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Some Call It a Weed,
Others Have Dubbed It
the Belle of the Garden

All crops descend from weeds. But some are a lot closer to their weedy ancestors than others. Among all the crops offered for sale at farmers markets, purslane is about as close to an unadulterated weed as you’ll get. In fact, many of the farmers who bundle some up and bring it to the markets have never bothered to plant it. One of the most common weeds on farms and in backyard gardens in California, purslane comes up on its own practically anywhere the fields are left uncultivated.

purslane from the Dupont Circle farmers market
in Washington D.C., July 11, 2010

Purslane may be a 'fat, ground- clinging, spreading, greasy thing' but it makes a 'dreamy gazpacho.'











To the unschooled, the succulent plant that sprawls low to the ground, looking somewhat like watercress but with a purple tint to the stems, can seem noxious. 

A 19th century writer, Charles Dudley Warner, for one, called purslane “a fat, ground-clinging, spreading, greasy thing, and the most propagatious plant I know.”

At Four Sisters Farm, in Aromas, Calif., on the other hand, the weed gets royal treatment. “Purslane grows wild in our garden,” declares a sign alongside the Four Sister Farm’s purslane display at Northern California markets from Aptos to Berkeley. “We irrigate it and cultivate it to get it extra thick, succulent, and tasty.”

People from various cultures around the world long ago discovered its virtues. Purslane is eaten extensively in soups and salads around the Mediterranean region. Mexicans are major customers for it in California. The Russians dry and can it for the winter. Henry Thoreau would make a meal of boiled purslane gathered around Walden Pond.

Modern nutritional science has turned up a new selling point. Purslane apparently is one of the best sources in the plant world for omega-3 fatty acid, which the body converts into other acids that reportedly may lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

This news was enough to prompt Organic Gardening magazine in 1988 to proclaim the dawn of a purslane renaissance. “This ‘weed’ has suddenly become the belle of the garden among creative chefs and nutritionists,” the magazine reported.

All parts of the plant are edible, writes Pamela Jones, in “Just Weeds -- History, Myths and Uses.” She recommends using it in salads. “I find that, dressed with oil and vinegar, the juicy mucilaginous leaves and stems add a mildly acid, piquant flavor,’’ she writes.

The Four Sisters flyer stresses purslane’s versatility in the kitchen. It can be eaten raw, steamed, stir-fried or pureed. Or purslane “makes a dreamy gazpacho with tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, scallions and a vinaigrette.”

Copyright 1997 In Season