You might recall that way back in January I wrote about a salad plant called claytonia, or winter purslane. Well, pictured above you see its warm-weather counterpart, summer purslane, Portulaca oleracea. You may have noticed those fleshy leaves appearing in your salad bag, or on your plate in the café or pub. It’s a totally different plant to claytonia, though distantly related; an annual succulent herb that has been cultivated for thousands of years.
The ancient Egyptians rated it very highly, and in Europe it was widely grown until after the middle ages, when plants such as spinach became more popular. The stems, leaves and flower buds are all edible. The unusual taste and texture of summer purslane provides an interesting contrast to other salad leaves. The flavour is rather complex, having a basic tanginess combined with a slight nutty, salty quality.
Though we grow it purely as an addition to our salad mixes, purslane can also be a cooked vegetable. It can be steamed, stir fried, used in omelettes, casseroles and fritters. Purslane has considerable health benefits, being high in vitamins A and C, and an iron content which is several times that of spinach, as well as other dietary minerals. It contains more Omega 3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable. Medicinally it has been used as a poultice for burns, and to soothe insect bites and sores. A syrup made with the leaves can help to treat a dry cough. Historically in Europe, purslane was attributed with powerful magical properties, bringing happiness, luck, and love, and aiding sleep, when leaves placed around the sleeping area protected against bad magic. A whole host of benefits locked up in those little succulent leaves.