PURSLANE, Portulaca oleracea

In the 1854 classic Walden, Henry David Thoreau gave us a glimpse of one man’s attitude toward the simple vegetables, plants and herbs that could sustain us in life, which are often shunned while searching for more glamorous and tasty foods. To this, he said “I learned that a man may use as a simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength. I have made a satisfactory dinner of a dish of purslane which I gathered and boiled. Yet, men have come to such a pass that they starve, not for want of necessaries, but for want of luxuries.” I think this statement by Henry David Thoreau could be the basis of many who will go hungry or starve while surrounded by abundant, edible war food in the form of plant life.

A few years ago, when we lived in Leeds, Utah, we had a nice big garden. One of the weeds that seemed to come around every year was purslane. I guess it came to us through the irrigation water. When I first encountered purslane, I got the books out and studied about it. I found out that is was good to eat, so I tried it. It wasn’t the greatest thing in the garden, but in no way was it bad or tasteless. I tried it in soups and salads and even in steamed vegetables. It tasted good in all three dishes. It has kind of a tart taste, but a good flavor.

One day, while I was gathering some purslane for lunch, a nice old German neighbor stopped by to visit and see the garden. He saw me picking purslane and asks me what I was doing. I told him that this was going to be part of my lunch. He exclaimed, “Ach, don’t eat those weeds, throw them away. Thus is poor man’s food.” He said, “Come over and I’ll give you some kohlrabi. Now that is good to eat.” I laughed and said, “I have other things that I can eat, but I want to eat this.” He said, “But those weeds, that’s poor man’s food throw them away.”

I guess I should have told him that almost all vegetables were weeds at one time, and almost all fruits and vegetables growing in a wild condition could be called “poor man’s food.”

I think the lesson we could learn from this is that our usual fruits and vegetables not always available to us. What would happen to us if the supermarket ran out of food? Where would we go? What would we do? Would we recognize purslane, or many others “poor man’s foods” that are growing wild, or would we starve?

Purslane or “pusley,” as it is known in many parts of the country is a member of the portulaca family. It is an annual that grows profusely in good, sandy soil throughout the world. It is a succulent that grows close to the ground. The fat, plump leaves and stems are mostly water. In fact, some studies show it contains over 90 percent water and we all know how very important water is to us all. It is a tonic and blood builder. Its paddle-shaped leaves are fat, shiny and very green. It has a little five-to-seven petaled yellow flower that nestles in a rosette of leaves. The blossom develops into a tiny pod that is loaded with little black seeds. When ripe, the lid pops off and the seeds scatter.

Through purslane is mostly water, each 100 grams contain 2,500 I.U. of vitamin A, 25 mg of vitamin C, 3.5 mg of iron and other minerals.

Purslane is good for urinary problems. The juice is used for strangury, or suppressed urine, when the urine comes out in drops. For centuries they said, “For a burning fever or to cool the liver, chew purslane.” It’s also good for scurvy. The fresh juice, mixed with honey, is good for dry cough and shortness of breath.

Purslane tips are great in a salad with olive oil and vinegar, steamed and eaten like spinach, or cooked as pot herb. Most countries raise it and sell purslane in markets. It can be dug into the soil as a fertilizer. But first, eat it, you’ll like it.

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