This low growing succulent is native from North Africa through the Indian Subcontinent and on to Australasia. It is a common invasive weed in North America, particularly California vineyards, but there is some evidence it was brought to Canada in pre-Columbian times. By the 20th century it had fallen out of favor north of the Mexican border, but due to shifting demographics, is now common in many specialty markets in Southern California and elsewhere.
Stems, leaves and flower buds are edible and often used fresh in salads. Purslane is also used in stir fries and cooked like spinach. It is somewhat mucilaginous which works well in soups and stews. Purslane is highly nutritious with a good selection of vitamins, minerals and powerful antioxidants, and is higher in Omega-3 fatty acids than any other land plant.
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This plant is particularly popular in Greece and Turkey where it has been used since prehistoric times, but is also used throughout its range, from Morocco to Australia. It was taken from Spain to the New World and is now popular in Mexico and Central America.
Purslane is often used raw in salads and is considered to have a special affinity for cucumbers. It is also used in soups, stews and stir fries.
Buying: Purslane will be found in markets serving Mexican, Greek, Turkish or Middle Eastern communities. The fleshy stems are red tapering to green at the tips. It can be picked wild in many places, particularly in California vineyards, and is easily grown in pots and planters. It tolerates poor and compacted soil as well as erratic watering, but it is an annual so some parts have to be allowed to go to seed for the next season.
Storing: Durability of this plant varies widely, probably depending on how it's been handled on its way to the market. I've had bunches start losing leaves by time I got them to the checkout counter, and a few bunches that survived just fine for 5 or 6 days. For safety, figure on using it in a day or so. If in reasonable shape it can be refreshed by cutting the stem ends and standing in a cup of cool water for an hour or so.
Cooking: For stir fries and the like cook similarly to spinach. in just a little oil. Free water on the leaves from washing is sufficient to get it cooking. Stir frequently and stop cooking as soon as the leaves are limp and of a uniform cooked color. Do not overcook or it will become slimy.
In soups, stews and curries its mucilaginous nature is valued as a thickener, similar to the way okra is used, so it's cooked much longer by those methods to bring out this property.
Nutrition: Purslane is higher in Omega-3 fatty acids (particularly alpha-linolenic acid) than any other land plant. it is also high in vitamins A and C, and has some vitamin B and cartenoids, as well as minerals magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. It contains significant amounts of two powerful betalain antioxidants which have shown anti-cancer activity. Purslane had been used as a medicinal since ancient times, mainly for Liver, urinary and inflammation complaints.