Monday, August 6, 2012

Meatless Monday: Market Find of the Week — Portulaca olearacea

“Never buy it at the farmer’s market,” my master gardening mentor had told me. But I did it anyway. Yup, I paid $3.00 for a rubber-banded handful of “weeds” at CitySeed on Saturday. Advertised as “Gandhi’s favorite food,” the bunch of fat-stemmed greens I bought was purslane, which you’ve most likely seen growing in the cracks of sidewalks, near a foundation wall, or along the borders of your garden. If you are like me, you’ve pulled it out many times without ever a thought of eating it. 

50¢ worth of purslane

In my defense, how could I resist? I had wanted to give purslane more than a nibble, which is about all I would give any random purslane I pulled downtown (even after a few good washings), without knowing the lead content of the soil (most likely high) or whether Chester, the small dog next door, had used it for a pit stop. The purslane was being sold by the organic vendor from whom I often purchase kale. It came from their fields, I was told. I considered this $3.00 well spent.

Purslane’s scientific name is Portulaca olearacea, or portulaca “of the vegetable garden,” according to Peter Del Tredici in his tome Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast. Purslane has a prominent tap root; its shoots grow outwards in the shape of a circle. Like the flowers of its close relative, Portulaca grandiflora (Moss rose), its yellow blooms open only when the sun is bright. 

Note the tap root.

Purslane grows throughout much of the world, including most of the continent of North America. Its geographical origins are unclear, [Del Tredeci calls it a “cosmopolitan weed of Eurasian origin.”] but it seems to proliferate in almost any clime where it can get enough sun. It grows best in the heat, in nutrient-rich sandy soil, but it can also tolerate compacted ground of lesser quality. Its time in the New World pre-dates Columbus, and Del Tredici states that purslane was cultivated in Plymouth colony.

Purlslane’s praises have been sung by everyone from “Wildman” Steve Brill to the New York Times. The Cornell University Department of Animal Science devotes a page to the medicinal merits of this drought-resistant succulent. Purslane is packed with nutrients, including Vitamin C, and Omega-3 fatty acids, and protein. The site contains a lengthy list of purslane's medicinal uses, garnered from the world over; many of these pertain to reducing inflammation.

How did I prepare my prize purchase? First, I triple washed it. [It was very dirty and likes sandy soil, remember?] I then chopped up some of the leaves and tender shoots and used them to top a salad, dressed with a homemade lemon vinaigrette. They were somewhat chewy and had a slightly bitter taste; I wouldn’t suggest a salad of purslane by itself. I have read that the stems can be used to thicken soups. Steve Brill turns the stems into mini-pickles. 

Once the purslane is picked (or pulled), it is best to stick it in a pitcher of cold water and to use it in the next day or two.

Not so perky purslane.

I’m fairly certain the bunch I bought was “weeded” from the field in which it simply grew. But I do believe I’ve seen a hydroponically-grown version at CitySeed, sold by by Two Guys from Woodbridge. 

If you are interested in cultivating your own, you can purchase seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

By all accounts, it should be fairly simple to yield a good crop from plants harvested from the wild. Each seed capsule on the plant contains numerous tiny seeds which are purported to be able to survive buried in the soil for up to 40 years. Plants that have been uprooted and set aside in a heap can use the water in their stems and leaves to develop a new root system — more purslane! 

But be warned: It may be difficult to contain this crop once you get it going. Unless you aspire to be a one crop farmer, and unless your plot is very far from your property border, you might want to grow purslane in a container. 

Happy Monday. Thanks for reading. 

I often blog on food, food issues, or topics related to growing things on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

No comments:

Post a Comment