Purslane: Benefits of an Annoying Weed

These Delicious Edible Weeds are Great for Health and Table

purslane-benefits

By Habeeb Salloum, Canada

Rather than saving purslane benefits for the salad bowl, most gardeners weed it out for the compost heap. Yet, people have been eating purslane as a vegetable in some parts of the world since time immemorial.

Purslane benefits were known to the ancient Egyptians and cultivated over 2,000 years ago as a potherb in Persia and the Indian sub-continent. However, it was only in the Middle Ages that Europe came to know it as a food plant. In North America, where it is also known as “Indian cress,” it was a favorite green long before Columbus set foot in the New World. Today, both the cultivated and wild varieties are consumed as a vegetable in most countries of the globe.

A hardy potherb which thrives in any type of soil, purslane is an early, easy to grow annual. It is a prolific green, which does not need seeding every year. A single plant can produce up to 50,000 seeds and will reseed itself year after year.

A sprawling plant, it hugs the ground, only reaching several inches into the air. Its tendrils: green, purple or red, emerging from the center, have fat small reddish-green leaves and, as the plant matures, they produce tiny yellow flowers. The only difference between the wild and seeded types is when cultivated they have large golden-yellowish leaves, which are milder in flavor.

The tender leafy tips are the succulent part of the tendrils, which must be harvested before the plant flowers and becomes tough. They are sapid and have a spicy and refreshing taste, but are gelatinous and slightly sour. They are eaten fresh, in the same fashion as spinach and other greens.

The North American Indians brewed the leaves into a tea and ground the seeds and cooked them into a mush, both for nourishment and as a medicine. They believed that purslane benefits would cure coughs, head and stomach aches, hemorrhoids, inflammation of the testicles and regulate woman’s excessive menstrual flow.

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The medieval European herbalists prescribed this edible weed for fevers, inflammations and, mixed with honey, for coughs and shortness of breath. In the England of the Middle Ages, purslane benefits were employed to ease kidney ailments, coughs, gout, and both liver and stomach problems. Furthermore, it was employed to soothe hot tempers, quench thirst and quicken the appetite. In other parts of Europe, purslane was held in such esteem that some people spread it around their beds to keep away the devil.

Modern medicine has established that this green has many of the attributes ascribed to it by medieval doctors. Purslane is cholesterol free an has been found to be a good source of ascorbic acid, iron and magnesium. It also contains phosphates, urea, vitamin B, and more vitamin C than an equivalent amount of orange juice.

Modern herbalists prescribe purslane benefits for coughs, fevers and insomnia. In addition, the fresh or dried leaves, brewed into a healthy tea, are recommended for counteracting inflammation and the destruction of bacteria in bacillary dysentery.

Besides its healthy qualities, purslane, cooked, pickled or raw is a delectable green, especially raw or lightly cooked. The Chinese, who call it carti-chop, produce tasty dishes by just stir-frying the leaves for a few moments.

Purslane is an excellent ingredient in casseroles, omelets, sauces, stews and as a replacement for cucumbers in pickles, and is delicious in salads as well as in lentil and pea soups. Its mucilaginous texture makes it ideal as a thickening agent. Hence, it is often used to replace okra in soups and other pottage dishes.

A nourishing flour can be made from the seeds if the plants are allowed to mature before harvesting. After the tendrils are dried the seeds are removed, cleaned and ground into a flour. When mixed half and half with whole-wheat flour, it makes appetizing muffins and pancakes.

The dishes one can prepare with purslane are never-ending. The simplest way to make this Indian cress ready for the table is to wash and chop the tendrils, then place them in a saucepan with a little butter and seasonings. They can then be cooked over medium/low heat for 10 minutes. The result is a savory cooked green.

A healthy and new gourmet world of purslane benefits is free for the taking in any homeowner’s backyard. With a little wild plant identification, most people who cultivate gardens need only look between the growing vegetables to harvest what to many is an annoying garden weed.

purslane-benefits

Purslane and Yogurt Appetizer

Serves 4 to 6

2 cups chopped purslane, packed
2 cups plain yogurt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
4 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
l/8 teaspoon cayenne

In a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine all ingredients, then place on a serving platter and chill before serving.

Cooked Purslane Greens

Serves 4 to 6

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
1/2 small hot pepper, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 packed cups chopped purslane
4 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat oil in a frying pan, then sauté onions, garlic, coriander leaves and hot pepper over medium heat for 12 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper, then spread purslane on top and cover. Cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and serve.

Purslane Soup

Serves 8 to 10

4 tablespoons cooking oil
1 lb. beef, cut into small pieces
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small hot pepper, finely chopped
2 cups stewed tomatoes
6 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon pepper
2 cups finely chopped purslane
2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped

Heat oil in a saucepan, then sauté beef over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add onions, garlic and hot pepper, then stir-fry for a further 10 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients except basil, then bring to a boil. Cover and cook over medium heat for 1 hour or until beef is well cooked, adding a little more water if necessary. Stir in basil, then serve hot.

Purslane and Tomato Salad

Serves 4 to 6

3 packed cups chopped purslane
3 medium tomatoes, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
l/8 teaspoon cayenne

Combine purslane, tomatoes, mint and onion in a salad bowl, then set aside.

Thoroughly mix remaining ingredients in a small bowl, then pour over vegetables and toss just before serving.

Purslane and Corn Stew

Serves 4 to 6

4 tablespoons butter
1 small bunch green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 small hot pepper, finely chopped
2 packed cups purslane, finely chopped 3 cups cooked corn
4 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Melt butter in a saucepan, then sauté onions, garlic and hot pepper over medium heat for 12 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients, except lemon juice, and bring to a boil, then cover and simmer over medium heat for 25 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and serve.

Cheese and Purslane Casserole

Serves 4 to 6

2 packed cups finely chopped purslane
1 cup green onions, finely chopped
1 cup small pieces feta cheese
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tablespoons mint, finely chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 cup water

In a casserole, thoroughly combine all ingredients, then cover. Bake in a 350°F preheated oven for 45 minutes, then serve hot.

Pickled Purslane

Makes 2 quart jars

2 cups vinegar
3 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons pickling salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon peppercorn
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 whole cloves
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
4 packed cups purslane

Place all ingredients, except purslane, in a pot and bring to boil, then allow to boil for about 2 minutes to make brine.

Sterilize two quart jars, then fill with the purslane, then cover with brine. Seal jars and allow to stand for about two weeks before serving.

Have you used purslane benefits for your health or within cuisine? Let us know how you liked it.

Originally published in the March/April 2014 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal.

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