Purslane, A Wild Edible Weed With Many Culinary Uses

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Portulaca oleracea, Purslane
Portulaca oleracea, Purslane (Photo By: Radio Tonreg / Wikimedia Commons)

Purslane(Portulaca oleracea), also known as Little Hogweed and Moss Rose is a very common weed throughout the US and Canada and other parts of the world.

It grows in planting beds, cracks in driveways and sidewalks and any other sunny area. It is not a lawn weed, it does not grow well when competing with so many other plants.  It is an annual in temperate zones. It’s also very easy to identify because it has thick succulent leaves which are not very common in temperate climates.  Purslane has a culinary history in the Middle East that goes back thousands of years and a related species also called Moss Rose(Portulaca grandiflora) has an ancient history as an edible plant native to south America. Only recently is Purslane beginning to show up commercially in the United States.

Edibility and Culinary Use

Portulaca oleracea, Purslane Leaves, Stem and Seed Pod
Portulaca oleracea, Purslane Leaves, Stem and Seed Pod (Photo By: Aomorikuma / Wikimedia Commons)

All above ground parts of the plant are edible: leaves, seeds, stems, buds, and flowers and probably also the roots although they are not commonly used.  The entire plant has a mucilaginous texture.  The plant has many culinary uses, just about anything you can think of.  It can be eaten raw or cooked. It can be put it salads, and sandwiches. It’s mucilage makes it good for a thickener in soups and stews or as an okra substitute. Its used in this Portugese Purslane Soup Recipe  The taste is slightly savory and sour so it goes well with many dinner and lunch foods, like vegetables and meats.  The seeds can be added to cereals or anything else to give additional vitamins and minerals.

Health Benefits

PPortulaca oleracea, Purslane Leaves and Flowers
Portulaca oleracea, Purslane Leaves and Flowers (Photo By: Jason Hollinger / Wikimedia Commons

The number one health benefit of Purslane is that it contains large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.  It contains more omega-3 fatty acids than any other land-based leafy vegetable plant. It contains the omega-3 unsaturated fatty acid called EPA which is essential for normal development and is not synthesized well by the human body.  Consumption of EPA may help with brain development including improving psychiatric disorders and cognitive decline. Purslane also contains a lot of vitamins and minerals including Vitamins A, C, E, Some B Vitamins, Magnesium, Calcium, Potassium, and Iron.  Purslane also contains two potent antioxidants called Betalain alkaloid pigments, they have been shown to have antimutagenic properties. Eating Purslane may help with sore throats, cough, stomach problems, and headaches.   Purslane has also been used externally for many things, including insect bites, bee stings, snake bits, and burns.

Cautions

Purslane contains oxalate which is implicated in the formation of kidney stones, but other common vegetables such as spinach also contain high amounts of oxalate. Some people are at higher risk for kidney stones and should consult a doctor before eating any vegetables with high oxalate content.

Conclusion

Purslane is a common garden and planting bed weed.  It has many culinary and medicinal uses and a long history.  It is good to see previously uncommon plants begin to make their way to the commercial food market.  Although chances are that you have this wild edible weed growing in or near your own backyard and can enjoy its benefits without having to find it at a specialty health food store or farmers market.



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Sumac, Indian Lemonade

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Rhus typhina, Staghorn Sumac fruit cluster
Rhus typhina, Staghorn Sumac fruit cluster (Photo By: Rasbak / Wikimedia Commons)

The first thing we think about when we hear the word sumac is the dreaded poison sumac.  Just to clarify, the Sumac we are speaking of here is in the Genus: Rhus, the Poison Sumac is in the Genus Toxidendron, with Poison Ivy and Poison Oak.  To make matters more confusing Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac used to be considered to be in the genus Rhus with the non-poisonous Sumacs, but all that has been straightened out and currently the non-poisonous Sumacs are in the genus Rhus and the skin irritating plants are in the genus Toxidendron.  Either way all these plants are in the same family, but so are mangos, cashews and pistachios.  The Sumacs(Genus: Rhus) are a genus of plants native to North America and other parts of the world, there are many species, two of the more common species that apply to this article are Staghorn sumac(Rhus typhina) and Smooth Sumac(Rhus glabra).

Edibility and Culinary Use

Rhus typhina, Staghorn Sumac fruit cluster
Rhus typhina, Staghorn Sumac fruit cluster (Photo By: Rasbak / Wikimedia Commons)

The fruits of this plant are edible, but only really enjoyable if prepared properly.  These small berries are used to make a drink called Indian Lemonade, that is of course referring to Native American Indians, since the plant is native to North America. The first step is to collect one or two bunches of the ripened fruits, which are available in late summer to early fall, you will know they are ripe because of their maroon color. There are different ways to prepare the drink but my favorite way is to fill a pitcher with cold water and just stick the fruit bunches in, and let it sit for an hour or 2, you can even let it sit in the fridge. See our staghorn sumac tea recipe for more detail.  As the name “Indian Lemonade” implies the fruits have a sour taste which will transfer to the water the longer it sits.  It is better to use cold or room temperature water because hot water will bring out the tannins from the fruits and add a bitter taste. The berries have also been used to add flavor to pies.

Health Benefits

Sumac is an ancient medicinal plant.  Modern day studies have shown that sumac is antimicrobial.  This is probably one reason sumac has been used to treat sore throats.  Like many wild medicinal and wild edible plants sumac also has antioxidant properties.  Another unique medicinal property of sumac is that it has hypoglycemic properties,which means that it lowers blood sugar which could help people with some conditions like hyperglycemia.  Like many other tart or sour tasting foods, this plant also contains Vitamin C.

Cautions

Edible Sumac is in the same family as Poison Sumac, Poison Ivy and Poison Oak. Some people who have very sensitive skin may have an allergic reaction, this is also known to occur in other plants in this family like mangos and cashews.  Another thing to watch out for is that sometimes they are loaded with small grubs on the inside of the berry cluster.  The way to avoid this is to pick them right when they turn ripe, but I don’t worry about them, they probably add more nutrition to the drink anyways.

Conclusion

A great way to make a healthy lemonade-like drink is to use Sumac Berries.  It really makes a great tasting drink. Ripe Sumac berries are easy to spot since they are dark maroon and stick up at the top of the plant. They ripen in the summer which is good because it’s a refreshing thing to have on a hot day.



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Lamb’s Quarters, A Great Spinach Substitute

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Chenopodium album, Lamb's Quarters leaf
Chenopodium album, Lamb’s Quarters leaf (Photo By: Rasbak / Wikimedia Commons)

Lamb’s Quarters (Genus: Chenopodium) is a group of wild edible plants that is native to North America and other parts of the world.  Lamb’s Quarters is also known as Lambs Quarter, Pigweed, Goosefoot, Fat Hen and other colloquial names.  There are many species of Lamb’s Quarters, two very common species in America are Chenopodium album, and Chenopodium berlandieri.  Both of these species grow in all 50 states as well as the vast majority of Canada.  Many of the other species are very similar and should have the same edibility and uses.

Edibility and Culinary Use

Lamb’s Quarters have edible leaves, flowers, and seeds.  The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and make a very good spinach substitute(check out this Garlic Lamb’s Quarters Recipe), they have a mild flavor and go well with many things.  The flower clusters can be eaten and when picked before blooming are said to resemble broccoli in taste and texture.  The seeds are also edible but should be soaked in water and cooked because they contain saponins.  Quinoa(Chenopodium quinoa) which is becoming a popular grain sold in health food stores is a type of Lamb’s Quarters.  Many plants of this genus have been food for Native North and South American Indigenous people starting as far back as 3000 years ago.

Health Benefits

Chenopodium berlandieri, Lamb's Quarters leaf
Chenopodium berlandieri, Lamb’s Quarters leaf (Photo By: Matt Lavin / Wikimedia Commons)

The leaves contain small amounts of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and the seeds contain much more proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.  This plant also contains many other nutrients including: Calcium, Phosphorus, Iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin B1 and Vitamin B2.  In General this is a very nutritious plant, and very abundant, we can see why it has been a Native American food for at least 3000 years.

Cautions

Lamb’s Quarters contain saponins which are poisonous to people but are not absorbed well in our digestive systems so will usually pass right through with no harm.  Cooking and soaking in water also will destroy or remove saponins.  Lamb’s Quarters also contain oxalic acid just like rhubarb, spinach and some other common vegetables. Oxalic acid aggravates conditions such as rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity. Cooking this plant will help break down oxalic acid.  Lamb’s Quarters can also concentrate high levels of nitrates if grown in soil with high levels of nitrates. Lamb’s Quarters can also concentrate hydrogen-cyanide if grown in very nitrogen rich soils. Despite all these cautions Lamb’s Quarters has always been considered a very nutritious food, most of these cautions have to do with eating the plant in very large amounts so eat in moderation and you can enjoy the health benefits without worrying about the cautions.

Conclusion

Chenopodium album, Lamb's Quarters leaf
Chenopodium album, Lamb’s Quarters leaf (Photo By: Enrico Blasutto / Wikimedia Commons)

A healthy and abundant food, Lamb’s Quarters has a number of uses and is a great general purpose wild edible.  I usually eat the leaves raw when I pass by a plant.  They often grow in fields and garden plots, so I leave a few standing when weeding my garden. They are edible from spring till fall so there is lot of opportunity to eat and enjoy Lamb’s Quarters.



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