Verdolagas, also known as purslane, pirpirim, and it's Latin name Portulaca oleracea (along with other names around the world) is one of my favorite edible garden weeds to forage in the summer, and the poster child for delicious, edible garden weeds. The plant has a long tradition of being used as a food, especially in Mexico and South America, where it's one of a number of edible wild greens known as quelites.
Unlike some of the wild plants I harvest, grabbing a basket of these doesn't mean going to the woods. The plant is a common garden weed, and the vast majority of the time I harvest it I'm just going to a friends garden with a basket to help them remove the weeds during the growing season. Typically I start to see purslane in June here in the Midwest, and I'll continue harvesting it throughout the year until the plants make flowers and start to get tough.
Look a likes
Spurge is a look a like that you don't want to eat that grows in the same places as purslane. The most common one I see should be Euphorbia maculata. After you look at the plants side by side, it's easy to tell them apart. Verdolagas have much thicker, juicy stems. Spurge doesn't look much like something you'd want to eat-it's flimsy and not very attractive.
The plant can be harvested in large quantities during the summer, for free, making it one of the most common summer greens I harvest. Here's some tips on harvesting:
- The most tender plants will be young, harvested before they produce flowers.
- I prefer perfect looking greens but it's common to see blemishes on the leaves. If you plan on cooking it, a blemish here and there isn't a problem. If I'm serving it raw in a salad, I prefer perfect-looking greens.
- The whole plant is edible, but some parts will be more tender than others, so I may use only the young growing tips if I'm serving it raw.
- If you continually remove or cut the plants back they'll continue to produce fresh tender stems and leaves throughout the growing season.
- Offering to help someone weed their garden is a great way to get your hands on the fresh greens.
- Asian, Latin, and Middle Eastern Grocers often carry different varieties of the plant (see below) so "harvesting" can also be picking some up at the store if you don't have access to a garden.
Processing and cleaning
Since they grow prostrate, or directly on the ground the plants are often very dirty, thankfully they're easy to clean. To clean the plants for cooking and eating, fill a large sink or tub full of cold water and put the plants in it, agitating and swishing them around with your hand. Leave the plants in the water for 20 minutes to refresh them, then remove, dry, and refrigerate in a zip-top bag. Stored in the fridge, fresh greens will last about a week.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Just like other wild leafy greens, these are a good, nutritious addition to your repertoire. The most talked about benefit of eating them I'm aware of is their concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. While I don't talk much about health benefits on this site, the fatty acid profile of the plant is pretty well-known and accepted.
Purslane is a very versatile plant, and can be cooked or served raw. Exactly which parts you eat and how much of them can depend on the age of the plants and how you plan to prepare them. Here's a few tips.
The greens are fantastic in a salad or as a garnish. For serving raw, I typically use only the young growing tips as pictured below. I discard the tough stems or save them to cook with other greens that need to be cooked to be tender.
Raw the greens have a great, crisp texture and they add a beautiful contrast to salads of leafy greens. Their chunky texture also means their great in composed salads made of ingredients cut into larger shapes, like the ensalada de verdolagas below.
This is a great green to cook as you would any other leafy green. For your first time, I recommend blanching it in boiling, salted water to calm the flavor a bit. The tougher stems may seem too firm to be good if you taste them raw, but after cooking they'll get soft and tender just like the stems of other greens.
I typically bend the stems to see where they're tender, breaking them like asparagus and discarding the tougher portion which is typically the central, large stem.
After cooking, some traditional recipes will dress the greens and stems, seasoning it as you would a salad. These are often eaten at room temperature in places where the summers are very warm. The gentle tartness of the cooled greens makes for a refreshing side dish.
Taste and texture
Unlike a lot of foraged greens I eat, purslane isn't bitter at all, but it does have a unique taste to it that will be new to some people. It has a slightly tart, sour taste, and a gentle slippery texture similar to mallow greens or okra when cooked, although it's not really noticeable unless you eat a big bowl of only purslane.
If you find the taste of it cooked in a pan too much at first, blanching it in salted water before cooking will help a lot, as will mixing it 50/50 with other greens, which is common in traditional recipes.
The plant is one of the most widely eaten wild greens I know of, and there's culinary traditions and specific recipes calling for it in South America, Morocco, Turkey, Northern and Southern Italy and Greece, as well North America, among other many other places. If you have any other spots to add where the plant is a traditional food, or have a recipe to share, please leave a comment.
While you can just toss the greens and tender tips in a salad, one of my favorite parts about foraging is learning about how other people cook and enjoy the same plants I harvest. Traditional recipes are traditional for a reason, making them a great place to start out experimenting with the plant in your kitchen. Here's a few you should try.
- Pirpirim Salatasi: A traditional salad of purslane mixed with garlic and yogurt.
- Quelites Guisadas: Mexican wild greens cooked with garlic, onion, tomato and jalapeno
- Bqula / Bakula: Probably the most well known and widely eaten dish of wild plants from Morocco, it's made from purslane and or mallow greens, flavored with olives, preserved lemon and spices.