Common purslane is a native of North Africa through the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent to Malesia
and Australesia. It is now a widespread weed in North America.
About 40 varieties of this species are cultivated for food. Depending upon your point of view, purslane
is an aggressive weed (one of the ten worst in the world by some standards);
an amazing plant that can prosper in almost any climate;
a great ingredient for salads, soups, or stir fries; or a medicine and health food.
Identification: Plants have green or red stems and are low-growing,
spreading in a circular growth pattern up to 24" (60 cm).
Leaves are succulent—thick, fleshy, and storing water—a trait usually found only in arid climate plants.
They are ⅜-1¼" (9.5-31 mm) long,
alternate (occasionally opposite) and sessile or very short-stemmed, roughly oval but thicker on the end away from the stem
(oblanceolate to obovate).
Flowers are pale or deep yellow, with 5 notched petals,
⅛" (4 mm) across, appearing July to September.
Edibility: Leaves and stems may be added raw to salads.
Like okra, they contain a think gel-like substance and may be used to thicken soups or stews. Leaves are described
by different sources as
sour, salty and spicy, lemon-like, or mushroom-like.
Seeds, which have fairly high fat and protein content and are high in iron, are ground into a powder and
mixed with cereals.
Medical: Like many common plants, purslane has a long history of medical
applications. Purslane is said to be antibacterial, antiscorbutic, depurative, diuretic and febrifuge. Leaves are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, higher than any other leafy green vegetable.
Omega-3s are presently believed to have beneficial
effects for the immune system, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and even a range of psychological
disorders. Plant juices are applied to the skin to aid in the treatment
of skin irritations, diseases, or insect stings; they have also been used to treat coughs. Many other uses are known;
see Plants for a Future for additional details.