Purslane

October 03, 2022

Last week I noticed a beautiful flower had bloomed amid the weeds I have allowed to serve as groundcover in the mailbox planter.  The bed has been planted with types of bulbs that sprout and flower at different times of the year.  With the hot summer most of the cover (including weeds) had died back.  I kept thinking I needed to plant something, but I have also watched as other house owners in the neighborhood had been planted annuals.  They never lasted more than a couple of weeks before they died.  The weeds that are taking over in my planter appeared to be succulents, and I was surprised Melissa did not like them.  When I asked, the reason was that they had not been planted by her (or her mom?) and just grew on their own.  She knew exactly what the plants and the flower were, purslane.

When I looked online, I found Common purslane (Portulaca oleracea), also known as little hogweed, is an annual (tropical perennial in growing zones 10 – 11) succulent in the family Portulacaceae.  The species was recorded in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus in Species Plantarum.  Due to the great variability, of the species many of the subspecies and varieties have been instead described as separate species, but other publications list them all as variations.  The plant may reach 16 inches (40 cm) in height.  It has smooth, reddish, mostly prostrate stems and the leaves, which may be alternate or opposite, and are clustered at stem joints and ends.  The yellow flowers have five regular parts and are up 1⁄4 inch (6 mm) wide.  The flowers can appear at any time during the year depending on rainfall and open singly at the center of the leaf cluster for only a few hours on sunny mornings.  Purslane has a taproot with fibrous secondary roots and can tolerate poor soil and drought.  The fruits are the many-seeded capsules, and one plant can develop up to 193,000 seeds.  It is no wonder these succulents take over.

While purslane is best known as a weed it is also an edible and highly nutritious vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked and contains about 93% water.  It has a slightly sour or salty taste, much like spinach and watercress.  Purslane can be found at farmers markets for use in crunchy salads or ethnic cuisine, and it can be cultivated for ornamental use.  Archaeobotanical finds of purslane are common at Mediterranean prehistoric sites.  Historically, , seeds have been retrieved from a protogeometric (1040 – 900 BCE) layer in Kastanas, Greece, as well as from the isle of Samos dating to the 7th century BCE.  In the 4th century BCE, Theophrastus names purslane (andrákhne) as one of the several summer “pot herbs” that needed to be sown in April.  The healing properties of purslane during antiquity were thought to be so reliable that Pliny the Elder advised wearing the plant as an amulet to expel all evil.  Purslane is high in many nutrients while low in calories, making it one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.  I do not think I can convince Melissa to eat any of these weeds.

THOUGHTS:  Like many species of plants purslane is both a weed and miracle food.  The internet sites I found alternated between how to get rid of the plant and where to get the best price on seeds.  It all depends on the beholder and what you are accustomed to.  Migration is often treated in the same manner.  While some are moving into the suburbs, others are moving into urban areas, and both are creating diversity in what was perceived to have originally been homogeneous communities.  How change is perceived depends on the beholder.  The right to live where you want should not be afforded to only the elite.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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