Note from a Conflicted Gardener

September 3, 2010 in Antioxidants, Blog Recipes, Diabetic Menu Item, Home and Garden, Mediterranean, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

My main hobby is gardening and my nickname is: Garden Lady – the garden interest started from toddlerhood. I have been rooting out a lot of a particular weed called purslane lately. It has been “in my face”. It is not an unattractive plant, and has intrigued me; but like all weeds, it’s growing where it was never invited to grow.

I was reading a few years ago about common weeds being edible. I knew about dandelions for years; but learning that purslane was edible was a news flash for me. I’ve had dandelions in restaurant salads, and while hiking this past summer; twice I’ve seen a glorious patch of healthy looking dandelion leaves in a grove up at Sundance just begging to be harvested. I’ve threatened to harvest them, but haven’t done it. Something possessed me yesterday, however, when I was weeding in my garden; instead of throwing the weeds away, I carefully wrapped them up and took them into the house. I think that my friend, Diane, who has been chatting about eating her purslane, influenced me.

It’s quite humorous to me that a person that has been yanking purslane and disposing of it as a weed for so many decades, would gather it and create a recipe with it. I amuse myself from time to time. I guess I don’t have as much disdain for purslane (as it is comparatively easy to remove) as I do for field bindweed, burrs, thistle and oxalis  (which are a super pain to keep under control.) Having said that, there may be many who would not agree with me; as purslane is listed as a noxious weed in 46 of the 50 states. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service shares several names for purslane including:  little hogweed, duckweed, and pursley; but its official name is: Portulaca oleracea L. There are quite a few varieties; but they all are considered noxious weeds.

Despite its classification as a weed, some people consider it a superfood; and they brag endlessly about it’s omega-3 fatty acids and long list of nutrients. But the truth is that many vegetable products, including purslane, are loaded with excellent nutrients. The fun thing about purslane is that you can find it being offered at some of the fanciest restaurants, especially on the coasts of the U.S. Although it has been eaten for centuries in Greece, Central America, Russia and Mexico, it has recently become fashionable for chefs to include in salads.

Most of the restaurants that I’ve read about are in the east. But believe me, wild purslane is alive and well in California and the Mountain West – where I’ve gained my weeding experience. It’s known to have secondary roots that make it able to tolerate poor, compacted soils and drought; which makes it a happy camper here in the Mountain West. It’s interesting that we will probably not be running out of purslane, no matter how much weed pulling (or harvesting), whichever way you want to look at it.  A single plant can produce up to 52,300 seeds; and on top of that, the seeds can survive for up to 30 years in undisturbed soil.

The Greeks call purslane andrakla or glystrida; and one common way of preparing it is to fry it together with feta cheese, tomato, onion, garlic, oregano and olive oil. Besides adding to salads, it is also added to some pesto recipes. Purslane has been widely used in Greece for millennia; archaeologists have found seeds dating back to seven hundred years before Christ. Wikipedia says that in the 4th century BC Theophrastus named purslane (andrakhne) as a summer herb that must be sown in April. Aren’t we lucky – we don’t even need to bother to sow it – it just magically grows (not necessarily where you might want it to grow – such as the cracks of the sidewalk.)

In India, purslane is known as Sanhti, Punarva, or Kulfa. It is also eaten through much of Europe, Asia and Mexico. In Japan purslane is one of the seven herbs included in a symbolic dish called Nanakusa-no-sekku eaten on the traditional Japanese New Year.

We in the U.S. have mostly seen it in the garden and yanked it out; but my new idea (actually, acceptance of a very old idea) is to stop thinking of it as a weed – see my recipe below. The roughly chopped crisp juicy leaves and the tender parts of the stems are nice for salads. As related to salads, it’s especially good while it is tender; late in the weed-growing season. When the plant flowers, it may become too tough for salads; but I haven’t experienced that yet. If you decide to eat your weeds, along with us, and you want to be sure that you have the right weed, you can find some great pictures on the USDA site and Wikipedia and other websites. It looks like a miniature jade plant; its moisture-rich leaves are crispy, and said to be a little tart and peppery.

Our first recipe Wild Purslane and Wheat Berries has yielded very mild, cucumber-like texture.