Last spring, where we live in Eastern Oregon during the summer, there were heavy rains and flooding. With the late summer, many people are experiencing low production from their gardens. This can be translated into “not a lot of produce for the winter months.” One plant that hasn’t seemed to suffer greatly from the floods and summer’s late arrival, even though it prefers warmer weather than we had, is Purslane (Portulaca oleracea).
Purslane is also known as Little Hogweed, Pigweed and Pulsey depending on what part of the country you live in.
Some information says purslane is a non-native plant that was brought to North America by man from Europe, the Middle East or Asia. But, archaeological data shows purslane seeds, that date back to the first millennium BC, being discovered during a dig at Salts Cave, Kentucky.
Purslane can be eaten raw or cooked, is great in soups, stews and salads and retains a large percentage of its nutrients in a dehydrated state. Purslane contains more omega 3 essential fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant known.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids (EFA) are polyunsaturated fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are classified as essential because they cannot be synthesized in the body and must be obtained from food. The most common dietary source of omega 3s are cold water fish like Salmon. The standard American diet is grossly out of balance where omega 6 fatty acids and omega 3s are concerned. Purslane contains linolenic acid (an omega 3) and linoleic acid (an omega 6) in a balanced ratio.
Omega 3s aid the body in the production of compounds that beneficially effect blood pressure, blood clotting, strengthen the immune system, prevent inflammation, prevent certain cancers, aid in weight control and control coronary spasms. Recent studies indicate Omega 3s have positive effects on the brain and may aid in such conditions as depression, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity and migraines.
Purslane is not only rich in fatty acids, purslane also contains minerals, including phosphorous, zinc, silicon, manganese, copper, calcium and magnesium, plus antioxidants, vitamins, and other nutrients, like tocophenals (alpha, gamma, and delta), alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), beta-carotene, vitamin C, (recorded ten times higher than in any other weeds) and riboflavin.
Purslane contains protein and carbohydrates plus amino acids which the body needs to make protein. Other beneficials found in purslane are: pectin which is known to lower cholesterol (LDL the bad kind), glutathione, an antioxidant and detoxifying agent, noradrenaline, which supports the adrenal glands, dopa and dopamine, known for muscle relaxant properties, Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ-10), known to supply our bodies with energy. CoQ-10 is found in every cell of the body.
Known since the time of Hippocrates, purslane has been used for its diuretic, anthelmintic (anti-parasitic) and cathartic (promotes bowel evacuation) properties. Purslane was used by ancient Egyptians for heart failure and heart disease.
Other vegetable sources of omega 3 are chia seeds, perilla (aka shiso, which is highly aggressive and poisonous to cattle), flax seed, walnuts, lingonberry, seabuckthorn, and hemp. Omega 3s are found in the fruit of the acai palm to a lesser degree. Important omega 3s for human nutrition are, alfa-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Purslane is an annual succulent with smooth reddish prostrate stems and can reach a height of 16 inches. The leaves are clustered at the stem ends and joints. Flowers have 5 parts ranging to 1/4 inch in size. The yellow flowers appear in early spring, late winter in warm climates, and continue into mid or late fall depending on the weather. Flowers open singly for a few hours during sunny periods. The flowers resemble Goat Head (AKA puncture vine) flowers. The seed pods are quite small and seeds are covered by a lid that opens when the seeds are ready.
Purslane can be found growing in gardens and other disturbed areas. It will root easily from cut stems and has the ability to mature the seeds even after the plant has been pulled. It is an aggressive plant and difficult to remove from gardens but can be very beneficial to health and as a cover crop if kept under control.
There are few other good vegetable dietary sources other than seafood for Omega 3s. Some oils, nuts, grains and other leafy vegetables do contain small amounts of omega 3s.
So, if it’s been a poor year in your garden, you might want to consider eating your weeds.