The common names of the Purslane plant (Portulaca oleracea) in the modern world include common purslane, duckweed, parsley, and little hogweed. In fact, it has more than a thousand names in various languages around the world. Throughout human history, these plants have a close association with human culture. Humans have been consuming these plants for their nutritious properties.
This article is focused on the Purslane plant (Portulaca oleracea), its distribution, description, propagation, harvest, and uses.
Generally, this plant is an annual succulent and a member of Portulacaceae family. In Latin, oleracea refers to vegetable or herbal. It is also a form of the word ‘holeraceus. Presently, about forty cultivars are grown, most of which are available in commercial markets.
In fact, you can call purslane plant a nutritional powerhouse’. It has a lot of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants. It has more beta carotene (about seven times) than carrots. Either cooked or in raw form, you can consume any part of this edible plant. Nowadays, most farm-to-table and fine dining restaurants in the US serve purslane foods.
However, the USDA considers these plants as “noxious weeds”. Hence, their cultivation is prohibited or limited in some areas.
Assumed to be anthropogenic, these plants have an extensive distribution that extends from North Africa to southern Europe. Most likely, these regions are the native lands of purslane plants. Through the middle east, their distribution extends all the way to Malaysia and also to Australia.
In North America, the species found in Crawford Lake deposits (Ontario) date back to the pre-Columbian era. Based on the evidence, some scientists believe the native Americans cultivated, foraged, and consumed these plants for food. In spite of these studies, the species status and the information regarding their entry into America Etc. are not clearly stated.
Description of Purslane Plant
Growing about 16 in (40 cm) tall, the prostrate stems are reddish in color and have a smooth texture. Growing in clusters, the bright green succulent leaves are arranged in an opposite or alternate manner on the stems. Being almost odorless, the leaves have a pleasant taste with a slight lemony tart. The presence of oxalic acid is the reason behind the sour lemon flavor of the leaves.
The beautiful yellow blooms measure about 0.24 in (6 mm) across. They may develop any time of the year depending on the frequency of rainfall. During the sunny days, the flowers open singly for a few hours in the mornings.
The pods contain tiny seeds in them. When the seeds mature, the pods open up. The taproots develop secondary fibrous roots that help to thrive in poor soils and droughts.
Propagation of Purslane Plant
Generally, the purslane plant (Portulaca oleracea) prefers to grow under part to full sun. Although these plants are not demanding or picky about soils, they tend to thrive better in moist to dry types of soils that have a pH range of 6.0 – 6.5. Good drainage of the soil is essential. These plants are hardy to USDA Zone 8.
Typically, these plants are grown from seeds. However, you can also grow them from divisions, cuttings, or transplantations.
You can easily purchase the purslane plant (Portulaca oleracea) seeds online. In the course of their lifetime, these plants can produce more than 50,000 seeds. Hence, if you purchase the seeds once, you may never need to buy them again.
After the frost, when the soil is warmed up to about 60°F, you can start seed propagation.
1.) Gently moist the soil and sprinkle the seeds on its surface.
2.) Press them lightly inwards with your fingers.
3.) As the seeds require light for germination, cover them barely with soil or leave them without covering.
After a couple of weeks, you can expect young shoots to sprout out of the soil surface. When a few true leaves are formed, thin the seedlings about 8 inches apart.
A month before the last frost date, you can start seed propagation indoors. Fill a planting pot with good quality potting mixture. Repeat the above-mentioned procedure for sowing seeds.
Keep the pot in warm locations indoors. Wait until the dangers of frost are passed and the seedlings have developed at least a couple of true leaf sets. After that, gradually harden the seedlings off for about a week. Then carefully transplant them in the garden.
For propagating these plants, the stem cutting propagation method is another easy and efficient method. In fact, almost every stem develops into a new plant.
1.) Using clean garden shears, cut 6-inch-long stems from the plant and remove the foliage from the bottom half portion.
2.) Fill a planting pot with good quality potting soil. After dipping the bottom end of the cutting in a rooting hormone, plant it in the pot.
3.) Keep the pot arrangement in a bright space that receives indirect sunlight
4.) Maintain the soil moisture by misting it with water as needed.
Normally, the stems begin to root in about 7 – 10 days. After that, you can transplant the cuttings outdoors in the gardens.
Alternatively, you can plant the stems directly in gardens. But the above-mentioned method is safer and more efficient.
Transplanting Nursery Plants
You can also purchase nursey-grown ones and transplant them in gardens.
1.) Using a trowel, just dig out the entire plant from the packaged pot.
2.) In the garden, dig a hole twice large as the root ball.
3.) Place the newly uprooted plant in the dug hole in an upright position. Make sure to bury the root ball in the same depth as it was in the packaged pot.
if you happen to leave behind some root parts in the packaged pot, a new plant may appear again! So, clean the packaged pot free of any residues of the plant.
Caring of Purslane Plant
The purslane plant (Portulaca oleracea) thrives well in temperatures above 70°F. It can also tolerate temperatures above 100°F. Normally, these plants prefer to grow in warmer environments. To encourage blooming, grow them in locations that receive partial afternoon shades.
In fact, these plants never demand to fertilize. Prior to planting, amend the soil with a bit of compost and watch the plants grow healthier. However, feeding them with liquid plant food occasionally replenishes them with fresh energy.
Generally, these plants love the heat. Overwatering may kill them. However, maintaining the moisture of the soil is necessary for leafier and healthy growth.
We recommend drip or trickle irrigation systems for watering. In addition, to maintain the soil moisture, it conserves water to a large extent.
To check the vigorous growth of these plants, mulching is essential. The organic mulches like wooden chips block the sunlight and prevent seed germination to some extent.
To prevent vigorous growth, you can also use some mulches that have chemical properties like black walnuts.
Growing Purslane Plants for Microgreens
Generally, the purslane microgreens are juicy and tarty. You can grow them indoors easily. Growing year-round, they can provide a constant supply for your needs.
1) Fill a wide container or seed tray with the potting mixture at least 1/2 inch deep.
2) Sprinkle the seeds randomly. Then, press them gently inwards with your fingers.
3) Place the arrangement in a bright space, that is consistently warmer (about 75°F). You can also make use of heat mats to keep them warm.
Within a week or so, the seeds sprout out. Till then, maintain the soil moisture. After that, you can allow the soil surface to dry a little bit in-between the watering cycle.
Typically, the first leaves (cotyledons) emerge in about 2-3 weeks. Without waiting for them to develop, you can pick them and consume them right away. Keeping them in trays, pluck them as needed. You can also leave a few of them for transplanting outdoors.
On average, you can harvest a purslane plant (Portulaca oleracea) thrice in a year. After planting the seeds, these plants take about 50 – 60 days to grow and develop matured leaves.
Some gardeners say the time of day’s harvest impacts the flavor of the leaves. As the malic acid content is more in the mornings and less in the evenings, this sounds to be true. Due to the plant’s reaction to sunlight, the malic acid content varies throughout the day.
Hence, you can expect the leaves to taste tarter in the morning harvests and a little bit sweeter in evening harvests.
While harvesting, use a good quality garden clean Garden shears. Harvest the plant leaving at least 2 inches above the ground surface. This is essential for the speedy regrowth of the plant under ideal conditions. Place the yield in a cool spot immediately.
You can also harvest single stems and use them for propagation.
Without washing the harvested plants, wrapped them in plastic bags and keep them in the crisper box of your refrigerator. In this way, you can increase their shelf life to about 7 – 10 days.
You can preserve the yield longer by drying it. The succulent leaves contain water. So, just remove them from stems and lay them in a cookie sheet as a single layer. Then, dry them in a food dehydrator or oven at 135°F until they become brittle.
You can use the dried herbs in cooking. They are effective thickening agents. So, you can use them to thicken desserts and soups. You can also powder them to flavor smoothies and other foods.
Nutrition Facts of Purslane Plant
Purslane plant (Portulaca oleracea) has the following nutrients:
Calcium: 7% of the RDI
Iron: 11% of the DV.
Magnesium: 17% of the DV.
Manganese: 15% of the DV.
Potassium: 14% of the DV.
Vitamin A: 26% of the DV.
Vitamin C: 35% of the DV.
It also contains a little bit of copper, folate, phosphorus, vitamins B1, B2, B3. With only 16 calories, you receive all these beneficial nutrients!
In addition, these plants contain more omega-3s compared to any edible herb on the planet. Each gram of purslane leaves contains 4 mg of gamma-linolenic acid (LNA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) omega 3 fatty acids.
In fact, many fishes have omega-3s acids. But they may be commercially expensive and not available as widely as this herb.
The purchased purslanes may have been grown with chemical applications. These types of plants may not be suitable for consuming or foraging. Consult certified medical practitioners before consuming
Pests and Diseases – Purslane Plant
Purslane plant (Portulaca oleracea) is hardy in nature. Typically, it is not bothered by pests and diseases. However, there are a few problems to watch out for
Purslane Blotchmine Sawfly (Schizocerella Pilicornis)
These leaf-mining larvae are blackish, pale, or yellowish in color. Tunneling through the leaves, they cause blotchy or black telltale marks on them. Severely infected plants may die.
The purslane plant is the only known herbal host to purslane blotchmine sawfly. In spring, the female sawflies lay eggs on the leaf edges. The adult larvae live about a day feeding inside the foliage. Then, they burrow down in the ground for pupating. These insects produce multiple generations in a year.
If they are less in population, you can remove them by hand. Attracting beneficial insects like parasitic wasps is the best organic way to get rid of these insects. You can also use Diatomaceous earth to treat them effectively.
Portulaca Leafmining Weevil
Typically, this larva damages the plants by chewing through the foliage, stems, seed pods, and so on. Finally, the infested plant dies. Purslane plant is the only known herbal host to Portulaca leafmining weevil.
You can introduce beneficial insects like Diglyphus isaea that feed on Portulaca leafmining weevil.
These bugs are mostly active at night. So, you can apply insecticides like Spinosad particularly at nights, to kill them effectively.
Some common plant pests like aphids, spider mites, etc., may bother these plants occasionally. Use neem oil sprays or insecticidal soap sprays to treat them.
In cool and wet environments, Botrytis blight (gray mold) infects the plants readily. The infected parts develop gray spores of dead tissues or brown spots on them. This causes the parts to decolor and shrivel. Finally, this infection may spread to the entire plant and kill it.
In the initial stages, you can use fungicide sprays to treat this disease. If the infection is severe, just remove the infected parts and dispose of them.
Root Rot and Stem Rot
Due to waterlogging or droughts, the health of the roots is severely affected. As a result, the root and stem rot disease infect plants. Upon infection, the foliage may discolor. Tiny feeder roots will dethatch and disappear. The main roots will turn brownish and spongy.
In the initial stages of the disease, you can try sulfur or copper-based fungicide treatment. If the infection is severe, it is recommended to dispose of the plant as a whole.
Uses of Purslane Plant
1.) Caffeine Antidote: Being rich in melatonin and magnesium, it can reduce caffeine’s common side effects like sleeplessness and jitters
2.) Psoriasis Treatment: with its omega-3s, purslane can prevent the production of leukotriene. Thus, it can prevent the development of inflammation, which is a root cause for scaly, itchy red skin during psoriasis.
3.) Insulin Booster: Medical studies indicate, purslane extracts can be used to stabilize insulin levels and blood sugar. It can also support the internal insulin supply in human bodies.
4.) Immune Booster: Since it’s high in magnesium, calcium, and vitamins, it can bolster the immune system in human bodies.
In addition to the above medical uses, consumption of these plants can lower blood pressure and reduce arrhythmia risk. It is also used to treat various medical disorders including headache, asthma, skin irritations, mechanical wounds Etc.
Generally, Purslane is a leaf vegetable. Due to the presence of malic and oxalic acid, it tastes a little bit salty and sour. Domestically, you can consume it raw, use it in stir-fries, salads, soups Etc., or cook like spinach.
These plants are consumed all over the world including Mexico, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Aboriginal Australians use its seeds to make their popular seedcakes.
In Greece, people use its stems and leaves with feta cheese, garlic, onion, tomato, olive oil, and oregano. They also boil it or add it in salads, casseroled chicken Etc.
In Turkey, it is used in salads, baked pastries, mixed with yogurt (tzatziki variant), or cooked like vegetables. Most Egyptians use it as a vegetable dish rather than using in salads.