Every summer Americans spend hours weeding their gardens and discarding delicious food that grows between the rows. People in distant lands are wiser and dine on plants we call weeds. One of the best is purslane.
Purslane is an amazingly fast growing ground-hugging vegetable that enjoys sandy garden soil. Probably native to the Indian subcontinent it is readily eaten worldwide except in North America. Overseas it is gathered from the wild and grown commercially. There’s even evidence that purslane was brought to North America before Columbus.
The plant is a Portulaca and sports bright green fleshy leaves that form on thick reddish stems. It hugs the ground and thrives in gardens. Young leaf tips are delicious fresh when added to salad or, they can be stir fried or steamed. Like Okra, purslane is somewhat mucilaginous so is ideal in soups and stews. Stems can be pickled. Even the seeds are edible. Because sand grains stick to the leaves, wash them thoroughly before eating to eliminate grittiness.
No vegetable has a higher Omega-3 content than purslane, which is also rich in vitamins A, B1, C, and E. It’s only slight nutritional downfall is a high oxalic acid content that could cause kidney stones in susceptible people.
Anyone eating purslane or any other wild food for the first time should make sure they correctly identify it and confirm through at least two sources its edibility. Try a small amount until you know that you have no allergic reaction. Fortunately the Internet has plentiful information on purslane, and nearly all wild food books include photos of the plant and cooking tips. An interesting site with history and recipes is Eat The Weeds and other things, too.
Marion Patterson is an instructor at Kirkwood. Rich Patterson is the former executive director of Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids.