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Foraging Purslane – a weed worth eating

Purslane is a delicious and highly nutritious weed.  Little eco footprints

When everything else in my garden is suffering from the heat, the weed Purslane is thriving. Rather than pull it out and complain, I’m grateful for this hardy heat-tolerant plant because it is delicious and highly nutritious.

Purlsane, or Portulaca oleracea, is a cosmopolitan plant which thrives in temperate to warm regions across the globe. It’s been consumed since ancient times and is represented in many cuisines. Aboriginal people of inland Australia call it Munyeroo, eating it as a salad green and grinding its seeds to make flour. In China it’s embraced as a Chinese medicine and referred to as ma chi xian, and in Central Mexico it’s a popular green called verdolagas.

Despite being an international culinary ingredient, with at least 40 different aliases in over a dozen different languages, in Australia today we mostly ignore it or weed it out.

Nutritional benefits of Purslane

Our lack of appreciation for purslane is a shame, because it’s a nutritional powerhouse. Michael Pollan names it in his eaters manifesto ‘In Defense of Food’ as one of the “most nutritious plants in the world”. Its leaves are high in Omega 3 fatty acids and are jam-packed with a suite of vitamins and minerals.

Caution - Puslane is high in oxolate

Purslane is also high in oxalate, so if you are pregnant or prone to kidney stones you should avoid eating it raw (unless, interestingly, you combine it with yoghurt which reduces oxalate content) and instead enjoy it cooked or pickled. Cooking or pickling Purlane reduces oxalate content

Veggie burgers with a side of purslane. Little eco footprints

How to eat Purslane

The succulent leaves of purslane are crunchy and slightly slimy, with a tangy lemony and peppery flavour. They can be eaten raw as a salad green, cooked as a vegetable, or pickled. It’s especially delicious as a lettuce substitute on burgers. I like using it instead of cucumber in Tzatziki yoghurt dip.

How to identify Purslane

Purslane is easy to recognise once you know what you are looking for. Browsing images online is a good way to familiarise yourself with its appearance.

It’s a small succulent herb that typically grows prostrate or sprawling along the ground. It has thick flat leaves and smooth green stems that turn red as they age.

If you are not certain that something is Purslane, wait until it is in flower as its small yellow 5-petalled flowers are a give-away.

One plant you might confuse it with if you aren’t careful is Petty Spurge (Euphorbia peplus). You can easily distinguish Petty Spurge by its milky sap, seen when you break the stem. This milky sap is toxic so be careful not to confuse the two plants as they will often grow in the same location.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 1st March 2014.

Have you tried foraging Purslane? 

While I'm on the topic of identifying plants - the Australian Network for Plant Conservation (the not-for-profit I work for) is delivering a two day workshop on plant identification for flora of the Hunter Valley 7-8th April. Although the workshop targets the flora of the Hunter Valley, the skills learnt will be applicable to any region of Australia. We're also holding a one day workshop on Seed collection, storage and use for native vegetation restoration 9th April.