Forgotten treasure: the purslane

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798068-960x720-portulak-in-eiersauceLast week I found a weird herb in our local super market. On its label was written: portulak, in English purslane. When I asked the shopkeeper what a “heck” is it, she didn’t have the faintest idea about the herb. It must be a forgotten herb- she added shrugging her shoulders. -Okay, in spite of this I decided to buy it since I like to discover new stuffs. 

Then at home I started to google about the purslane and I have found the next: Common purslane, also known as (verdolaga, portulak, pigweed, little hogweed, red root, pursley) is an annual succulent in the family Portulacea. It contains more omega-3 fatty acids in particular than any other leafy vegetable plant. What?-I exclaimed. I thought omega-3 fatty acids just exists in fish, but not!

Further more studies have found that purslane has 0.01 mg/g of eicosapentaenoic acid as well. It also contains vitamins (mainly vitamin A, C, B,  E, carotenoids)-super!, and dietary minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron. Also present are two types of betalain alkaloid pigments, the reddish betacyanins (visible in the coloration of the stems) and the yellow betaxanthins (noticeable in the flowers and in the slight yellowish cast of the leaves).- I checked my pot plant and yes, the google was right about the colors! Both of these pigment types are potent antioxidants and have been found to have anti-mutagenic properties in laboratory studies. I will see after eating them!

In traditional Chinese medicine. Its leaves are used for insect or snake bites on the skin, boils, sores, pain from bee stings, bacillary dysentery, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, postpartum bleeding, and intestinal bleeding. Use is contraindicated during pregnancy and for those with cold and weak digestion. Purslane is a clinically effective treatment for oral lichen planus. (I don’t want to experience any above mentioned illness or pathological disorders, but in any case it’s good to know!)

Stop to blow its trumpet!- I thought after having learned all those facts about the purslane, I’m totally convinced to eat it.

It has an extensive distribution, assumed to be mostly anthropogenic, throughout the Old World extending from North Africa and Southern Europe through the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent to Australia. The species status in the New World is uncertain: in general, it is considered an exotic weed, however, there is evidence that the species was in  Crawford lake deposits in 1350-1539, suggesting that it reached North America in the pre-Columbian era. –Come on it was a weed!!! Given to pigs!-

Scientists suggested that the plant was already eaten by native Americans, who spread its seeds. How it reached the New World is currently unknown. It is naturalized elsewhere, and in some regions is considered an introduced weed.-You see I ‘ve told you!

Purslane in the history and in the kitchen

Purslane is widely used in East Mediterranean countries, archaeobotanical finds are common at many prehistoric sites. In historic contexts, seeds have been retrieved from the Samian Heraion period dating back to the 7th century BC. In the 4th century BC, Theophrastus names purslane, andrákhne as one of the several summer pot herbs that must be sown in April. As Portulaca-portulak it figures in the long list of comestibles enjoyed by the Milanese given by  Bonvesin de la Riva in his “Marvels of Milan” (in 1288). In antiquity, its healing properties were thought so reliable that Pliny the Elder, advised wearing the plant as an amulet to expel all evil. A common plant in parts of India, purslane is known as sanhti, punarva, paruppu keerai, “gangabayala kura”, or kulfa. (OMG I have eaten kulfa at my best friend’s house! It was divine, If I have thought…)

Although purslane is considered a weed in the United States, it may be eaten as a leaf vegetable. It has a slightly sour and salty taste and is eaten throughout much of Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Mexico. The stems, leaves and flower buds are all edible. Purslane may be used fresh as a salad, stir-fried, or cooked as spinach is, and because of its mucilaginous quality it also is suitable for soups and stews. The sour taste is due to oxalic and malic acid, the latter of which is produced through the pathway that is seen in many xerophytes (plants living in dry conditions), and is at its highest when the plant is harvested in the early morning.

Australian Aborigines use the seeds of purslane to make seedcakes.

Greeks, who call it andrakla  or glystrida, use the leaves and the stems with feta cheese, tomato, onion, garlic, oregano, and olive oil. They add it in salads, boil it, or add it to casseroled chicken.

In Turkey, besides being used in salads and in baked pastries, it is cooked as a vegetable similar to spinach. Similarly, in Egypt, it is cooked as a vegetable stew. Called Bakleh in Syria and Lebanon, is eaten raw in a famous salad called fattoush, and cooked as a garniture in fatayeh (triangular salted pastries).

In Albania, known as burdullak, it also is used as a vegetable similar to spinach, mostly simmered and served in olive oil dressing, or mixed with other ingredients as a filling for dough layers of byrek.

In the south of Portugal, baldroegas are used as a soup ingredient. In Pakistan, it is known as qulfa and is cooked as in stews along with lentils, similarly to spinach, or in a mixed green stew.

Although often identified as a “weed”, purslane is a vegetable rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, a cultivar, sativa, is shown here being grown in a ceramic pot.

My purslane salad looked like this! And yesterday I also prepared an omlette with purslane, fried in butter!purslane-salad

Purslane also finds mention in a translation of the Bible as a repulsive food. Job’s question in Job 6:6: “Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt or is there any taste in the slime of the purslane?” whereas the King James Version translates this verse as “Can that which is unsavory be eaten without salt? Or is there any taste in the white of an egg?”

 

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