Purslane is said to have been one of Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite foods. But here in the United States it’s widely considered a weed. It’s time to put this nutritional plant on our plates instead of the compost pile.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), also called miner’s lettuce, pigweed and hogweed, is a succulent ground cover that grows wild throughout North America. Its leaves and stems, which may be bland or tart, taste like a slightly peppery cucumber. The tear-shaped leaves can be ultra-thin and tender or broad and fibrous.
Harvested in midsummer, purslane’s smooth, green or red stems are slender and delicate. At the end of the growing season, the thick stems are tough and stringy and should be discarded.
This delicious vegetable can be gathered in many places, does well in most home gardens, and is becoming more available in farmers’ markets, ethnic markets and restaurants.
Purslane’s leaves are high in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid we usually get from fish or flaxseed. It also contains small amounts of EPA and DHA, longer-chain omega-3s rarely found in any food except fish and fish oil. Omega-3s nourish brain cells and may decrease the risk of depression, hyperactivity, migraines and Alzheimer’s disease (some promising studies have also shown that omega-3s might ameliorate the symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mood disorders).
They also support the immune system, prevent inflammation and some types of cancer, lower cholesterol (LDL), and help the body regulate blood pressure and clotting. They’ve been found helpful in treating type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Purslane is also a source of calcium, potassium, iron, glutathione, essential amino acids, and vitamins E, C and A. Pregnant women should avoid purslane since it can cause the uterine muscles to contract.
For a flavorful salad, toss raw purslane with other lettuces, like arugula, butter lettuce, spinach, mache or romaine. Add a lightly sweet and tart dressing, such as honey mustard.
- Enhance ordinary mayonnaise-based salads — chicken, egg, tuna, shrimp and turkey — by replacing celery with chopped purslane sprigs and stems.
- Use purslane in sandwiches instead of lettuce.
- Raw purslane makes an attractive garnish.
- In recipes that call for watercress, try purslane instead.
- Stir purslane into soups and stews, just as you would use spinach.
- To cook, steam purslane for one to two minutes. Or sauté it in a hot pan with olive oil until it’s lightly wilted. Serve as a side dish.
- Refrigerate purslane in an open plastic bag with a paper towel at the bottom. It will keep for about a week.
- Before eating, cut off roots. Soak leaves and stems in cold water to remove any dirt, then dry. Cut off and discard heavy stems.
- Because of purslane’s variable tastes, always sample it before using it in raw or cooked recipes. Younger small leaves will be sweeter and more delicate. If the purslane has matured and has larger stems, make sure the flavor is not too strong for your palate.
Honey Dijon Purslane and Red Potato Salad
Makes eight servings
- 1 pound red skinned potatoes cut into medium cubes
- 1 cup chopped purslane
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
- 1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
- 1/3 cup grain Dijon mustard
- 1 tbs. honey
- 1 tbs. seasoned rice wine vinegar
- Place the potatoes in a large pot of water and bring to boil. Cook about 10 minutes or until the potatoes have just softened. Drain.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the potatoes, purslane, onion and peppers.
- In a small bowl, combine the mustard, honey and vinegar.
- Add the dressing to the salad and mix well.
Per 1/2 cup serving:
Calories 60; protein 2 g; total fat 1 g; saturated fat 0 g; carbohydrates 15 g; dietary fiber 2 g; cholesterol 0 mg; sodium 290 mg
Purslane and Arugula Salad
Makes four salads
- 1/4 cup julienne red onion
- 1 medium tomato, seeds removed and finely chopped
- 1 1/3 cup julienne endive, white and red
- 1 cup torn arugula
- 1 cup chopped purslane
- 2 tsp. chiffonade basil
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp. sea salt
- 2 tsp. of balsamic syrup for garnish (optional)
- In a mixing bowl, toss all ingredients except balsamic syrup.
- Arrange salad on plate and drizzle with syrup.
Calories 60; protein 1 g; total fat 2.5 g; saturated fat 0 g; carbohydrates 8 g; dietary fiber 2 g; cholesterol 0 mg; sodium 160 mg
Purslane, Corn and Chicken Wrap
Makes four servings
- 4 sprouted whole grain tortillas
- 1/2 cup salsa
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup crumbled queso fresco (Mexican cheese)
- 1/2 cup Purslane leaves and small stems
- 1/2 cup grilled chicken breast, shredded
- 1/2 cup corn kernels, steamed, cooled and drained
- Gently heat tortillas in oven or in pan on stovetop.
- Down the center of each tortilla, spread 2 tablespoons salsa and 1 tablespoon sour cream.
- On top of sour cream add 1 tablespoon queso fresco, 2 tablespoons purslane, 2 tablespoons shredded chicken and 2 tablespoons sweet corn.
- Gently fold in sides of tortilla and begin rolling up tortilla over filling to make wrap. Repeat to make four.
- To serve warm, bake in 350-degree oven for 10 minutes.
Calories 250; protein 16 g; total fat 7 g; saturated fat 2.5 g; carbohydrates 31 g; dietary fiber 6 g; cholesterol 30 mg; sodium 370 mg
Recipes presented by Conscious Cuisine.
This article has been updated. It originally appeared as “Purslane” in the July/August 2009 issue.