Monday, August 13, 2012

Purslane: Portulaca oleracea

Sometimes we find things in our flower beds and vegetable gardens that we didn't plant; we call them weeds. And more often those weeds are a constant nuisance, poking up around our beds like a grade school bully. There is one such "weed" that is not really a weed at all, in fact you may already know what it is from seeing it snake over sidewalks, cascade over rocks or the pretty yellow flowers it sends up towards the end of its growing cycle. Purslane, pigweed, hogweed or verdolagas is commonly eaten in Mexico, Europe and Asia. It has a lemony flavor with a succulent like crunch. Purslane also has a mucilaginous quality that makes it a great thickening agent for soups and sauces. The leaves of the plant are also an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids and medicinally the leaves can be made into a tea and used to treat stomach aches and as a poultice to treat insect stings and earaches.
Its a free garden gift that appears July through September. Harvest up until it flowers. Dry the leaves and keep in your pantry for use in winter stews or for tea. But use it in its raw state for as long as you can! My favorite way to use Purslane is chopped, stem and all, then tossed into a simple tomato-cucumber salad with fresh mint or the leaves in a Caprese. Keep it simple, the summer is too hot for complexity. 
A word of caution however, be careful not to pick Purslanes look-a-like, Euphorbia, you will know it by the milky liquid it exudes when picked as well as having thinner stems.

This article from the New York Times from a couple years back offers a interesting recipe for Pickled Purslane. Urban Forager, From Sidewalk Cracks, a Side Dish