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Ask a Foodie: Purslane a ‘New’ Powerhouse Food

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A purslane salad, lightly tossed in a creamy vinaigrette with walnuts, from Restaurant Gwendolyn.

It’s possible you’ve encountered purslane in the yard and pulled it right up. That’s because it looks kind of weedy — and actually, it’s generally viewed as a weed.

But it’s also food — and a nutritional powerhouse at that.

“Purslane contains more omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid in particular) than any other leafy vegetable plant,” says Wikipedia, citing information from biological researcher Artemis Simopoulus.

“”Wild-food enthusiasts know this native purslane (Portulaca oleracea) as a potherb and salad ingredient. Its succulent, fleshy leaves have a tart, vinegary taste that is also good in soup or on sandwiches,” say herbalists Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay in their book, “Classic Herb Growing.”  All cultivars of this plant, say the authors, are edible.

Purslane is thought to have arrived in the New World before Columbus. It’s well-distributed in the Old World, from North Africa to the Middle East, into India, Greece and Malasia.

Last summer I had my first taste of purslane, freshly picked in season and mixed with crunchy walnuts, at Restaurant Gwendolyn. Chef Michael Sohocki’s salad was delicious. What I didn’t know at the time was how nutritious it was.

From Wikipedia: About 1 cup of purslane contains 300 to 400 mg of alpha-linolenic acid. A cup of cooked leaves contains 90 mg of calcium, 561 mg of potassium, and more than 2,000 IUs of vitamin A. (A half-cup of purslane leaves also contains as much as 910 mg of oxalate, a compound implicated in the formation of kidney stones, however, many common vegetables, such as spinach, also can contain high concentrations of oxalates.)

There are many varieties of purslane, some of which we found at Rainbow Gardens on Saturday. Because it acts like a ground cover in hot, dry areas, we’ll put ours in a sunny part of the yard and give it some encouragement to spread. The variety we picked up Saturday is known as summer purslane.

There is another species known as winter purslane, also called miner’s lettuce. “The herb’s high vitamin C content helped to keep California gold miners alive and gave the plant its name,” says author Lesley Bremness in “Herbs,” from the Smithsonian Handbook series.

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