Portulaca oleracea: Common purslane

Family: Portulacaceae
Common name: Common purslane, Duckweed, Little hogweed, Pursley, Purslane, Garden purslane, Pigweed, Purselane, Red foot, Rock moss, WIld portulaca

A humble little weed growing along wastelands, open areas, and on footpaths, we are yet to fully utilize the nutritional values of Common purslane plants. They are small succulent plants that grow to a height of 30-40 cms but can spread over a meter with their long, trailing stems.

The stem is green with a reddish tint and smooth, growing parallel to the ground and capable of rooting to the nodes. Leaves are oval along the outer edges and tapering towards the stem, about 4-6 cms long. They are sometimes opposite, sometimes alternate, and sometimes bunched around the tip of the stem.

Common purslane plants produce small yellow flowers that are 5-10 mm long, with 5 distinct petals and prominent stamens. These flowers open only for a few hours in the morning, provided it’s sunny and the conditions are just right.

These flowers are very fertile and produce small seed capsules that resemble a cup. The lid of the cup just pops open on maturity releasing tiny black seeds which are about a millimeter long. These seeds are dispersed by wind, water, or animals.

They can lie dormant in the ground for many years until the conditions are suitable for germination. This makes Common purslane an invasive weed in agricultural areas where they can choke seedlings by their fast, mat-forming growth pattern. Even small pieces of the stem fallen on the ground can grow roots and produce new plants.

Though it is considered invasive, all parts of the plant can be eaten raw or cooked. Tender shoots and flowers are used in salads, seeds are added to breads, cereals, and cakes. The leaves taste slightly salty with a sour note. They are mucilaginous and can be used as thickeners for soups.

Common purslane leaves contain proteins, carbohydrates, and trace amounts of calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, potassium, ascorbic acid, Vitamin A and C. The leaves are a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids too, making them very nutritious indeed.

They are non-fussy plants that can withstand drought, rains, salinity, pollutions, poor soil, and almost any adverse condition. They don’t need regular watering, maintenance, and fertilization. They prefer good sunlight, and hence cannot be grown indoors.

Common purslane plants are used in the treatment of sore throat, cough, burns, skin diseases, insect stings, stomach pain, headaches, diabetes, hypotension, sores, earaches, worms, digestive problems and eye diseases.

The Omega-3 fatty acids help strengthen the immune system, and prevent heart diseases. Tea made from Common purslane leaves help in digestion and relieving stomach pain.

Propagation is through seeds and stem cuttings.