Year of Leafy Greens: Vegetables out, weeds in?

Purslane: Leafy Green of the Year?

The University of Maryland Extension’s Grow It Eat It Action Team has designated 2012 as the Year of Leafy Greens, and I propose we celebrate by replacing our vegetable gardens with weed gardens.

That surprising idea came to me while I was hoeing weeds near our green beans earlier this week.  “Those weeds weren’t there just two days ago—and they’re an inch and a half tall already,” I muttered to myself.

I was particularly irritated at the purslane that seemed to be sprouting everywhere.  You know—common purslane—Portulaca oleracea—see photo—with its “succulent stems and leaves,” as the book “Weeds of the Northeast” describes them, that are almost impossible to kill.  Hoe them and step on them, and they reroot.  Hoe them and let a shower or a heavy dew dampen them, and they reroot.  Hoe them in late afternoon, and they all but rerooted overnight.

“Succulent,” of course, has several meanings, and I found definitions supporting my eat-weeds theory: “delectable” or “pleasing to the taste.”

Taste, I wondered?  A quick Internet search gave me a quick education about purslane as food.  It tastes like spinach, sort of “nutty but tangy,” according to one fan.  I think the best adjective is “sour.”

Purslane’s been grown for food in Asian countries for centuries, and it’s rich in vitamins, fatty acids, minerals, even amino acids.  Connoisseurs blenderize it into green smoothies.

Multiple sources offer purslane seeds for sale, including Johnny’s Selected Seeds, one of my favorite companies, which offers Gruner Red Purslane and Goldberg Golden Purslane.  Packets cost $3.45 for 500 seeds—and 25 pounds of Goldberg Golden Purslane seeds will set you back $5,725. 

Johnny’s says purslane blooms or matures in 50 days, which seems a bit slow to me because the volunteers in my veggie gardens seem to sprout, grow, and flower in 50 hours—or so it seems when the thermometer registers in the 90s and the humidity makes hoeing a dripping chore.

You’ll find pages of recipes online if you search “purslane recipes.”  How does “Tomato, Cucumber, & Purslane Salad” sound to you?  Or “Pickled Purslane?”  Or “Ham & Purslane on Rye?” One site advises use of only young leaves and warns that overcooking tends to make it “slimy.”  The French savor a soup called Bonne Femme, which is based on equal amounts of purslane and sorrel and which, I hope, isn’t overcooked.

Back-to-the-land enthusiasts probably embrace purslane too, as it was a popular edible and medical in the 16th Century.  The English then made a salad of purslane, basil, cress, rocket, and garlic to cure the common cold. A remedy for ridding kids of worms called for purslane seeds boiled in wine.  I hope that concoction didn’t rid the worms of the kids.

So why am I pampering 24 tomato plants and hand weeding neat rows of green beans, beets, carrots, and lettuce?  Shouldn’t I abandon traditional gardening and let the weeds take over?  I have no doubt that purslane will win any battle for dominance.

And a timely thought: Since purslane is a leafy green, I nominate it as the Grow It Eat It “Leafy Green of the Year.”

7 Comments on “Year of Leafy Greens: Vegetables out, weeds in?

  1. Bob, check out It'll give you further reason to reconsider those weeds as crops…..


  2. It's utterly amazing how many websites talk about all angles of purslane as weed n' feed–and its nutritional value–and on and on. I saw one with “Norwegian Purslane Recipes.” This weed/food grows in almost every country, and conventional wisdom says European colonists brought it with them as a food/medical plant. That was before my time, however–slightly. Maybe this weed soon will be in the leafy green section of our nearest supermarket, but certainly at the farmers' markets.


  3. Most times I like to compare my garden activities to yours and for the first time I think I've got more (purslane) growing than you Bob. But this time it isn't a good thing. Thanks for the info. on my bumper crop of weed.


  4. You tell me when you've developed a pasta sauce made of purslane, and I'll give up the tomatoes. 🙂

    Great minds think alike, really – I was considering last week what we can plant in the salad table at the demo garden this summer, since it will only get watered twice a week, and purslane popped into my head (while I was weeding, of course). It certainly doesn't succumb to drought at my house…


  5. Robin Hessey got purslane in her CSA share a couple of years ago. She lightly sauteed it in butter and garlic and, man, was that tasty?!

    Pasta sauce? You bet. Saute with olive oil (or butter) and garlic. Toss in grape tomatoes cut in half. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss with cooked pasta. Cut basil in chiffonades and toss with pasta. Pass the freshly grated parmesan. Buon appetito!


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