Beet and purslane salad, made with foraged purslane  
Photo: Marisa Romano

Weed or Superfood

Purslane (left) and spurge (right): don’t confuse the two!   Photo: Jim Louter
Patches of purslane sprout from cracks in the sidewalk on Holmwood Avenue. Photo: Marisa Romano

By Marisa Romano

If you have a garden, chances are you have seen purslane growing in unwanted places.

Common purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a fast-growing succulent annual plant that spreads low to the ground in a circle from a central spot. It has shiny plump small leaves and reddish stems. It is resistant to both drought and wet conditions; it grows prolifically in vegetable gardens and flower beds and sprouts at the edge of lawns and between cracks in the sidewalk. Stroll along Holmwood Avenue and you can spot beautiful patches of it.

This summer weather has been particularly good for plants, including weeds. Organic growers are especially aware of it as they rely on hand weeding to get rid of the unwanted plants that threaten to suffocate their crops. Purslane is among them.

One of these organic growers is Danielle Schami, owner and operator of Franktown House Flowers, a flower farm located in Wakefield. She usually hires a couple of workers who live on the farm in the tiny house standing among the flowers and help tend the flower beds over the summer. But with the current pandemic, Schami is now holding the fort all by herself. I visited the farm in the middle of August. With hori-hori (weeding knife) in gloved hands, I joined other volunteers and pulled weeds to free beautiful flowers from their unruly green vise.

At the end of the evening, I came home with a bag of purslane freshly plucked from the perennial flower beds. “We used to sell it when I was working in a greenhouse in California,” says Schami while bagging the succulent greens. Purslane is not only a weed. It is an edible green with health benefits; a superfood you may say. It is packed with vitamins A and C and omega-3 fatty acid – yes, the same good fats found in fish and flax seeds. In fact purslane is claimed to have more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable.

Purslane is used in many cuisines around the world. It is sold in some farmers’ markets and served in fancy restaurants here in North America. Leaves and stems are crunchy and have a slightly lemony and salty taste. They are good raw in salads and sandwiches or cooked in stir-fries, soups and quiches.

“What are you going to do with it?” asked another volunteer at Franktown House when she saw me walking away with the bag of greens. I told her I would have let her know. So here is how I served purslane for a supper al fresco. On the menu: purslane and tomato frittata and red beet and purslane salad.

Note of caution: If you are tempted to forage for purslane for the first time, make sure to go with someone who knows this plant. Purslane is very similar to another weed, hairy spurge. Spurge is a very common poisonous weed. Like purslane it has green leaves and reddish stems that spread along the ground from a central point. Unlike purslane, spurge has flat, thin leaves. The stems are hairy and when severed they ooze a milky sap that can cause stomach upset and skin irritation.

Marisa Romano is a foodie and a plant pathologist who appreciates interesting foods, especially local, that bring people together.

Red beet and purslane salad

Two fresh red beets
1 cup purslane, leaves and young stems
Microgreens of choice (I used a spicy mix)
Dressing: 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar, a pinch of salt

Peel and grate a fresh beet, add purslane and microgreens. Mix the vinaigrette and pour on the salad to taste.

Purslane and tomato frittata

(One frittata)
2 large eggs
¼ cup milk
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tsp olive oil
1 to 1½ cups purslane leaves and stems washed and cut in 2-inch sections
Slices of tomato

In a bowl beat eggs with milk, cheese, salt and pepper.
In a small pan, sauté the purslane in olive oil for about 3 minutes.
Add to the egg mixture and poor into a non-stick pan. Add thin slices of tomatoes on the top and cook as you would do your favourite frittata; finish in the oven or flip it with a plate and cook the other side in the pan.

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