Like a number of ‘weeds’ condemned in modern gardens, this succulent herb was once appreciated as a salad, pickle and sautéed vegetable. It is now coming back into culinary fashion.
Purslane is an annual that grows to about 7cm high and up to 45cm wide, with soft trailing branches and wedge to spoon shaped, succulent green leaves. The ephemeral flowers are inconspicuous, five petalled and yellow, while the seeds are tiny, spherical and black. The leaves are tender and fleshy, with a slight crunchy texture. Purslane has been used both as a food and a medicine in the Mediterranean basin, India and China for thousands of years.
Purslane is found very widely in well drained soils, growing in full sun to light shade. Plant the seeds after the soil warms in spring. Barely press them into the soil, which should be kept moist. Left uncovered they will germinate rapidly. During the growing season, trailing branches will root where they touch the ground, detach the rooted tips and plant them out. In an area with a long growing season you can sow monthly.
For a tender, abundant crop, keep the soil moist at all times. Harvest fresh plants before flowering, or the flavour will deteriorate. Purslane has a slightly sour, salty, lemony spinach flavour. It is the leaves that are most commonly used but the roots, flowers and seeds are also edible. The plant contains mucilage, giving the palate a glutenous sensation and also serving to thicken such dishes as soups and sauces. Blanching reduces both the mucilage and the jelly like leaf texture.
Purslane was popular in England in the Elizabethan era and is once again finding flavour as a culinary herb. You can cook it in a similar manner to spinach. In french cooking, the fleshy leaves are used raw in salads, or cooked in equal amounts with sorrel to make the classic soup bonne femme. They are sometimes included in fattoush, a Middle Eastern salad. In Asia, purslane is used in stir fries. Aboriginal Australians used the seeds to make seed cakes. Purslane makes an excellent pickle using wine or apple cider vinegar spiced with garlic, chilli and whole peppercorns.
information sourced from The Complete Book of Herbs
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