Extension Educator, Horticulture
Is it a weed or a wonderful taste treat? Purslane is cursed and curried all at the same time. For most of us, it comes as an unwelcome guest. Purslane, Portulaca oleracea, is probably in your garden right now but not because you invited it to dinner.
Purslane is native to India and Persia and has spread throughout the world as an edible plant and as a weed. Many cultures embrace purslane as a food.
Purslane has fleshy succulent leaves and stems with yellow flowers. They look like baby jade plants. The stems lay flat on the ground as they radiate from a single taproot sometimes forming large mats of leaves. It is closely related to Rose Moss, Portulaca grandiflora, grown as a "not so weedy" ornamental. Check out U of I's Midwestern Turfgrass Weed Identification website for some great pictures of purslane.
Purslane is an annual reproducing from seeds and from stem pieces. Seeds of purslane have been known to stay viable for 40 years in the soil. You may find that fact either depressing or exciting.
If you are trying to control purslane the number one rule is don't let it go to seed. About three weeks after you notice seedlings, the flowers and seeds will be produced. Also plants or plant pieces that are uprooted but not removed can root back into the soil. Again depressing or exciting. Running a tiller through purslane is called purslane multiplication.
Purslane grows just about anywhere from fertile garden soil to the poorest arid soils. A rock driveway is nirvana to purslane. It's succulent characteristic makes it very drought tolerant. Purslane prefers the fine textured soils of seedbeds as in vegetable gardens or open soil areas in paths. It doesn't germinate well when seeds are more than 1/2 inch deep. Tilling brings seeds to the surface where they quickly germinate. Mulching will help to control purslane. Purslane seeds germinate best with soil temperatures of 90 degrees so mulching may again help to control it. Since it germinates in high soil temperatures also means it doesn't appear until June when preemergent herbicides may have lost their effectiveness.
Now if you are in the "if you can't beat 'em than eat 'em" category, you won't go hungry this year. There are plenty of purslane plants out there and I'm sure your neighbors would love to share theirs with you. If you are a connoisseur, you can also purchase purslane seeds for the cultivated forms for better flavor and easier harvesting. They tend to grow more upright than the wild types.
With purslane aficionados the preference is in eating fresh young plants, and especially young leaves and tender stem tips. The taste is similar to watercress or spinach. Use purslane in salads or on sandwiches instead of lettuce or pickles. Next time order a ham and purslane on rye. Purslane can also be cooked as a potherb, steamed, stir-fried or pureed. It tends to get a bit slimy if overcooked. It can be substituted for spinach in many recipes. Seeds are also edible.
Before grazing in your yard be sure to wash the purslane thoroughly and make sure it is free of any pesticides. As with any new food, don't over indulge. For recipes go to http://www.prairielandcsa.org/recipes/purslane.html .