MISSOURI GIRL EATS WEEDS
Wed, 08/19/2020 - 12:37pm admin
Ann J. Hines, PhD
You can find edible wild food anywhere there is dirt, water and sunshine. While I enjoy my rich rural surroundings, urban settings are not devoid of flavorful fare. This week, I was in Indiana for my daughter’s wedding. We stayed in a delightful B&B with lots of large trees along a busy avenue. I found this edible weed growing in the cracks of the paving stones.
Purslane has little yellow flowers like delicate buttercups, much like its cousin portulaca, or moss rose, which is blooming in my flower pots now. Its succulent texture, teardrop shaped leaves and purplish stems makes it easy to identify. If you’ve seen a weed that looks like a miniature jade plant with a sprawling growth habit, you’ve seen purslane.
The flavor is very good— and the crunchy, fleshy texture is meatier than most greens. To be honest, while I was thinking about how to cook it, I ended up eating half of it, along with some little yellow cherry tomatoes and a wedge of aged cheddar. The taste can vary quite a bit depending on where it’s grown, and even what time of day it’s picked. I’ve heard it said that morning harvesting will yield more sour flavor, but I picked this one in the morning and it was very mild. The larger stems have more of the tangy flavor, while the leaves and tips are milder. Whatever the variances, it is delicious. It’s probably tastier and crisper when picked from young plants growing in moist spots, but this one was plump even growing in a sandy crack.
The simplest way to enjoy purslane is to pluck off the smaller stems and leaves and add to a salad. A bacon, purslane and tomato sandwich is delectable! It’s delicious sautéed with onions and mushrooms— especially if you’ve been lucky enough to find some wild chanterelles this week! Some people pickle the thicker stems, or you can blend them into sauce, or boil them a little longer to make them tender. And as with many wild greens, you can make a salsa, pesto or chimichurri with purslane. The sauce can be used on pizza, tacos or burgers, steaks, chicken or fish.
In Argentina, they use purslane in chimichurri and serve over meat or empanadas. To make a beautiful bright green sauce, use equal parts purslane and parsley, cilantro, spinach or another wild green such as lamb’s quarter or watercress. Just be aware of the different flavors each of these will give. Add oregano, fresh garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and red pepper flakes to taste. Blend all the ingredients and use as a marinade, grilling sauce, or serve as a table condiment. Try it on grilled vegetables or kabobs. To make a flavorful creamy dip, add avocado and lime juice. Mexican cuisine uses purslane, called verdolagas, in a variety of dishes. You can add it to a salsa verde: just blend tomatillos, chiles, onion and garlic, then cook down and add boiled, coarsely chopped purslane tips. Serve this tangy treat in soft corn tortillas.
It’s an easy addition to soups and stir-frys. Everyone seems to have a glut of tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden right now, and a salad from these along with chopped purslane, and covered with a good quality olive oil and some balsamic or apple cider vinegar makes an excellent salad. Or use lemon juice and a bit of jalapeños if you have those in your garden.
I’ve included so many ways to eat it, I almost forgot to tell you about its impressive nutritional qualities! It is probably most notable for its omega-3 content, arguably the highest of any green plant. Omega-3s are essential for heart health, brain function, and hormone balance, among other things. Purslane also contains ample amounts of calcium, magnesium and potassium, which are beneficial for regulating blood pressure and preventing osteoporosis. It contains a potent serving of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that converts to vitamin A, which the body uses for maintaining youthful skin, fighting infection, pulmonary complaints, and is essential for pregnant and nursing mothers. Purslane extract has been studied for use in treating diabetes, due to its ability to lower hemoglobin A1C and blood pressure. And like nearly all of our wild greens, it is a source of vitamin C, the most famous anti-oxidant, which is good for nearly everything: fighting stress, healing wounds, detoxifying dozens of chemicals and toxins, lowering cholesterol, healing gingivitis and gum disease, reducing inflammation, and building collagen for glowing skin.
I hope that by reading this column, you realize how easy it is to significantly boost your health by adding a few weeds to your plate! Let me know what you find this week!