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Portulaca oleracea
[por-tew-LAK-uh awl-lur-RAY-see-uh]

Family:  Portulacaceae

Names: pussley, pursley, pigweed, garden purslane verdolage, verdolaga; Portulak (German); purslane, pourpier, pourcellaine (French); porcellana, portulaca (Italian); Gartenportulak (German); Verdolaja, Verdolaga (Spanish); ma chi xian (Chinese); Tségha’niłchi’ – breeze through rock (Navajo); xucul (Mayan)

Description: Thick, matlike groundcover, very succulent with red stems.  It grows to a height of 8 inches and a width of 10 inches.  The flowers are bright yellow and 3/8 inch across.  The leaves are thick, succulent ovals up to 1 ¼ inches long  It blooms from June to September.  It is possibly native to India but well established from Greece to China and introduced elsewhere.  Golden or yellow purslane Portulaca oleracea sative is more attractive and grows more erect but has the same taste.

Cultivation: Annual and sometimes biennial it germinates in 7-15 days.  Space 6-8 inches apart in soil that is well drained and well watered with a pH of 5.5-8 in full sun.  Ready to harvest in 6-8 weeks.  If the plants get ahead during the growing season, cut them back to 3-4 inches and they will send out tender new shoots within 7-10 days.  Old stems may be stripped of their leaves and pickled.

History:  The botanical name oleracea is Latin for “potherb”.  Portulaca may mean “milk carrier,” from potare, Latin “to carry” and lac, “milk”, describing the juice that exudes from the broken stems.  Some scholars think it is derived from portula, a “little gate,” due to the gatelike cover on the seed capsules.  The Romans enjoyed puns and called purslane porcella, or “little pig,” as a pun on its name.  This became the Italian porcellana, the old French porcelaine and eventually “purslane” in English. Oleracea means “of the vegetable garden or kitchen.” It was brought north in to Europe and provided not only food, but was one of the four “cold” seeds of medieval medicine that cooled “hot” complaints such as “heat in the liver.”  High in vitamin C, it used to be a scurvy remedy.  By the 1700s, it had made itself so much at home in the US that some regarded it as a native American plant.  It was thought to be a cure for “blastings by lighting or planets and burning of gunpowder.”

Constituents:  alkaloids, glycoside, sterols, essential oil, calcium salts, DOPA, resins, organic acids, vitamin C (600 milligrams per 100 grams of fresh plant), oxalic acid, potassium slats.  Chinese research also lists noradrenaline and dopamine as constituents

Energetics: sour; cold

Meridians/Organs affected: colon, liver, spleen, large intestine

Properties: alterative, refrigerant, bactericide, antipyretic, antidote, antidysenteric, antiphlogistic

Ritual Uses:  Purslane was believed to guard against evil spirits if strewn around a person’s bed. It was considered to be a sure cure for blastings by lightening and burning of gunpowder. Purslane is ideal for those made uneasy by the darkness of night, who fall prey to nightmares and who need protection against those unknown things which roam the dark.  Growing purslane beneath the bedroom window, placing it in a vase on one’s nightstand or using a bunch of dried purslane to aspurge the bedroom when cleaning it are a few methods available.  Purslane has the ability to dispel unwholesome energy through the generation of positive energy. It can be added to Mystic Rites Incense to assist in the development of your higher spiritual forces.   Can be used as an elixir or magickal tonic.  Herb of the Moon.

Culinary Uses:  Purslane has a crisp texture and a sharp, almost hot, vinegary flavor.  Sometimes compared to asparagus in taste, purslane is used in salads and soups, steamed as a garnish, or is pickled for winter salads.  It has long been eaten in the Middle East and India and is found in the Middle Eastern salad fattoush.  In China, the herb is boiled, then mixed with eggs.  Australian Aborigines ground the seeds, making a paste eaten fresh or baked.  Settlers boiled and ate the leaves.  The French soup bonne femme combines purslane with French sorrel.  Mexicans eat purslane as a side dish.  They boil the leaves for a few minutes, then fry them in oil with a little chopped onion, adding slices of cheese and serving them when the cheese is hot and melting.

Eaten either raw in salad or steamed in mole verde, this succulent annual is traditionally served in Mexico in a pork stew – espinazo con verdolagas – with a tomatillo-based sauce.  Add to scrambled eggs or Mexican tomato sauce.  Long cooking causes it to develop a slippery texture and change of color, so add the chopped leaves no sooner than the last minute of cooking times. 

Medicinal uses:  The sticky, broken leaves of fresh purslane sooth burns, stings and swellings.  The juice was once used for treating earaches and to “fasten” teeth and soothe sore gums.  Purslane has been considered valuable in the treatment of urinary and digestive problems.  The diuretic effect of the juice makes it useful in the alleviation of bladder ailments-for example, difficulty in passing urine. The plant’s mucilaginous properties also make it a soothing remedy for gastrointestinal problems such as dysentery and diarrhea.  In Europe it’s been turned into a cough syrup for sore throats.  Purslane is the richest known plant source of Omega-3 acids, found mostly in fish oils.  These fatty acids reduce blood cholesterol and pressure, clotting, and inflammation and may increase immunity.   Recommended medicinal dosage is 15-30 grams.   Use for scours in goats.

Crush the fresh plant material to apply as a poultice to stop bleeding and heal ulcers, wounds and sores.  Fresh juice of the plant can be taken with sugar and honey to relieve dry coughs.  Mash stems and leaves to apply as a poultice over the forehead to alleviate headaches caused by over-exposure to the sun.

A dose of 1.5 and 2.0 gm/kg of the entire dried plant showed hypoglycemic activity in rabbits after 8 and 12 hours.  Uterine stimulant effect was demonstrated in mice and rats using a water extract of the leaves.

TCM: In Chinese herbal medicine, purslane is employed for similar problems and for appendicitis.  The Chinese also use the plant as an antidote for wasp stings and snake bite.  Clinical trials in China indicate that purslane has a mild antibiotic effect.  In one study, the juice was shown to be effective in treating hookworms.  Other studies suggest that it is valuable against bacillary dysentery.  When injected, extracts of the herb induce powerful contractions of the uterus.  Taken orally, purslane juice weakens uterine contractions.    Indications: amoebic dysentery; hemorrhoids; abscesses due to heat excess.  The Chinese eat this plant as a vegetable; may be used safely in high dosages; the fresh herb is best for all therapeutic purposes.  Dosage 10-30g

Navajo: The plant is said to cure stomachache and is used in a smoke treatment to clean out the body; the smoke causes the patient to vomit and thus, cleans him out.

Toxicity: Do not take medicinally during pregnancy

Purslane Salad with Avocado and Bacon
4 handfuls purslane leaves about 7 oz trimmed weight
creamy dressing
1 avocado
juice of ½ lemon or 1 lime
5 oz streaky bacon, diced small
fresh herbs in season, finely chopped
Prepare the purslane leaves. Make a bed of them on a round serving dish and sprinkle with some dressing.  Peel the avocado and cut in 8 segments.  Arrange them like the spokes of a wheel over the purslane.  Sprinkle with lemon or lime juice.  Fry the bacon dice without any fat in a heavy-based pan until golden and crusty.  Lift them out of the rendered fat with a slotted spoon an scatter them over the salad.  Sprinkle on the chopped herbs and serve

salt and pepper
10 oz oil
3 ½ oz vinegar
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp sugar or honey
1 egg
Blend or process ingredients in a blender or food processor thinning down if necessary with a little cold water.  Store in a covered jar for up to 4 days.

Warm Salad of Purslane with Chicken Livers and Herb Vinegar
4 good handfuls purslane, about 7 oz trimmed weight
1 oz oil, of which a proportion can be walnut oil
4 Tbsp vinegar
1 tsp coarse grain mustard
1 tsp honey
salt and pepper
12 oz chicken livers, trimmed and chopped
2 Tbsp oil
3 Tbsp flavored vinegar
Pull the leaves off the purslane, wash and spin them dry; discard the stalks.  Whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, honey, salt and pepper to make a thick dressing.  Arrange the purslane on four plates and sprinkle the dressing on top.  Season the chicken livers and fry them in the hot oil for 2-3 minutes until just stiffened but still pink inside.  Scatter them over the salads.  Deglaze the pan with the vinegar and sprinkle on top.  Serve at once.  (Fruits of the Forest)

Purslane with Melon Salad with Prawns
3 handfuls purslane, about 5 oz trimmed weigh
1 pink-fleshed melon
creamy dressing
30 peeled cook shrimp
chopped fresh herbs (your choice)
Strip the leaves off the purslane and discard the stalks.  Arrange the leaves around the edge of 6 salad plates.  Cut the melon in half, discard the seeds and scoop out the flesh with a melon scoop.  Put a heap of melon flesh in the middle of the plate.  Pour some dressing over the purslane and melon.  Arrange the prawns on top of the salads and sprinkle with the chosen herbs.  (Fruits of the Forest)

Fairy Food Casserole
2 cups raw wild rice
handful wild oregano
2 Tbsp wild mint
1 Tbsp wild catni
1 cup wild purslane
6 wild onion
5 leaves garden basil
3 cloves garlic
1 cup wild mushrooms, chopped
2 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp wild mustard seeds
3 Tbsp yellow dock seeds
handful of wild flowers
Boil rice until done and set aside.  Collect our wild herbs and mushrooms.  Chop herbs, purslane, wild onions, basil and garlic coarsely.  Mix with rice. Saute mushrooms with a little more garlic and add to rice.  Add olive oil to rice and mix well.  Place in casserole dish, shred goat cheese on top and bake for 30 minutes at 350F.  Garnish with yellow dock seeds, mustard seeds and wild flowers.  Serve on a bed of leafy greens.  Serves 10-12.  (An Herbal Feast)

A Compendium of Herbal Magick, Paul Beyerl, Phoenix Publishing, 1998; ISBN: 0-919345-45-X
An Herbal Feast, Risa Mornis, Keats Publishing, 1998; ISBN: 0-87983-801-9
The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, Andrew Chevallier, Dorling Kindersely, 1997; ISBN: 0-7894-1067-2
Fruits of the Forest, Sue Style, Pavilion Books, 1995; ISBN: 1-85793-385
The Illustrated Herb Encyclopedia, Kathi Keville, Mallard Press, 1991; ISBN: 0-7924-5307-7
Nanise’: A Navajo Herbal, Vernon O Mayes and Barbara Bayless Lacy, Navajo Community College Press, 1989; ISBN: 0-912586-62-1
Rainforest Remedies, Rosita Arvigo and Michael Balick, Lotus Press, 1993; ISBN: 0-914955-13-6
Wild Food, Roger Phillips, Little Brown, 1986; ISBN: 0-316-70611-6
The Wild Foods Cookbook, Cathy Johnson, Stephen Greene Press; 1989; ISBN: 0-8289-0712-9
The Wild Gourmet, Babette Brackett & Maryann Lash, Godine, 1975; ISBN: 0-87923-142-4
The Wild Plant Companioin, Kathryn G. March & Andrew L. March, Meridian Hill, 1986; ISBN: 0-940206-03-X

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