Great news if you hate weeding! Purslane — known as verdolaga or verdolagas in Mexico, where it’s a popular staple — turns out to be one of the healthiest foods to harvest from your yard this summer! Learn why verdolaga is considered a superfood and how to use it in numerous delicious and healthy purslane recipes.
What is Purslane or Verdolaga and Why Eat It?
The deeper I dive into foraging, the more I’m astounded by all the edible weeds most of us don’t realize we can harvest for free food.
Eating weeds is not as weird as it sounds, I promise! For one thing, many of these plants have only come to be regarded as weeds since the triumph of the grass lawn in the twentieth century reclassified these tasty and useful plants as invaders into perfectly manicured patches of green. Dandelions, for instance, were purposely imported to the Americas by European settlers who knew their value as food and medicine. Here’s lots more on the health benefits of dandelions and how to use them.
(Here’s why growing alternatives to grass is an important move in your quest to live a more eco-friendly life.)
Who Doesn’t Want Free Superfood?
Once upon a time, plants like purslane and dandelions were just food. The wisdom of treating them as such is becoming apparent to grocers, who increasingly include these nutritious wild greens in the produce aisle. I consider among the many terrific perennial vegetables worth considering adding to your garden.
If the price tag of so-called superfoods like acai and spirulina get you down, look no further than your nearest weed patch for plenty of super — and super-delicious — food you can get for free. We’re not only talking about weeds here, but yummy fruits like mulberries, juneberries, and more.
Lots of delicious green foods are probably growing in your yard right now, waiting to add flavor, color, and nutrition to your plate. Long before any of the greens in our garden are ready to harvest, we make gorgeous foraged salads that include bitter and delicious dandelion greens, Virginia waterleaf, and wild violets.
Every year, I wait eagerly for the ground to warm enough that my purslane reappears, since it’s not only delicious but also incredibly good for you. (More on that below.)
Here in the U.S., purslane is not one of the better known weeds you can eat, but in other parts of the world it’s commonly used in all kinds of dishes. In addition to a number of Mexican favorites, you’ll find Turkish and Greek purslane recipes featuring cooked and raw purslane. I’m told it’s also popular in France, and who knows more about food than the French?
Gandhi reportedly loved purslane, and Thoreau claims to have happily supped on it at Walden as part of his experiment in self-sufficiency:
I learned from my two years’ experience that it would cost incredibly little trouble to obtain one’s necessary food, even in this latitude; that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength. I have made a satisfactory dinner, satisfactory on several accounts, simply off a dish of purslane (Portulaca oleracea) which I gathered in my cornfield, boiled and salted.
Also known as pursley, little hogweed, duckweed (and sometimes as pigweed, which is confusing, because most people know pigweed as amaranth, another wild edible), purslane goes by many different names in languages from all over the globe. Purslane’s botanical name is portulaca oleracea.
Why to Love Verdolaga: Health Benefits of Purslane
Purslane gets labeled a superfood most often because it’s the highest plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, an anti-inflammatory compound believed to protect against cardiovascular problems, cancer, and other chronic diseases.
Purslane is also rich in vitamins C and E as well as beta carotene, iron, magnesium, and potassium, which many of us fall short on. More details on nutritional composition here. Purslane may also help regulate blood sugar.
Herbalists use purslane externally to soothe burns, sores, and stings, and internally to treat digestive and urinary issues as well as coughs. It has been studied for anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects as well.
Note that like many other green vegetables (like spinach and rhubarb), purslane contains oxalates, which in high amounts can aggravate kidney conditions and rheumatoid arthritis. Cooking or serving with yogurt can help reduce oxalate content.
Purslane Recipes: What Does Verdolaga Taste like?
This succulent plant is juicy and crunchy. It has a slightly sour flavor, especially the thick stems. The sourness will likely be greater if you harvest purslane earlier in the day than later. The leaves are milder and lovely in salads, on their own or with other vegetables to add additional texture. Tossed with a simple vinaigrette, purslane makes a welcome change from lettuce or spinach.
I think the sourness can overtake your smoothie if you add too much. But a small amount of purslane with other fruits and veggies will up the nutritional ante of whatever you make.
It also becomes mucilaginous (some would say slimy) when cooked, so it works as a thickener the same way okra does. But if you’re opposed to slime, you may want to be careful not to overcook.
How to Identify Purslane or Verdolaga for Delicious Purslane Recipes
Many people find purslane’s succulent leaves similar in look to jade plant. It has a sprawling growth habit and thick pink stems. The wild variety grows low to the ground; if you plant purchased seeds, you’ll likely find they grow more upright.
Small yellow flowers that bloom in midsummer produce pods filled with copious tiny black seeds, which are also edible, though highly inconvenient to collect.
As with all foraging pursuits, always consult a good field guide before picking any wild food. I like John Kallas’s Edible Wild Plants and Peterson’s Guide to Edible Wild Plants. Collect your purslane from an area you know hasn’t been treated with chemicals. This would include the sidewalk cracks purslane loves to grow in, as they likely accumulate whatever chemicals have run off there or been tracked on the soles of people’s shoes.
My go-to source for foraging info, “Wildman” Steve Brill has more details and pictures in his compendium of edible wild plants.
Heed his warning about a similar-looking but NOT edible plant spurge (which, once you know what to look for, you’ll never mistake for purslane):
Beware of spurge, a different-looking poisonous creeping wild plant that sometimes grows near purslane. The stem is wiry, not thick, and it gives off a white, milky sap when you break it.
Here’s a helpful overview of how to tell purslane from spurge.
If you’d like to become more expert in the art of foraging, the Herbal Academy has an online foraging course that teaches plant identification and ethical wildcrafting practices.
Since purslane works pretty well as a groundcover, if I find it in my garden, I let it be, harvesting what I need and encouraging it to spread. I also find it in abundance when I’m picking in the fields of our CSA, where pulling it and stuffing it in my bag is also a public service. Since there’s so much stuff coming from the farm at that point in the season, most of the purslane I find there winds up in the freezer for winter smoothies.
Grow or Forage Verdolaga for Purslane Recipes
Since I’m sure you’re now convinced of verdolaga’s awesomeness, if you find it in your yard, harvest at will, as this tough little plant is really hard to kill. If you fall for purslane like I did, you might try to spread it. I’ve tried collecting the little black seeds and planting them, but have not had much success propagating purslane in my yard. Odd, since it’s known as invasive.
I also bought seeds for a cultivated variety known as golden purslane. No luck with that either. If you succeed in planting purslane in your yard or garden, let me know your secret!
But you don’t have to grow it yourself to harvest plenty of this nutritious vegetable. One of your neighbors will probably be more than pleased to have you pull up as much you like. Or keep an eye out for it at your CSA farm; unless it’s something they harvest for the share, you’ll be doing them a favor by gathering up as much as you can use.
If it’s not in your yard or neighborhood, you can probably buy a bunch for a buck or two at your farmers’ market or ethnic grocery.
How to Use Verdolaga for Purslane Recipes
Young purslane will be more tender and mild tasting than older plants. The small leaves are delicious raw.
♦ Add leaves to your salads or sandwiches for a succulent, lemony bite.
♦ Leaves and small stems can be chopped and thrown into smoothies and soups or blended into pestos.
♦ Larger stems can be used in stirfries and thrown into soups.
Storage: Verdolaga doesn’t hold up well in the refrigerator, so use within a few days or freeze.
Purslane Recipes from Around World
So let’s get cooking with some delicious purslane recipes! Here are 20 ways to enjoy the abundant purslane, verdolaga, or whatever you prefer to call this superfood masquerading as a weed in your yard.
You can always just pick a little and combine it with whatever you’re making, whether it’s a smoothie, soup, salad or stir fry. Or make it the star with one of these recipes that highlight the tender deliciousness of this as yet underappreciated superfood.
♦ Purslane Tzatziki (Seeking Joyful Simplicity)
♦ Anti-Inflammatory Smoothie with Purslane, Pineapple, and Ginger (HealthyGreenSavvy)
♦ Purslane and Bulghur Pilaf (Sanaa Cooks)
♦ Black Barley, Purslane, and Watermelon Salad (Healthy Green Kitchen)
♦ Purslane Salad (Food52)
♦ Cucumber Purslane Yogurt Salad (Commonsense Home)
♦ Purslane and Herb Salad (Saveur)
♦ Persimmon, Pomegranate, Purslane and Pepitas Salad (Food and Wine)
♦ Purslane Pesto (Lost Recipes Found)
♦ Purslane Relish (Leda Meredith)
♦ Purslane and Avocado Tacos (Epicurious)
♦ Mushroom Soup with Verdolaga (KiwiLimon)
♦ Purslane Gazpacho and Purslane Pickles (Susun Weed)
♦ Purslane Salad with Grilled Corn, Red Onion and Creamy Avocado Dressing (Brooklyn Supper — pictured below)
♦ Golichi Bhaji Purslane Stirfry (Sizzling Indian Recipes)
♦ Chicken with Purslane and Salsa Verde (Spicie Foodie)
♦ Quinoa, Pea, Avocado, Radish and Purslane Salad (Cannelle et Vanille)
♦ Pork Chops with Purslane in Tomatillo Sauce (Mexico in My Kitchen)
♦ Cheesy Onion Verdolaga (Edible Baja Arizona)
♦ Cream of Purslane Soup (Fresh Bites Daily)
Ever tried verdolaga? What are your favorite purslane recipes?
Pin to save this info on verdolaga and purslane recipes for later!
Photo credits: Wikimedia Images, veganamente, JeffSKleinman, judywitts, Harry Rose
Disclaimer: I’m a health enthusiast, not a medical professional. Content on this website is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to provide personalized medical advice. I draw on numerous health sources, some of which are linked above. Please consult them for more information and a licensed professional for personalized recommendations.