Friday, July 17, 2009


If you know the plant purslane, then you probably know it as a weed, and under some other less flattering name such as hogweed. The United States Department of Agriculture ranks it as the seventh most invasive weed in the United States. It’s a modest plant; low growing with small fleshy leaves and almost invisible yellow flowers. Purslane loves disturbed ground, like a freshly turned over garden or the edge of a highway.

The picture of it here was taken across the street from CityWalk@Akard, immediately in from of the headquarters for Dallas Area Rapid Transit. The purslane is growing up through a crack in the sidewalk where hundreds of people walk. Purslane needs little water and will grow almost anywhere. I knew it (as “pigweed”) growing up in Michigan. I saw it growing in Santa Fe, New Mexico just last week.

Purslane’s origin, however, is in the Middle East and over forty varieties are grown in gardens in the Middle East, South Asia and Europe. I bought some purslane seed a couple of years ago (the good old garden variety weed wasn’t good enough, I guess) and it’s grown in my garden ever since. The only difference between the weed and the plant that grew from my seeds is that the garden variety grows more upright.

Purslane, either the wild or garden variety, has an unusual taste and texture. It’s tart and a little peppery, but rather slimy—imagine a cross between lemon and okra. Purslane isn’t nearly as bad as my description makes it sound and once you get used to the texture, then the taste if pretty good. Purslane is extremely high in Omega-3 fatty acids, so it’s healthy too.

There are a lot of ways to use it. In Greece it is often mixed with yogurt; it can be used in potato salad; made into a salad on its own; or serve as part of a mixed salad, especially of wild greens.

Known as verdolaga in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America it’s much more popular there than in North America. In Mexican cooking purslane is cooked with eggs (along with onions and chiles) or used to thicken stews. Like okra, purslane is valuable for its ability to thicken a dish.

In searching for recipes, I found entries from Turkey, France, Greece, China and Mexico, among others. I haven’t tried it, yet (I’ve only put purslane in a salad), but this Greek recipe looked good to me:

1 cup of purslane leaves
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic
4 spoonfuls of lemon juice
Salt (not much as feta is salty)
Feta Cheese (a piece about 6X6X2 cm)
Roasted Pine Nuts (a large handful)

1. Roast pine nuts in a non stick frying pan for just a few minutes being careful as they burn easily and when roasted on both sides set aside until they cool down.
2. Combine all the ingredients (except feta and pine nuts) and half the olive oil in a blender or food processor. Start blending and then add the pine nuts, feta, and the remaining olive oil slowly-checking for the consistency that you prefer. If you have the option drizzle the olive oil as you blend
3. It makes about 1 cup of pesto which can be eaten fresh (within 3-4 days preserved in the refrigerator) and/or frozen for later use.
I don’t know where you could buy purslane (some people suggest farmer’s markets, but I’ve never seen it there). There shouldn’t be much need to buy it, though, when it’s easy enough to find for free.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend picking it off a city sidewalk, but the next time you step on or over a purslane, at least you’ll know what it is and what it can be used for.

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