Extension Educator, Horticulture
Is it a worthless weed or a fabulous food for feasting? Purslane is cursed and curried all at the same time. For most of us it comes as an unwelcome dinner guest in our gardens and paths. With the many questions we receive about it, I thought it worth revisiting.
Purslane, Portulaca oleracea, was introduced into the U.S. from southern Europe or northern Africa and has spread throughout the world as an edible plant and as a weed. Many cultures embrace purslane as a food.
Purslane has succulent leaves and reddish stems with yellow flowers. They appear similar to 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.
Purslane is an annual reproducing from seeds and from stem pieces. One plant can produce 240,000 seeds and seeds can stay in the soil for 40 years. The plant also has enough food reserves in its stems and leaves for the seeds to continue to ripen even when the plant is pulled from the ground. You may find those facts either depressing or exciting.
If you are trying to control purslane, the number one rule is: don't let it flower. About three weeks after seedlings emerge; flowers and seeds will be produced. Also plants or plant pieces that are uprooted but not removed can reroot into the soil. I put them on top of a board to dry. Running a tiller through purslane is called purslane propagation. Do not till it. Plus tilling just brings more seeds to the surface to germinate.
Purslane grows just about anywhere from fertile garden soil to the poorest arid soils. A rock driveway is nirvana to purslane. Its succulent characteristic makes it very drought tolerant.
Purslane's Achilles' heel is its inability to grow in the shade. It doesn't germinate well when seeds are more than ¼ inch deep. Mulching with grass or wood chips will help to control it. Purslane seeds germinate best with soil temperatures of 90 degrees so mulching may again help to control it. It doesn't appear until June when preemergent herbicides may have lost their effectiveness. Post emergent herbicides such as glyphosate will kill existing weeds. Be sure to read and follow all label directions.
Now if you are in the "if you can't beat 'em than eat 'em" category, you won't go hungry. There is plenty of purslane available and I'm sure your neighbors would love to share. If you are a connoisseur, you can also purchase purslane seeds for the upright cultivated forms for better flavor and easier harvesting.
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.
Before grazing in your yard be sure to wash purslane thoroughly and make sure it is free of any pesticides. As with any new food, don't over indulge.
Locally Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture has some nice recipes using purslane on their website*. Bon Appetit!
*URLs of sites not affiliated with University of Illinois Extension are provided solely for of our clients' convenience. Reference to specific external websites does not imply endorsement by University of Illinois Extension nor is discrimination intended against any omitted.