(Portulaca oleracea ssp. sativa— Family Portulacaceae)
Purslane, common/kitchen/garden/summer purslane, portulaca, pussley, pursley
verdolagas (Latin America), munyeroo/purslane (Australia), pigweed (North America)
Purslane mostly grows wild. It is a member of the Portulaca family, which has some thirty genera and 300 species, mainly indigenous to the tropics and subtropics.
Purslane has been cultivated for centuries in the areas of its origin; China, India, and Egypt for its succulent shoot tips, stems, and leaves.
However, the well-known 19th century horticultural writer, Loudon, wrongly attributed its origin to Latin America, which has, ever since, caused much confusion.
This may have stemmed from the fact that shiny, black, purslane seeds
have been recovered from prehistoric hearths found at Salmon Run on the San Juan River, at Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, and Canyon de Chelly, and almost every other “puebla” site that has ever been analyzed for ancient food consumption.
So ancient and widespread is the purslane that it is labelled now as a refound vegetable rather than a new one.
Almost every country has it growing wild.
Purslane is a fast-growing herbaceous annual with thick, fleshy, oval leaves. It was highly esteemed in ancient Egypt and cultivated in Europe as far back as the Middle Ages, but fell victim to other alternatives like spinach.
Purslane is now cultivated only on a small scale in France, Belgium, and Holland for specialized connoisseurs in the US. Purslane was often used as a protective agent against “evil spirits and blastings of lightnings or other planets and burning of gunpowder”. Its effectiveness is not recorded, however.
Its name in Malawi translates as “buttocks of the chief’s wife”, possibly referring to the plants rounded leaves and juicy stems.
The original wild plant had small green leaves and a sprawling habit; but cultivated, it grows upright, producing large emerald green or golden leaves which are fleshy and mucilaginous with a mild flavour.
The yellow-leaved, and less hardy, variety is more succulent, but less flavourful. The leaves, which are more like pads, are usually cooked like spinach or eaten raw as a salad vegetable.
In Australia, the wild plant, or at least a close relative, produces pretty yellow flowers and is known as munyeroo or purslane. In North America, this same adorable plant has another name — pigweed.
Purslane is rich in beta carotene, folate, Vitamin C, and essential fatty acids. It was traditionally used as a remedy for dry coughs, swollen gums, and when infused in water, a treatment for blood disorders.
With its high amounts of essential fatty acids, purslane is now being recognized as having some merit in preventing heart attacks while stimulating the body’s immune system. However, pregnant women and those with digestive disorders should not eat this vegetable in large quantities.
Like spinach, it has a high oxalic acid content. The nutty but tangy leaves are available only infrequently from spring to fall and are prepared like spinach or used raw as a condiment.
Winter purslane, miner’s lettuce, claytonia, spring beauty, Cuban spinach, Cuban lettuce, Spanish lettuce, Indian lettuce
(Montia perfoliata, formerly Claytonia perfoliata – Family Portulacaceae)
As its name suggests, this delicious salad green appears toward the end of winter in contrast to true purslane, which is a summer arrival.
Like the summer purslane, where the winter variety originated is in doubt as it can be found in almost every country of the world, although many believe that it is one of the few native American plants to travel to Europe to be adopted there under the name of Winter purslane.
It is more appreciated and cultivated in Europe than in the Americas, where it is found growing as far north as British Columbia.
This plant bears two forms of leaf, both of which are decorative. Wild purslane seems to grow naturally in most organic gardens, but the cultivated variety is quite different. The wild has a sorrel tang with a hint of tomato, while the cultivated types can be bland and slimy; but it looks cute, if nothing else.
The tender leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals, and usually harvested while they are still young and small. The leaves contain about thirty times more Vitamin C than the edible stems.
Its flavour is best when used raw in salads rather than cooked like spinach. Its mucilaginous quality is very much like okra when cooked, so makes a better addition to soups and stews than as a solitary sidedish.
When winter purslane is allowed to grow a little longer than usual, the leaves develop a characteristic bowl or plate shape. “Lettuce” is an unlikely description as the juicy, pea-green cupped, elfin “lily pad”-type leaves perched on thin stalks just do not resemble any common type of lettuce at all, nor does its taste and texture have anything in common with that vegetable.
The only thing it does have in common with lettuce is that both can be used raw in salads.
Indian lettuce is another name that sometimes appears in field guides. The American Indians ate it raw, cooked, and made a tea from the plant.
As for the term “miner’s”, the gold-rush era served up many cheap foods; and this one was an inexpensive green readily available for the constant influx of people. Unfortunately, the name reminded proper Americans of its rough-and-ready history helped prejudice 19th century Americans against this “common weed”.