Foraging for purslane: A tasty, juicy wild food

Purslane – Portulaca oleracea
(In Irish: Puirpín)

Surviving in the wild is not easy – not only do you have to weather yourself against the elements, but you also have to find a way to sustain your energy! This time in my foraging series, I’m looking at purslane.

This survival series looks at the many wild foods that you can come across on your travels, that you can safely forage and snack on when you need to.

Water purslane

A succulent plant that can be found in many countries, purslane is a very rich source of omega-3 fatty acids which strengthens the immune system. It’s also known as “common purslane”, “little hogweed” or “pursley.”

P. oleracea was recorded in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus in Species Plantarum.

Flowering Period

Water Purslane calendar of when it is in flower. June, July, August, September and October are marked in red.

Where to find purslane

Purslane has an extensive distribution and it’s largely assumed to be mostly anthropogenic (or hemerochoric). Therefore you can often find this delicious succulent in random places such as driveways and footpaths but they also tend to crop up in all sorts of gardens, fields and roadsides. Purslane is a champion of survival!

How to identify purslane

With a distinctive thick and reddish stem, this plant is easily recognisable and what’s great is that you can eat the leaves, stems and flower buds! The leaves may be alternate or opposite on the stem and are clustered at stem joints and ends. They are paddle-shaped.

When flowering, the yellow flowers have five regular parts. The plant tends to grow low to the ground.

Close up of Portulaca oleracea - purslane -an annual succulent in the family Portulacaceae.
Portulaca oleracea is an annual succulent in the family Portulacaceae.

Health Benefits

The Journal of the American College of Nutrition notes that: “Leaves from both samples of purslane contained higher amounts of alpha-linolenic acid (18:3w3) than did leaves of spinach. Chamber-grown purslane contained the highest amount of 18:3w3. Samples from the two kinds of purslane contained higher leaves of alpha-tocopherol, ascorbic acid and glutathione than did spinach”.

  • A rich source of alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid
  • Rich amounts (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of vitamin E
  • Beta-carotene
  •  Vitamin C

How to harvest purslane

The best way to harvest it is to cut the succulent with scissors and use the “haircut method”. Basically give it a trim, leave plenty left and leave the roots intact.

How to eat purslane

Purslane can be snapped up and used in salads or sprinkled on top of any dish – it’s really tasty, trust me! The leaves and stems are edible both raw and cooked. However, as usual, even if it comes from your own garden, wash purslane well before eating.

Recipe: Steamed Purslane

Ingredients:

  • 400g purslane (only leaves and small stems, as larger can be a bit slimey)
  • At least 2 garlic cloves!
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional: Lemon

Method:

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a pan.
  2. Add your garlic first and begin to soften.
  3. Toss in the purslane.
  4. Stir constantly until the greens are wilted.
  5. Season with salt and pepper and if you’re feeling fancy, add a squeeze of lemon too!

As with all foraged things, cross-reference any food before you pick it up and don’t forget to wash it thoroughly before consuming it.

Happy foraging! If you are satisfied you have correctly identified this plant, you can submit your sighting to the National Biodiversity Data Centre here.

(Lead image via Wikimedia Commons/TonRulkens)

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