Plants - Native Plants and Wildflowers

Purslane: An edible groundcover

John Kallas
Photography by
John Kallas

Don't send this nutrient-packed succulent to the compost! How to harvest this misunderstood weed

I've never been a plumber, though I've dabbled in it as any manly kind of guy would. And while you don't have to be a plumber to eat wild plants, it might help you to recognize purslane. On the ground, purslane looks like a Lilliputian attempt to pipe water along at foot level. Tiny pipes, no; but a plant with succulent stems and leaves, yes. Purslane is not well known as a food in North America, and this is perplexing because it is a very popular food in the Mediterranean and many other parts of the world.

What is it?
Purslane is a small-leaved plant whose reddish stems look like a network of tiny plumbing laid along the ground with offshoots of small leafy stems. It makes a good edible ground cover.

Family: Portulacaceae
Species: Portulaca oleracea
Official Species Name: Portulaca oleracea L.
Synonyms (Historical Names): Portulaca neglecta
Mackenzie & Bush:
Portulaca retusa Engelm

Common Names:

  • Purslane
  • Pursley
  • Pusley
  • Portulaca
  • Little hogweed

An herbaceous annual weed naturalized from Southern Europe, it is widespread and abundant in North America, primarily where humans have invaded and where soil has been disturbed. It loves wet summers and is not found in abundance in cold regions and high elevations.

Healthy benefits
I was recently asked by someone how purslane could be edible when he had heard it was poisonous. Purslane is no more poisonous than spinach. This is a normal food that can be eaten with impunity in the context of a normal diverse diet.

Nutritionally, purslane is a powerhouse. It has more than double the omega-3s that kale has and, as far as I know, more than any other leafy green ever analyzed. It has over four times the vitamin E of turnip leaves, more than any other leafy green ever analyzed. It has glutathione and other antioxidants and about as much iron as spinach. It also has reasonable amounts of other nutrients as well as phytochemicals, like all these leafy greens. So purslane is no slouch, not a poison, and definitely worth eating.

Rich in omega-3s
Many people studying the Mediterranean diet think that it is foods like purslane and other omega-3 greens that give the Greeks their good balance of fats. Olive oil only contributes some of the omega-3s; the greens, walnuts, oily fish, and a few other foods give them the rest of what they need.


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