In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
September, 2010
Regional Report

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3556

Purslane -- a weed but also wonderfully nutritious plant!

A Very Nutritious Weed: Purslane

The first time I became aware that purslane had some culinary/nutritional value was from some Hispanic Master Gardeners on a tour of my garden. I'd just pulled up a pileful of purslane from the bare pathways and other low-maintenance areas where they thrive. These were my favorite love-to-hate weeds since I was a kid, when I'd spent many choreful hours hoeing them each summer.
I'd not yet taken the pile of weeds to the compost pile, and the Master Gardeners, who called the plant "verdolaga," were horrified that I was going to throw them away. They pleaded with me to take them and replant in their own gardens. Of course I was delighted to pass along the plants to them, but also surprised and pleased to know that the "weeds" had some value.

Fresh, the fleshy leaf cluster at the stem tips are crunchy and taste lemony. Cooked, they offer a tangy addition to ratatouille-type concoctions. Further described in "Specialty and Minor Crops Handbook," University of California Publication 3346, they "provide more Vitamin A and C and omega-3 fatty acids than most other vegetables"! Pretty cool for a weed! Other plants in the same family -- which we often appreciate more -- include moss rose, miner's lettuce, and redmaids (desert rock purslane).

In the years since those novice Master Gardeners taught me something new, I no longer am "plagued" with purslane because I heavily mulch my entire garden, pathways as well as growing beds and under fruit trees, with continually-applied layers of mulch so that it is always three to four inches deep. Whatever organic mulch-makings are available for free is fine to me -- leaves, neighbors' grass clippings (untreated with either fertilizer or herbicides) , shaved-wood-based horse-stable bedding, straw-based rabbit bedding, etc.

But, as pleased as I am with this constantly-decomposing organic matter enriching my soil and lessening its water needs, this exclusion of light means that purslane no longer germinates anywhere in my garden. And I miss it!


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