You too? Well, recently, I have come to appreciate their potential value as a green manure crop or for composting, or as an incredibly healthy addition to my meals.
One of my gardening mentors was my great grandmother and she always said, “God don’t much like bare ground, if you don’t grow something there He will.” Which is to say that nature abhors a vacuum, so it will produce a ground cover of weeds if a vacuum (bare ground) exists. One of the former hated garden intruders that I now embrace is Purslane. Let's talk more about that!
It was a huge paradigm shift to walk in my garden and observe, identify and accept these former foes as friends. In light of my new-found interest in eating a more nutritious and more plant based diet I have been researching “wild greens” and their nutritional and therapeutic value. It was a major shock to find that some of my despised enemies, weeds that are abundant in our gardens and are actually edible, and in most cases delicious! Not only that, but many of them are decidedly therapeutic, far more nutritious than the greens we normally eat, and have been used in herbal medicine for centuries.
Common weeds like dandelion, purslane, plantain, and dollar weed grow in abundance and can really add a huge nutritional boost to your diet. Of them all, I think that my favorite is purslane.
Most of us are familiar with the powerful health benefits linked to the leaves of succulents like aloe vera and yucca and many are discovering the taste treats from the antioxidant-packed harvests from things like dragon fruit. However, few are aware of the suite of benefits associated with the common weed we call purslane. This is a member of the portulacaceae family and is sometimes called wild portulaca. There are some vibrant colored, prolifically flowering, hybridized portulaca but these do not contain the nutrition found in the wild variety. Hybridization is often about selecting for one set of characteristics at the expense of another. In this case, there are many more pretty flowers on the hybrids but the nutritional profile has dramatically changed.
Purslane originates from India and it was a favorite food of Mahatma Ghandi. It is also a sought-after component of Greek and Asian cuisines and it is even available in cans in some regions. This plant has only recently caught the attention of nutrition researchers but some of them are now claiming it to be among the most nutritious of all green vegetables. This seems like a big claim but it certainly caught my attention.
For years I would pull up any purslane in my yard and garden and burn it as, like all succulents, each leaf can grow a new plant, and I was not sure that composting would destroy this regenerative potential. Not anymore! Now I have a specific section of my garden dedicated exclusively to growing this wonderful plant. I am harvesting it for the table and could not be happier.
Purslane has an extraordinary amount of Omega-3 fatty acid, which is normally found in fish and flax seeds, but it is free so that beats the price of salmon! It also contains high levels of the vitamins A, C, B, as well as magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron. It also has something called “alkaloid pigments” which is indicated by its reddish stems and yellow flowers. These are potent antioxidants. One US study actually showed the high doses of vitamin A in purslane were more effective than flu vaccinations. This fat-soluble protector stores in the body for up to three months with the potential of flu protection for that period. I’m not saying you don’t need to get a flu shot, I’m just saying why not add purslane to you diet and be even more protected!
Purslane is extraordinarily alkalizing, too. Many research studies confirm that much of the population is ‘acidic’. Acidity breeds disease in plants, animals and humans, so the consumption of alkalizing foods and the correction of mineral deficits (involving the alkalizing minerals) is important.
The recognition of the alkalizing benefits of purslane is not a new thing. King Henry the 8th was renowned for his excesses in all things including food and partners (and his treatment of those unfortunate wives). He suffered badly from the acidity-related disease, gout, and his favored tool to counter the ravages of this painful disorder, was purslane. He would eat very badly but when the gout got him he would call for nothing but Purslane - raw and cooked into a simple soup.
Even More Health Benefits of Purslane
Purslane has many benefits that help in preventing and curing diseases. Let’s discuss the benefits in detail below:
Improves Heart Health – Dr. Artemis P. Simopoulos, MD, The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Washington DC, USA, in his research has found that the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, in purslane, help to reduce the amount of LDL or bad cholesterol in the body. This helps to promote a healthier cholesterol balance in our bloodstream.
Consuming foods that are high in omega-3s has shown to significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, as well as atherosclerosis, thereby preventing heart attacks and strokes. Furthermore, the potassium found in purslane can reduce blood pressure due to its behavior as a vasodilator, meaning that it relaxes blood vessels and reduces strain on the heart.
Weight Loss - Research suggests that purslane is very low in calories but is nutrient-rich and packed with high dietary fiber. This means that people can feel full after a meal of purslane, without significantly increasing calorie intake, and thereby helping them lose weight and maintain the diet.
Promotes Child Development - Purslane contains a good amount of good fatty acids (omega-3s). Although research is still ongoing, early studies have shown that high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in young children’s diet have resulted in a decrease in certain developmental disorders, including autism and ADHD.
Treats Gastrointestinal Diseases - Some people may shy away from alternative medicine treatments for their various health conditions, but in traditional Chinese medicine, purslane (known as Ma Chi Xian in Chinese medicine) was, and still is, widely used to treat everything from diarrhea and intestinal bleeding to hemorrhoids and dysentery. And even today it is used to treat a wide variety of intestinal conditions. These benefits are mainly attributed to the organic compounds found in purslane, including dopamine, malic acid, citric acid, alanine, glucose, and many others.
Skin Care - Purslane can help treat a wide variety of skin conditions as well. A study published in 2004 revealed that purslane leaves contain high levels of vitamin A. Vitamin A, combined with the cocktail of compounds found in this ‘weed’ mean that it can help reduce inflammation caused by bee stings and snake bites when applied topically. It improves skin health and appearance, reduces wrinkles, and stimulates the healing of skin cells to remove scars and blemishes when consumed.
Prevents Cancer - One of the most widespread and tragic diseases in the world today is cancer, so any anti-carcinogenic food item is highly praised. A 2016 study shows that purslane seed oil has antioxidant and antiproliferative properties that help reduce oxidative stress.
Moreover, purslane contains significant levels of vitamin C and vitamin A, both of which act as antioxidants to prevent certain cancers, specifically lung and oral cancers. However, it also contains betalain pigment compounds, which give the plant its distinctive yellow and red color. Betacyanins and betaxanthins have been directly connected with anti-mutagenic effects in the body, meaning that they prevent free radicals from causing mutations in healthy cells, thereby helping prevent the development of cancer.
Improves Vision - Vitamin A and beta-carotene, in purslane, have both been connected to improved eye health and vision for many years. Purslane can help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts by eliminating free radicals that attack the cells of the eye and cause these common age-related diseases.
Strengthens Bones - The minerals present in purslane make it a healthy choice for people who want to prevent bone loss. Calcium, magnesium, iron, and manganese are all elements required to develop bone tissue and speed the healing process of the bones in our body. This can help in preventing osteoporosis, a common age-related condition that affects millions of people.
Aid with Circulation, Oxygenation, and Hair Growth - The high content of iron and copper in purslane means that it will stimulate the production of red blood cells. Both of these minerals are essential for boosting circulation, by delivering more oxygen to essential parts of the body and increasing the healing speed of cells and organs. Further, iron and copper also aid in improving hair growth and metabolic efficiency!
My strategy was to collect these plants from my own yard and place them in my garden, ignore them (because that’s what they want!) and let them thrive.
Purslane may be known as an annoying weed to many but not to me anymore! I have come to understand that it is really a plant loaded with nutritional value and is actually a “superweed.” Out of all of the weeds that may spring up in your yard, and garden, this one is certainly worth keeping around!
Strangely enough, this weed that seems to pop up all over the place such as in between sidewalk cracks and in fields and lawns is classified by the United States Department of Agriculture as a noxious weed. despite its alluring list of redeeming qualities.
I believe that eating a more nutritious diet is critically important, especially now, when we are mired in a symptom-treating health system where prescription medicine has become one of our Nation’s largest (4th largest! - That is nuts!) killers.