Purslane: Weed or a nutritious green?

By Debra Levey Larson
Media/Communications Specialist, University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

URBANA, Ill. — While some consider purslane, Portulaca oleracea, to be an annoying summer annual weed, others may consider it a nutritious green vegetable, said University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Jennifer Fishburn.

“Purslane, also called hogweed, is a summer annual that reproduces from seeds or stem pieces,” said Fishburn. “If you consider purslane a weed, the No. 1 control recommendation is don’t let it go to seed.

“One plant can produce more than 50,000 seeds, which can remain viable for more than 30 years in undisturbed soil,” Fishburn said. “The seeds are often brought to the soil surface by tilling.”

About three weeks after the seedling emerges, the plant flowers and sets seeds. When hand pulling, make sure to remove the weed from the garden, as it can easily re-root itself. Hoeing or tilling this weed results in plant multiplication, rather than plant removal. Purslane seeds germinate best with soil temperatures of 90 degrees. Because seeds don’t germinate well when more than 1/2-inch deep, mulching may help to control germination.

“Many cultures enjoy purslane as a food,” Fishburn noted. “It is popular in many Latin American countries and eaten as a salad green in France and other European countries. In Latin America, purslane is known as verdolaga. It is believed to be native to India or Iran, but can be found throughout the world.

“While the weed form of common purslane can be eaten, gardeners can purchase seeds for a cultivated variety,” Fishburn said. “Golden purslane, Portulaca oleracea sativa, has succulent 1-1/2-inch golden yellow leaves and orange stems on upright plants. The plant is larger than the wild form, growing 12 to 16 inches, and the leaves are crisp and mild.”

Purslane grows well anywhere, but is often found in sunny, fertile garden soil. It has succulent characteristics, and once established, is very drought tolerant.

“The taste is said to be similar to watercress or spinach,” Fishburn said. “Before adding this plant to your salad, make sure to properly identify it. Also, as with any new food, sample a small portion the first time you eat it. Purslane is best eaten fresh and should be washed thoroughly just prior to using.”

For purslane recipes, visit the Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture website at http://www.prairielandcsa.org/recipes/purslane.html.

From the July 20-26, 2011 issue

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