Common Purslane – Pourpier commun
Common Purslane is native from Greece to China and has been introduced elsewhere. It is found in our area in dry, sandy, nitrogen-rich soil in full sun. It should not be confused with the ‘Sun Plant’ (Portulaca grandiflora) native to Argentina, southern Brazil and Uruguay with bright colourful flowers in any colour except blue. The ‘Sun Plant’ is a very common summer container plant. In France both plants go by the name ‘Pourpier’.
Common Purslane has been cultivated for centuries in the Middle and Far East. A number of varieties have been developed from the wild species, one of them is Portulaca oleracea var. sativa (Kitchen-garden Purslane). I remember my mother cooking Purslane in the same way as she would spinach. It has a special flavour, slightly acidic and salty; rather nice. After years of not having seen Purslane, I came across it at a local market. Then just a few days ago I saw it growing in my garden. It is hard to imagine this succulent vegetable growing in the gravel.
It is an annual or biennial with fleshy prostrate stems to 15 cm long. The stems are a little pinkish in colour, the leaves are fleshy, spatulate and stalkless. The flowers are yellow and quite small (7.5 mm), appearing in late summer, very quickly replaced by seed capsules.
It is a very nutritious vegetable: a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin A, C and E, flavonoids and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. Because of its high Vitamin C content it was used to treat scurvy.
It is crunchy and makes a good summer salad, combined with either rocket, chicory, cress or lettuce. The best time to eat it is before it flowers. It can be cooked like spinach with just a drizzle of olive oil, or as they do in Greece: fried in olive oil with feta cheese, tomatoes, onions, garlic and oregano.
Bibliography: The RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and their Uses – Deni Bown; The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism – Malcolm Stuart; Portulaca oleracea – Wikipedia; Sauvage et Comestibles – Marie-Claude Paume; Plantes de Mediterranee – Wolfgang Lippert/Dieter Podlech