from the bottom half. Plant the stem in potting soil, burying half of it, and place it in a well-lit area. After approximately a week, you’ll notice the cutting taking root. Alternatively, you can bury one-inch stem cuttings directly in the garden, a method that often yields successful results. Transplanting purslane is a breeze—simply dig up the plant, ensuring you keep the roots intact, and transplant it to a new hole twice the size of the root ball.

Cultivating Purslane

To ensure optimal growth, purslane thrives in full sun. However, if you desire more substantial flower production, consider planting it in a partially shaded area. Purslane enjoys warmth, so seek out hot spots near brick fences or cement walls where other plants struggle. With a preference for temperatures above 70°F, it can even withstand scorching conditions exceeding 100°F. Purslane is known for its adaptability to various soil types, as exemplified by its ability to grow in sidewalk cracks and along roadways. While it can tolerate average-quality soil, planting it in loamy, well-draining soil yields more substantial and juicier plants. Fertilization is not a necessity, although incorporating compost into the soil during planting can enhance growth. Adequate moisture is essential but avoid overwatering, as excessive water can cause the plant to perish. Purslane thrives in dry soil, so water when the soil feels dry up to your first knuckle. To prevent fungal issues, water at ground level rather than overhead. To control its spread, trim the plant back to two inches above the soil or harvest it before flowering. Applying organic mulch, such as wood chips, in midsummer can impede its expansion. Certain types of mulch, like black walnut, further inhibit growth due to their chemical composition. If you prefer container gardening, purslane can flourish in pots with infrequent watering. However, be vigilant, as even wild varieties have a knack for sprouting unexpectedly.

Embrace the Microgreen Craze

If you’re an aficionado of microgreens, purslane microgreens are certain to delight your taste buds. Their tart and juicy nature makes them a perfect addition to any dish. Growing purslane microgreens is a year-round endeavor that provides a constant supply of this refreshing delicacy. Use a seed tray or any wide, flat container, filling it with half an inch of potting mix. Sprinkle the seeds over the moistened soil, gently press them in, and place the tray in a sunny area with a consistent temperature around 75°F. Keep the soil moist until germination, which typically occurs within a week. After germination, allow the soil surface to dry out slightly between waterings. Once the greens emerge, known as cotyledons, they are ready for consumption in about 14 to 21 days. Pluck the succulent embryonic seed leaves, adding them to your meals immediately. Meanwhile, the remaining seedlings can be transplanted in your garden for continuous harvest.

Further reading:  The Captivating Spice: Discover the Sichuan Pepper Plant

Harvesting and Culinary Delights

Harvesting purslane can be an art in itself, influencing the flavor and experience of the plant. Morning harvests result in a tangier taste due to the higher malic acid content, while evening harvests offer a sweeter flavor. Experiment with both to discover your personal preference. To harvest, snip sections of the plant with sharp scissors, ensuring you keep the harvested portion in a cool location. You have two options—either remove single stems, allowing the plant to regrow, or harvest the entire plant, leaving around two inches above the soil for regrowth. With its vigorous growth habit, each plant can provide up to three harvests per year.

As for culinary applications, purslane pairs well with a myriad of ingredients. From lettuce and tomatoes to cucumbers, eggs, and fish, its mild flavor complements a wide range of dishes. For a delightful twist, try pickling purslane. Chop the leaves and pack them into a jar. Boil a vinegar brine of your choice (such as apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, and pickling spices), then pour it over the leaves, ensuring they are fully submerged. Seal the jar and refrigerate it for about a week before indulging. Additionally, purslane leaves enhance the taste of potato salad and bring a refreshing twist to open-faced mackerel sandwiches. Don’t hesitate to add sautéed or fresh purslane to soups just before serving. Chilled cucumber purslane soup is particularly rejuvenating on hot summer days. If you’re feeling adventurous, stuff trout with fresh purslane leaves, then roast them in the oven with butter and lemon. During winter, when fresh produce is scarce, incorporate purslane microgreens into a grain salad with pomegranate seeds and cooked barley. When it comes to cooking purslane, it’s best to either enjoy it raw or ensure it is thoroughly cooked. Partially roasted or boiled purslane may develop a slimy texture reminiscent of okra.

Further reading:  The Beautiful 'Gold Star' Esperanza Plant: A Tropical Delight

A Valuable Ally in the Garden

Purslane is resistant to most pests and diseases, making it a low-maintenance addition to your garden. However, a few nuisances may occasionally arise:

Purslane Blotchmine Sawfly

The larvae of the purslane blotchmine sawfly, Schizocerella pilicornis, create telltale tunnels throughout the leaves. While this infestation can decimate your crop, it can be managed by manually removing the larvae and applying diatomaceous earth. Encouraging parasitic wasps, natural predators of these pests, can also help keep them in check.

Portulaca Leafmining Weevil

Hypurus bertrandi weevils and their larvae are known for creating leaf tunnels and feeding on the edges, surfaces, stems, and developing seed pods of purslane. To control these pests, you can apply targeted insecticides or attract parasitic wasps, such as Diglyphus isaea, to your garden.

Fungal Issues

Black stem rot, caused by the fungus Dichotomophthora portulacae, is one of the few diseases that affect purslane. This fungal infection typically occurs due to overwatering or in moist climates. If you notice black lesions spreading to the stems and leaves, treatment with sulfur or copper-based fungicides can help control its progression. For mild cases, regular applications of neem oil can provide sufficient protection.

Harnessing Purslane’s Healing Potential

Purslane has a long history of medicinal use and continues to be praised for its therapeutic qualities. Research suggests that regular consumption of purslane can reduce uterine bleeding and improve insulin levels in people with diabetes. Promising studies indicate its potential for improving pulmonary function and acting as an anti-inflammatory agent when used topically. At home, you can create a salve by steeping dried purslane leaves in olive oil for several days, applying it topically to soothe irritated skin caused by winter cold or summer heat.

A Reliable Companion in Gardening

With its ability to thrive in various conditions and its versatility in the kitchen, pursuing the cultivation of purslane is a rewarding journey. Whether you choose to grow it as a microgreen or as a vegetable, purslane offers a delectable and nutrient-rich addition to your meals. Embrace the delights of growing this remarkable plant and unlock its potential in your garden and kitchen.

Ames Farm Center