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Purslane: The Omega-3 You Can Grow for Free! (With Recipe)

This article on growing purslane is part of our Green of the Month series. To read the rest of the articles in the series, click here.

I was at the farmers market a few years ago checking out the seasonal greens. I noticed a lovely display of a succulent-type plant that looked exactly like a weed I’d been pulling out of my garden by the wheelbarrow loads for the last week.

It was selling for $6 a pound and people were lining up for it. Well, I bought a bag full and took it home to compare with the stuff that was swallowing my garden beds. Yep—exact match!

After that I did more research and discovered that the weed—oops, I mean “green”—was purslane. From that moment on, I stopped weeding it and started eating it—chopped in salads, sauteed with other greens, pureed in smoothies, mixed with bean dishes, and more.

The Goods on Purslane

Purslane

When I researched purslane—a plant so easy to grow it often gets mistaken for a weed—I discovered it was everything I wanted in a cultivated green but never dared to imagine could exist.

1. It’s the Omega-3 Vegetable Champion of the Solar System

As I read on the Eat the Weeds website:

Purslane contains more omega-3 fatty acids than any other plant source in the solar system.

Plus, it doesn’t have just any omega-3s, it’s got the eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) kind that are known to be anti-inflammatory.1)https://www.marksdailyapple.com/purslane EPA omega-3s are normally sourced from fish. Purslane is one of the few vegetarian sources of this kind of omega-3.

2. It’s Vitamin-Loaded

The omega-3 content is a great reason to eat this stuff even it had nothing else beneficial to offer. But, it is also a veritable vitamin powerhouse.

A 100 gram, 16 calorie portion, contains 44% of your daily vitamin A, 35% of your vitamin C, 25% of your iron, 17% of your magnesium, and over 10% of your potassium and copper. It also contains lots of other anti-inflammatory stuff, like two types of betalain alkaloid pigments, the reddish β-cyanins, and the yellow β-xanthins.2)https://www.nutrition-and-you.com/purslane.html

3. It Grows Like a . . . Er . . . Weed

To say that purslane is easy to grow would be an understatement. This stuff is hard not to grow in climates with hot summers (i.e., USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 6-11). It shows up everywhere that has a speck of soil and good drainage. It’s a succulent and can survive drought conditions better than just about any other green you can think to grow in a garden. (Leaf production is better with sufficient water, though.)

It’s easy to harvest: Just cut it around the crown or rip it up from the ground. You can start it from seed, or just let it reseed itself annually.

4. It’s Easy To Forage

Even if you don’t have a garden, you can find this stuff growing in cultivated or disturbed soil as soon as temperatures start to warm up in late spring and summer. If you don’t have your own garden, then just offer your “weeding” services to friends with gardens in exchange for purslane.

I am convinced that purslane tastes even better when it’s grown in other people’s gardens. So, even if you have your own, you may need to . . . um . . . “borrow” some from your neighbors to make one of my favorite purslane recipes, purslane pesto.

Recipe: Purloined Purslane Pesto

If you don’t already have enough purslane growing in your garden, go purloin (as in, steal) some from someone who or someplace that does.  I love that it’s sold at the farmer’s market—but getting it for free is so easy, why not forage your own?

Also, morning-harvested purslane is more tart than evening-harvested purslane. This is because the plants produce malic acid overnight, which is then converted to glucose during the daylight hours. If possible, harvest your purslane between afternoon and twilight for the best flavor.

If you happen to find purslane in locations that are a bit off the beaten path, please do like Marjory does when she’s gathering farkleberries (avoiding direct contact with the plant leaves though, please!). Purslane takes a lot of nutrients from the soil, so putting some back when harvesting is a great way to show your appreciation.

Read More: “You Did WHAT To Those Farkleberries?! (Homesteading Basics)”

Now, back to our regularly scheduled recipe:

Ingredients

  • 2 cups chopped purslane
  • 2-4 cloves garlic (to your taste)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seed meat
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Toss this all in the food processor and pulse a few times until the consistency is to your liking. If you don’t have a food processor, then mince your garlic, purslane, and sunflower seeds before mixing with the oil.

Optional: You can also add 1/4 cup shredded or powdered Parmesan and a little extra oil to make the dairy version of pesto.

Serve this as a dip with cut veggies, bread, or crackers. Use it as a pasta sauce or salad dressing. Put in on pizza in place of tomato sauce. Fold it into omelettes. And more! It has an almost lemony taste that brightens up so many dishes.

Read More: “13+ Weeds That Taste Amazing On Pizza (With Recipe!)”

A Few Cautions About Purslane

Purslane

Purslane is sometimes called little hogweed (not to be confused with the toxic plant called giant hogweed). Since I personally can’t get enough of this stuff, it kind of turns me into a hog. So I understand the reference. Still, the name has another meaning, too. This plant can hog up nutrients in your garden and take over space you’ve dedicated to other plants.

1. It’s a Weed

Purslane can take over a carrot bed in a few days. It can even compete with sweet potato vines. (Trust me!)

So, if you encourage it in your garden, then you will want to make sure to keep up with harvesting it so your other cultivated veggies don’t have to compete for nutrients.

2. It’s a Powerful Medicinal Herb

Purslane has a long history of being used as medicinal herb. It may help boost the immune system, fight depression, treat high blood pressure, lower fever, alleviate a cough, and ease urinary tract infections. It may also be used externally on burns, hemorrhoids, and eczema.3)https://www.herbal-supplement-resource.com/purslane-herb-benefits.html

With great power, though, comes great responsibility. Too much of a good thing is still too much.

Pregnant women may want to avoid this one since it is purported to cause contractions. Also, like foods such as spinach and broccoli, it contains oxalic acid, which can be harmful to the liver and kidneys in some people.

Growing Purslane

purslane

This plant is considered a tender perennial in USDA zones 10 or above. It’s treated as a self-seeding annual in temperate climates.

It generally does not grow well in cool climates (i.e., USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5 or below) without protection such as a hoop house. It loves hot weather and will survive drought conditions better than other hot-weather greens.

Despite the fact that purslane is pretty much a self-growing seed, if you want to cultivate it as a green, there are a few tricks you can use to increase yields and optimize flavor.

Soil Preparation

Purslane is not picky about soil type. However, it does get the biggest, tastiest, most succulent leaves when grown in good garden soil with some organic matter and nutrients.

It is also most prolific in soils that have a pH range of 5.5-7.0. This is roughly the same range required for most cultivated vegetables, so giving it a little space in your existing garden beds works great.

Plant Starting

Even though purslane is technically considered an invasive weed (by industrial farmers), it is actually a bit tricky to cultivate on purpose. It likes to grow when and where it likes to grow and doesn’t always follow the rules set forth in your home garden. It also really only germinates well in warm temperatures with lots of light.

Luckily, there are a few different techniques you can use to start purslane on your terms.

Using Packaged Seeds

As a weed, purslane seeds are designed to remain dormant in the ground over the winter and sprout again when soil temperatures heat up. If you are starting with packaged seeds, place them in the fridge for a few weeks before planting to “stratify” the seeds.

Purslane that overwinters in the soil, also seems to only germinate when soil temperatures are consistently at least 70ºF. So, planting when your average daily soil temperatures are in that range will help with germination speed.

Purslane seeds germinate best on the surface of soil or when covered with just a light dusting of soil to hold them in place.  Scatter on top of soil and water in lightly for best results.

In my experience, purslane seeds germinate better when watered every other day rather than daily prior to germination. The cycle of moisture and drying seems to help trigger the seeds to sprout faster.

Once seedlings establish, only water when you don’t have at least 1/2 an inch of rain. Purslane seedlings will spread and sprawl faster if they aren’t overwatered. Too much watering can severely stunt plant growth (as I discovered during our record summer rains this year).

Transplanting Voluntary Purslane

If you already have purslane popping up in your garden, then the simplest way to grow it where you want it is to dig it up and transplant it. When transplanting, water immediately after planting and keep the soil moist until it begins to grow again. You may get some die back from transplant shock, but after a few days of acclimating to the new location, the plant usually perks back up and starts to spread.

You can also layer purslane by covering one of the junctures between leaves with soil and allowing it to re-root. Then you can leave the parent plant in place and separate the new plant to move to an alternate location.

Plant Care and Harvesting

Purslane can grow poorly in partially shaded areas. For best results, aim for full-sun locations with at least 6-8 hours of direct, strong light.

Purslane does not require much care after establishment.  Watering deeply every other week during drought periods will improve leaf production. Harvesting also seems to encourage sprawl. So, come and cut often.

Varieties of Purslane

Believe it or not, there are hundreds of varieties of purslane. Unfortunately, most of them are ornamental rather than edible. Edible purslane is often called “common” or “wild” purslane (Portulaca oleracea). It has small yellow flowers and reddish stems.

Seed retailers may also offer improved varieties of purslane that have green stems and larger leaf mass than the common or wild purslane. These are often called “Golden Purslane” or  include the word golden in the description.

Unconventional Growing Tips for Adventure Gardeners

Purslane

My favorite way to plant purslane is to let my first year’s patch grow wherever it wants to. Then, in late summer or fall, I’ll prepare my purslane bed with organic matter for next year. I cut off the plant tops from my existing bed (with seed heads mostly intact) and spread them on top of their intended location for next year.

The plant parts decompose into organic matter for the bed. The seeds stratify naturally and germinate when ready the following year. I usually plant lettuce in this same bed, by scattering the seeds on top of the soil in fall and early spring. Then, as the lettuce crop starts to time out, the purslane naturally takes over.

Purslane plants can produce thousands to hundreds of thousands of seeds. Also, the seeds can remain viable in the soil for years. That means, when you using this method, you run the risk of purslane popping up in your cultivated beds when you don’t want it to.

In my experience, though, I usually only get a few plants volunteering in previously used beds. I think this is because I pile on several inches of compost each year. Since the seeds germinate better in light, only a brave few actually manage to sprout through my compost layer. And, if they do, I just pull them out by their roots and eat them!

What Do You Think?

Is this omega-3 rich edible a weed or a superfood? What do you think about growing it (intentionally) in your garden? Share your thoughts using the comments section below.

_____________

This is an updated version of an article that was originally published on August 21, 2018. The author may not currently be available to respond to comments, however we encourage our Community members to chime in to share their experiences and answer questions!

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References

References
1 https://www.marksdailyapple.com/purslane
2 https://www.nutrition-and-you.com/purslane.html
3 https://www.herbal-supplement-resource.com/purslane-herb-benefits.html
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This post was written by Tasha Greer

COMMENTS(25)

  • AmyWhitney says:

    Thanks, Tasha, for the article! Purslane always shows up in late summer in my garden (north of Atlanta), and it makes a great snack as I am working to get ready for the fall garden. I knew about the omega 3 fatty acids and oxalic acid, but never thought about how someone might get this plant started in their own garden, since mine just appears, like a miracle, every year.

    Hope your garden is doing well!

    -Amy at SGN

    1. Tasha Greer says:

      Hey Amy – When I lived in Maryland, I had tons of purslane volunteering in my garden. But in 2014 when we moved to North Carolina, we didn’t have a speck of soil to speak of on the cleared areas of our property. I assumed purslane would just show up after we started our garden, but it didn’t. So, in 2015, we actually had to plant it! Now, thankfully we’ve got a regular supply.

      It’s also my late summer go to snack while I am prepping the fall garden…that and sweet potato vine leaves (another amazingly tasty prolific green)!

      It’s been a crazy year in the garden. We’ve had 22 inches of rain in the last month which is about 19 inches more than we normally get for this time period. Some of the drought-tolerant stuff I grow like amaranth is suffering a bit in these conditions. But I have Waltham Butternut squashes that are as big as Jubilee watermelons and my Mammoth sunflowers are 14 feet tall with 12-16 inch heads! They are incredible to see, but I am just really hoping they still taste good!

      I hope your garden is growing well too! Happy fall gardening!

      Tasha

  • Heather Duro says:

    I always prefer using plant based options for my Omega 3’s..good option to keep around 🙂

    1. Tasha Greer says:

      Hey Heather – Us too! We grow most of our food and don’t really have great options for fish in our area. So, I love being able to find these nutrients in easy to grow stuff!

      Tasha

  • Scott Sexton says:

    Looks like our typical content areas found some overlap. 😉 Haha! Great article! I loved your idea for purloined purslane pesto. Great stuff. It’s a great pizza topping as well.

    I’m not sure if I’m imagining it, but I like the taste of wild purslane better than tame stuff. I hardly had any come up this year though. I had to go “shopping” in my parents’ garden. I’ll have to follow some of your tips for next year, to get a better crop.

    Thanks for the great post!

    1. Tasha Greer says:

      Yeah – I may have strayed into your territory on this one, but I suspect you could expand a lot more on the medicinal uses of purslane than me though! Even though purslane is super nutritious, the truth is, I eat it just because it tastes amazing!

      I also love to throw a heaping handful of purslane on pizza right before it goes in the wood fired oven! It wilts it perfectly and tastes even better than basil sometimes!

      As for wild versus tame purslane, I like the red stemmed wild/common purslane better too. But, I like it grown in garden soil. The stuff that grows in marginal places like in the dirt path in my greenhouse is kind of stringy!

      Good luck on growing more next year – but it’s perfectly acceptable to purloin it too!

      Tasha

  • sueg52 says:

    Question: I’ve heard that using fish oil for a source of omega-3 is dangerous due to the mercury problem. How much purslane would you need to take to replace the fish oil as a source for the omega-3?

    1. Heather Duro says:

      purslane contains 12.2 mg of Omega-3 per 100 gram serving.
      (by the way fish oil is very a unstable long fatty chain acid and breaks down quickly in many places it also can go rancid even at room temperature which is why i always offer plant based omega 3 options http://yourlivingbody.com/2013/06/24/is-your-fish-oil-rancid/)

    2. Tasha Greer says:

      Thanks for the great question!

      I have to admit I am not really an expert on Omega-3s (just a gardener who loves to eat purslane). However, if you are looking for supplements, you can actually buy purslane-based omega-3 supplements instead of fish oil that have 500 mg doses.

      Also, here’s a link to a pretty detailed nutritional analysis I found on NIH- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3934766/. It says:

      “Purslane has the highest level of alpha-linolenic which is an omega 3 fatty acid essential for human nutrition compared to any leafy green vegetable. A 100 g sample of purslane contains 300–400 mg of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It also has 0.01 mg per gram of eicopentanoic acid (EPA), which is not present at all in flax oil. This would provide 1 mg of EPA for a 100 g portion of purslane or 10 mg for a kg (2.2 pounds), or 1 g for 100 kg (220 pounds) of sample.”

      Hopefully that, along Heather’s info below can help you figure out a good answer on the supplements front! Thanks for reading!

      Tasha

  • peppypoblano says:

    Very informative and the I like the idea of using it in a pesto. Thank you.

    1. Tasha Greer says:

      If you give it a try, let me know what you think! Thanks for reading!

  • Merin Porter says:

    My neighbor literally just gave me some of this out of his garden — great timing on this article! Thanks, Tasha! 🙂

    1. Tasha Greer says:

      Hey Merin,

      That’s a nice neighbor – willing to share their purslane! Hope you enjoy!

      Tasha

  • ltlkbnda says:

    I’m sure purslane is growing in some of my flower beds. I had read that it was good for health and food to add to salads. You mentioned some varieties are inedible. Does that mean they can harm you if eaten by mistake?

    1. Tasha Greer says:

      That’s a good question. When foraging any wild foods, you definitely want to make sure you have a positive ID.

      Some of the ornamental varieties are toxic, due to high levels of oxalic acid. Luckily, with edible purslane, though, it’s is pretty difficult to confuse the ornamental varieties (e.g. Portulaca grandiflora) with the wild/common or golden kinds that are delicious to eat.

      The most common look-alike that people confuse with the edible purslane weed is spurge (and that can be toxic). You may want to double check your ID using a wild-foraging guide just to be safe. This one had some good tips: http://foragedfoodie.blogspot.com/2015/11/purslane.html.

      Also, edible purslane develops small, yellow flowers that only open during daylight hours. So, that’s another way to make sure you’ve got a good ID. It tastes more sour after it flowers, so it’s better cooked at that point.

      Hope that helps!

      Tasha

  • Lee Knoper says:

    When I discovered that the Tucson Community Food Bank uses purslane (Mexican: verdolaga) as a cover crop in its production gardens, I introduced it to my own food garden. It produces a carpet about 2 inches thick, which offers benefits well beyond being a food source. It forms a microclimate that significantly reduces soil temperature and evaporation (both of which are key concerns here in zone 9b), and the thick mesh discourages feral cats and certain crawly critters.

    As Tasha noted, however, once introduced it becomes a *persistent* presence. The seeds can stay viable for about 40 years, and there is some evidence that they “stage” their germination. (That is, not all at once, when the conditions are favorable, but some seeds sprout this time around, some the next time and so on.) A plant 10 inches tall and about 18 inches in diameter can easily produce over a quarter million seeds.

    I use purslane clippings in green smoothies, dice it up for bean burritos and fish tacos, and add to all kinds of sandwiches. This year’s monsoon season has been a drought disaster, though, and freestyle purslane is hard to find.

    Lee_K

    1. Tasha Greer says:

      Hey Lee,

      Thanks for sharing all this great information.

      I have never intentionally planted purslane as a cover crop. But two years ago we went almost the entire summer with not a drop of rain. I cut back some of my beds to reduce my time spent watering and let purslane and New Zealand take over the rest. I did water them weekly, but not nearly as much as I had to water everything else. The purslane did exactly what you said – formed a nice mat that protected soil through a tough time. I even ended up germinating my fall crops in the shade and coolness of those two plants which saved my fall and winter harvest.

      I think we got your monsoon season this year in Northwestern North Carolina. We had 22 inches of rain from mid-July to mid-August. We normally only get 3 inches. My purslane was doing great before the rain, but the plants pretty much stopped growing for that heavy rain period. Now, that it’s dried out a bit, it’s back to growing like a weed!

      I think you are right on the staggered germination though, so hopefully there will be more purloinable purslane in your near future!

      Thanks for sharing!

      Tasha

  • Neka says:

    Hi, I am apprehensive about growing medicinal plants/food in my yard because every night, there is a truck that drives through our neighborhood, spraying insecticide (for mosquito “control”), and I live directly next to a sugar cane field where crop dusters and tractors frequently spray industrial fertilizers, weed killers, and pesticides. Also, my neighbors on all sides are especially fond of using round-up!

    I feel like growing medicinal plants or food in this environment would sort of defeat the purpose, since there is no way that I can avoid my plants coming into contact with lots of toxins. Any advice or tips on how I may be able to grow food and/or medicine that is not laden with toxic chemicals? My house is small, and we don’t have much room inside either, but I’d really appreciate any tips to get started. Thank you.

    1. Heather Duro says:

      I tend to agree, I would not grow outdoors if I knew my neighbors were spraying chemicals.
      However there are lots of kitchen and medicinal herbs you can grow indoors as long as you have a window or window sill that gets plenty of sun.
      https://growagoodlife.com/grow-herbs-indoors/

      1. Tasha Greer says:

        Hi Neka,

        Sounds like you’ve got a tough situation for growing outdoors. There are some plants that tolerate drift from spray and can act as a buffer. Unfortunately, you usually need to plant about 50 feet wide perimeters of them to get meaningful protection.

        Like Heather says, luckily there are a lot of edible and medicinal plants that grow well in containers in sunny windows. Generally, the depth of the root system and the light requirements are what dictate whether a plant will grow well indoors. South-facing windows usually provide full sun, but other windows may only provide part-sun to shade conditions. You may want to look for plants that are noted for doing well in containers or are compact in size and can tolerate some shade to grow indoors.

        You can even grow food indoors using things like aquaponics. People even use repurposed fish tanks to make small systems. So this could be an option for you.

        Also, if you’re a grow lab member, I think the Instant Master Gardener certifications covers growing herbs in pots indoors as a way to get started gardening.

        Where there’s a will, there’s a way! Thanks for reading and good luck to you!

        Tasha

        1. Neka says:

          Thank you. I will check into these suggestions. I tried growing indoor herbs this year, but I lost all plants (except the inedible golden pothos & a few succulents) to a very persistent fungus gnat infestation– coastal Louisiana is Gnat Paradise. But I will try keep trying. Again, thank u.

  • Heather Duro says:

    I tend to agree, I would not grow outdoors if I knew my neighbors were spraying chemicals.
    However there are lots of kitchen and medicinal herbs you can grow indoors as long as you have a window or window sill that gets plenty of sun.
    https://growagoodlife.com/grow-herbs-indoors/

  • Catie says:

    Thanks for all the great info!

  • lisbet says:

    Purslane is mentioned in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Ugly Duckling, – with just one sentence, that someone had a purslane on the hook! Anyway some mention is better than none

  • marjstratton says:

    I was introduced to purslane years ago as an edible wild. I have never tried cultivating it and it hasn’t volunteered in my garden. I knew it has great nutritional value, but didn’t really realize it also has medicinal properties. Think I’ll go foraging and let it follow me home to live.

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