You may never have been formally introduced to this little plant, but by the time you finish reading, you’ll be glad to know this wild superfood, which is actually the eighth most widespread plant in the world.
Purslane /Portulaca oleracea/ is a succulent annual that crawls along compacted soil. Its thick and fleshy leaves grow from a reddish stem, and its teeny, yellow flowers bloom only in daylight. Purslane is highly heat and drought-tolerant, perfect for cultivating in an Athens edible landscape. Between Trapeze Pub and Casa Mia on Hull Street, a unique vegetable garden grows. Where other vegetables are wilting from the heat and lack of watering, purslane is thriving.
Ancient cultures worldwide have relied on purslane as a green leafy powerhouse vegetable par excellence. Though the weed may not be native, non-agricultural people of the Pacific Northwest foraged for purslane prior to European contact, proving that puslane has been in North America for quite some time. Among the Greeks, Cretans and Turks in the Mediterranean, purslane is a favorite wild vegetable to collect.
If stranded in a remote area, you would be fine if purslane were growing nearby. In fact, you’d probably be a lot healthier. Studies show that purslane’s nutritive value of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants is superior to cultivated foods. According to the USDA and Dr. Artemis Simopoulos, president of The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health in Washington, DC, “Purslane is the richest vegetable source of omega-3 fatty acids.” Within this little weed is the omega-3s in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and antioxidants, such as phenolic compounds, alpha-tocopherol (a vitamin E), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), beta-carotene (precursor to vitamin A) and glutathione (a compound which metabolizes toxins in the small intestines and prevents their transport to other tissues in the body).
Purslane’s yield of omega-3 ALAs far surpasses any other non-aquatic source, that it just might convert you to foraging. ALAs are a proven cardio-protective nutrient, and its antioxidant-rich content means that purslane is a powerful superfood that can protect against cancer. In Trinidad and Tobago, purslane is a common herb used for diabetes mellitus. A study in mice with diabetes mellitus found a decrease in blood glucose, increase in good HDL cholesterol and a decrease in triglycerides when the mice consumed purslane. The U.S. has overlooked this weed to the detriment of our health.
Eaten raw, this culinary weed adds a delightful, juicy, sour crispness to salad, or it’s also delicious cooked like spinach. One study found that the ALA content was higher in purslane exposed to low temperatures, so you might want to put purslane you’ve just collected in the fridge for an hour before eating.
But wait, there’s more. Remember all the concern a few years ago about bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics? Purslane, the wonder-plant, can remove BPA from water in 24 hours, according to a Japanese study. Soon, purslane will be put to work in phytoremediation of contaminated industrial wastewater. Purslane keeps delivering the goods.
This article appeared in the Athens Banner Herald, June 27, 2010. http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/062710/liv_661937863.shtml