Is Purslane a Friend or Foe of the Garden?

Is Purslane a Friend or Foe of the Garden?

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One focus of homesteading and gardening the “Permaculture Way” is recognizing the natural relationships and functions of every created thing in your sphere of influence. By always looking for this we can notice when something is out of balance and work to maintain a proper and beneficial relationship. This is important to understand when answering this question.

Is purslane good or bad for my garden? The answer is yes! purslane can be both a friend and a foe in the garden depending on how you use it and manage it. In order to get the most from our gardens, it is not only important to understand the vegetables we are growing but to know all we can about the weeds that pop up as well, and purslane is one such common weed you are likely to see.

What is Purslane?

This plant is known by other names such as verdolaga, pigweed, little hogweed, redroot, pursley, and moss rose and is an annual succulent that can be found throughout the world. Purslane has smooth, reddish stems and leaves clustered at stem joints and ends. Purslane grows a small yellow flower about a 1/4″ wide and can bloom throughout the growing season. The flowers open singly at the center of the leaf cluster for only a few hours on sunny mornings. Seeds are formed in a tiny pod, which opens when the seeds are mature. Purslane has a taproot with fibrous secondary roots and is able to grow in poor compacted soils and drought.

You’ve probably seen purslane growing in cracks of sidewalks and poor soil areas, or just growing in your lawn along with the grass, plantain, and dandelions without even realizing it.

Is Purslane Invasive?

It certainly can be if one means by invasive that it will grow in abundance in places you don’t necessarily want it. I have found it to be a very fast-spreading prolific plant that must be managed to keep it from taking over a space. I personally find it hard to think of any plant as an invasive that is edible, “invasive edible” equals “abundant food” to me, and how can that be a bad thing.

“Some plants become weeds simply by virtue of their success rather than any other factor. You merely want less of them.”

-Monty Don

Can Purslane Be Beneficial?

Purslane has many benefits, let’s look at three things that make this “weed” one worth keeping around in the garden, at least on a manageable level.

1. Culinary Benefits

One day someone told me that all that purslane trying to take over my garden was edible and I tasted some and never looked at it the same way again. So I did some research to find out a little more about eating it.

Purslane can be eaten raw as a leaf vegetable and used in salads. We know many things can be eaten this way and are good for you but I find that purslane is one of my favorites, it really does taste good and I find the texture pleasing as well. The stems, leaves, and flower buds are all edible. Purslane can also be cooked like a stir fry or used in soups and stews, when used this way it has a mucilaginous quality that will thicken the stock which makes it ideal for this use.

Purslane is a very nutritious plant containing many needed vitamins but one thing that makes this plant unique is that it contains more omega-3 fatty acids than almost any other plant with only a couple of exceptions as well as containing two different potent antioxidants. Because of purslane’s high nutritional values, many consider this to be a medicinal plant and use it both topically as well as internally.

A Comparison Chart of a Few Plant Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids (g/100 g).

VegetablesAmount in Grams
Avocados0.1
Raw Kale0.2
Corn0.3
Beans0.6
Purslane0.9
Oat Germ1.4

2. Beneficial as a Groundcover

This is one-way purslane’s invasive qualities can actually be used for good. Purslane grows close to the ground and spreads out to create a thick mat that suppresses other weeds and helps to keep the soil cool and moist. This living mulch can be a great benefit to the garden but also it must be managed because it can easily overtake your other plants and choke them out.

I regularly go through the garden beds with a pair of scissors and cut the purslane down low and cut it back from around the other plants to keep them from being crowded. When used this way I find this weed to be a great benefit to the garden. I particularly like making use of it around taller plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

3. An Abundance of Organic Material for Compost

Again the invasive qualities of purslane make this plant a good source of organic material. This fast-growing plant will easily create piles of material to add to the compost pile to be a further benefit to the garden later. There was a time when I used to bring in organic material from other places to my property but now plenty is produced right here to supply all my needs.

It is important to note that if you are going to compost purslane you should only add it to hot compost piles as this will destroy the viability of the seeds and prevent spreading the plant where it’s not wanted when you use the compost.

How Do I Get Purslane In My Garden?

OK, so after reading about the benefits of purslane you might be thinking you would like to have purslane growing in places that it’s not, so how do I get it there.

There are a couple of ways; First, you can harvest the seeds from plants that are growing elsewhere. Here is a great video on how to harvest the seeds. The video is of a cultivated variety but works the same for wild purslane.

Another option is to purchase seeds of a cultivated variety of purslane. Many seed providers sell these seeds, personally, I’m a fan of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and their care of customers and high-quality seeds. You can find purslane on their website here: https://www.rareseeds.com/store/vegetables/portulaca-oleracea/purslane-green

Conclusion

As you can see, purslane can be a very useful plant with proper management but can also be destructive to your garden if let go. So whether you consider purslane a friend or foe of your garden is up to you, but I hope you will consider the qualities of this wonderful plant and make the best use of it.

Harold Thornbro

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