Being 8,000 miles away from my native homeland, I often long for the fruits and vegetables that I love eating in Turkey on my visits. This is why I got so excited the first time I saw purslane in Hawaii, the state I reside in. The interesting thing is that I didn’t see the purslane at the store. Instead, I happened upon them one afternoon while strolling around at a beach park with my family. I immediately recognized the purslane that had spread out wildly over a grassy area. Beaming with joy, I put my kids to work handpicking as much purslane as they could while I ran to the car to bring some bags for the freshly harvested goods.
Weed or Vegetable
Since that day, which was about 15 years ago, I haven’t seen any purslane being sold in the stores or markets except for one time in an organic produce section. It was not fresh and overpriced. Then this year a wonderful thing happened. I unexpectedly found purslane growing in my own yard thanks to the birds who I think brought the seeds. Shortly after my new finding I shared it with my next-door neighbor, a Japanese American, who was born and raised in Hawaii. She happens to enjoy and is involved in all types of yard work related activities. Even though she recognized the purslane in my yard right away, to my surprise she didn’t know if it was edible or what it was called. She thought it was a type of weed. To assure her that this is in fact an edible, delicious and nutritious vegetable, I started searching for more information about it to share with her. I think having her taste my homemade soup and salad with purslane that I shared also helped me convince her.
Throughout my research I came to learn that purslane is native to Asia and is very popular in the Mediterranean Region, Europe and Latin American countries. Today it can be found across the globe. In the United States purslane is considered a minor crop because of its use in primarily ethnic cooking. As I previously experienced this fact with my neighbor, it is known even less in the kitchen than it is in the yards. Furthermore, purslane is usually unwelcomed in most yards and gardens because it is commonly known as an invasive weed.
Regardless of what others think, I passionately suggest considering yourself lucky if you happen to find purslane in your garden. Let this “superfood” grow and spread under your supervision so that you can enjoy freshly prepared, all natural and organic food each time you crave it.
How to Grow
I found out from my experiences in my garden that growing purslane is an effortless task. Just like I did, give it a chance to grow and spread instead of weeding it out. You can also collect the seeds from the bottom of your bowl that fall off the purslane during washing to grow it from its own seeds. Simply scattering them over soil is sufficient. They need full sunlight to germinate so they must stay on the surface of the soil. Planting in late spring or early summer months are ideal. Keeping the soil moist is important too. The first harvest is expected to be in 6 to 8 weeks. To keep encouraging the plant to rejuvenate with new shoots, cutting the stems about 2 inches from the base of the plant is recommended.
How to Identify
It is important, however, to get familiar with this succulent in order to be able to identify it from other sprawling plants that are similar in appearance, but are actually poisonous. The most consistent distinguishing characteristic is that the leaves and stems of spurges release a white milky fluid when broken whereas purslane does not. Purslane is a crisp and juicy vegetable that contains about 93% water. It has a tangy, lemony and peppery flavor. It has red stems and small, fleshy green leaves. Its flowers are a bright yellow in color. The whole plant is edible; leaves, stems, flower buds, and even the seeds.
What to Do with Purslane
I personally like to consume purslane raw like spinach. I like to add it to cold foods like salads, sandwiches, yogurt dips and smoothies. I have come across purslane curry dishes and pickled purslane recipes while surfing the web, but I have never tried them myself. As a side dish, I sometimes sauté it in olive oil with chopped onions, a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. I also cook a purslane dish using Turkish style spinach dish recipe with added tomato paste, rice and water into my sauté purslane to serve as a main meal. On the other hand, my latest innovation is to add purslane in soups especially in yayla çorbası (yogurt, rice, mint soup) not necessarily to increase the taste, but to increase the nutritional value of my soup.
The benefits of this highly nutritious plant seem countless. Purslane is one of the richest green plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Unlike fish oils it contains no cholesterol. It contains the highest content of vitamin A among green leafy vegetables. It also contains vitamin C and B complex. It provides the highest amount of dietary minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and iron.
Purslane can also be used to treat external conditions. The leaves of purslane are full of sap that can be applied to the skin in order to relieve inflammation, insect bites, burns and other wounds. It is also thought to be helpful as a relief for skin problems such as boils and eczema. In addition, these freshly crushed leaves can be used in the form of a poultice for headaches, sore eyes, and gout. Since the plant contains many valuable antioxidants, including carotenoids it may also be used as a face mask to cleanse, refresh and tighten the skin. The presence of rich antioxidants (vitamins A and C, alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene, and glutathione) and omega-3 fatty acids, its wound healing and antimicrobial effects as well as its traditional use in the topical treatment of inflammatory conditions suggest to me that purslane can also be considered a medicinal herb.
A plant with this many health benefits that appeared in my backyard all by itself which requires very little care is only a blessing from Allah (s.w.t.). I hope you will enjoy many delicious meals with the innumerous health benefits that purslane has to offer as much as I do.