Do you have purslane or pigweed on your land? Don’t get rid of it! You are actually very fortunate. This so-called weed is another of the nourishing plants you should encourage in your backyard pharmacy. It’s also an important and delicious element in what some gourmets are calling weed cuisine. But it’s not a new discovery by any means. People all over the world from Egypt to the Americas have known about and used purslane for thousands of years.
Purslane is often hyped as an invasive weed, a pest, and a threat to “real” gardens. It does grow very easily year-round in just about any soil and requires little moisture. But if you know what to do with it purslane can be one of your most useful kitchen-garden plants. The Indians of the Southwest know this and cook with the leaves, stems and even the seeds. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Henry David Thoreau wrote that they liked purslane and ate it all the time.
Think of purslane as a vegetable like spinach or collard greens. It grows close to the ground and has red stems with fleshy oval or teardrop-shaped leaves.The leaves have a lemon-peppery taste, while the crunchy stems have a salty-sour flavor that brighten up salads, stir-fries, soups and stews. Another variety called golden purslane has yellow leaves and a more delicate taste. Put it on sandwiches. Substitute it for lettuce or spinach.
Purslane is juicy, which means it has a high natural mucilage content. This mucilage is very soothing and excellent for the digestive tract. Try chewing a few purslane leaves to settle your stomach when you have nausea or indigestion.
The purslane plant drops hundreds of little black seeds in the fall. Your chickens can eat them or you can use them to grow your own purslane plants if you don’t have them naturally. You can also buy purslane seeds from some nurseries and natural groceries. Several companies sell both green and gold purslane seeds on line. To grow your own purslane, begin after all the spring frosts are over with. Prepare your soil and throw the seeds on top. Keep it moist but not wet.
Like other green leafy vegetables, purslane is full of calcium, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. It’s an excellent source of magnesium and potassium. Women should eat purslane or drink a tea of the leaves for bone health, although pregnant women should avoid it because it causes uterine contractions.
Medical science has long known of purslane’s benefits. It’s used by herbalists to help with chronic fatigue, migraine headaches and yeast infections. It provides a boost to the immune system. It can even be used as an antidepressant similar to St. John’s Wort. Its diuretic properties are useful against water retention and high blood pressure. It also has antimicrobial and antibacterial elements. If you have chickens, feed them purslane. They’ll be healthier and so will their eggs. You’ll get twenty times the omega-3s out of purslane-fed eggs.
For injuries and skin diseases like psoriasis, mash or puree fresh purslane and put it on as a poultice. Make a masque out of it and put it on your face for a rejuvenating treatment. Health food stores often sell purslane cream but it can be expensive. You can make your own purslane ointment. Melt six ounces of cocoa butter with an ounce of beeswax in a double boiler. When thoroughly melted stir in four ounces of mashed purslane. Cook over low heat for half an hour, strain and pour into a jar. This simple recipe can be used with any herbs. Drops of essential oil can be put in for fragrance.
Look for purslane in your own garden or just about anywhere. As with all herbs, use only what you know hasn’t been sprayed with toxic chemicals. If you live in an area of the U.S. where there are a lot of Hispanic people, look for purslane for sale in Hispanic groceries and farmers’ markets. It is called verdolagas.