Have you ever found something out about a plant that changed the way you looked at it from then on? This is what happens a lot of the time with the purslane plant as many people see it as a weed. However, what a lot of people don’t know is that the purslane plant is actually edible and very nutritious.
The purslane plant is actually edible, and many people choose to add the freshly cut greens to their salads to introduce a slightly sweet or tart taste.
Defining the Purslane Plant
Purslane or Portulaca oleracea is an annual that looks a lot like and is related to the portulaca. Where this plant originated is a mystery. However, today you can find the purslane plant on the shores of the Mediterranean through Southeast Asia and the Middle East to Malaysia and the Australasia region. It’s widely accepted that humans spread this plant, and you can also find it growing in North America. There is evidence that this plant’s arrival predated European colonization.
The purslane plant is a succulent, and it grows in virtually any type of soil in full sun. In the wild, this plant will grow horizontally instead of vertically, so the plants only get an inch tall. They form a very dense mat that can be up to 16 inches wide per plant, and there are newer cultivars that grow upright. The stems and leaves are very fleshy, and they can store water to make this plant very tolerant to drought. Unlike the needle-like, thin leaves portulaca has, purslane leaves are very round and broad, similar to what you’ll see on the jade plant.
The flowers the purslane plant produces are small, and they’re usually only ¼-inch across. They bloom in the late spring to late summer months, and the flowers only open for a few hours on hot, sunny days from midmorning until very early afternoon. However, pollinators manage to visit the plant during this short window, but it’s not strictly necessary because the flowers are self-fertile and don’t need pollination from insects or bees.
The small flowers will produce seed capsules, and a big purslane plant can easily produce upwards of 240,000 seeds per year. Purslane is very difficult to get rid of once it takes hold because the seeds can stay viable in the soil for 40 years.
Purslane Plant History and Cultivation
The purslane plant has now naturalized to most parts of the word from Southern Europe to North America. It is thought that it originally came from Southern Europe. There is evidence of people across North America cultivating and foraging for it long before the Europeans came. Historically, it was originally cultivated in Asia, central Europe, and the Mediterranean area.
You can also forage for and eat it if it grows wild, and it’s usually much more intense and pungent when it comes to the flavor this way. Cultivated purslane plants are much less bitter with a sweeter flavor, and the cultivated plants grow in zones 5 to 10 with bigger leaves and a more upright growth habit.
No matter which cultivar you choose, you want to ensure that it’s not considered invasive in your area or you could get in trouble if you’re found cultivating it.
Common Purslane Cultivars
There are dozens of cultivars available on the market, but there are some that are much more popular than others. If your local garden center or nursery has the purslane plant, it’s usually in the ornamental category. However, these usually have chemical or pesticide treatments, and it’s not recommended you eat them.
- Common – This is the typical garden purslane plant variety, and it grows along the ground as a neat ground cover. The plant will spread up to 18 inches when it matures.
- Golden – As a cultivar of P. oleracea var. Sativa, this purslane plant usually grows very tender greenish-yellow leaves. It gets roughly 10 inches tall at full maturity.
- Goldgelber – This purslane plant will mature within 26 short days, and it spreads up to a foot wide. Also, it gets roughly six inches tall as it matures.
- Gruner Red – Finally, this purslane plant comes with pink colored stems, and this is very much like common purslane you pull as a weed. It has oval-shaped, thick, green leaves that are roughly an inch long, and they get up to a foot tall.
Purslane Growing Conditions
Depending on the hardiness zone you live in, you may want to plant purslane right as the last frost of the season recedes. It has a 10 day germination period, and you can start harvesting your first crop in four to six weeks under the following growing conditions:
Generally speaking, the purslane plant is one of the easiest you can care for. It’s often classified as being invasive, and it’ll grow in the worst conditions possible. Purslane doesn’t require fertilizer applications to survive. When you first plant it, you can add some compost to the soil or a slow-release fertilizer to boost the growth. This will also encourage better flower production, and a 20-20-20 fertilizer is fine.
If there isn’t ample light to support your purslane plant, it won’t thrive. You want to pick out an area in your yard or garden that gets a minimum amount of eight hours of full, direct sunlight each day to keep it happy.
This is a very hardy plant that can survive in virtually any soil, but it excels in any soil that drains well. The soil you have in most vegetable gardens is perfect for the purslane plant to take off and grow.
If you’re not sure about the last frost of the season’s date, you can plant it by average temperature instead. As a general rule, you can safely plant it when the daytime temperatures average around 70°F. The purslane plant will do very well in drought-like conditions, and it’ll grow very rapidly when the temperatures get between 85°F and 90°F. Summer crops are usually very large, and they won’t bolt like some lettuce types will when the temperatures exceed 90°F.
Since the purslane plant is a succulent, it’s very drought-tolerant and will grow strongly under drought conditions. So, it’s essential that you don’t over-water it. However, during the first 10 days after you plant it until it germinates, you want to keep the ground damp but not saturated.
Watering After Plants Emerge
Once the purslane plant germinates, you should continue watering it to dampen the soil. Some gardeners claim that once the plants take root, they don’t water it anymore. This will vary according to your environment. Don’t let your purse get stressed out because it has no water.
While this plant is very hardy and it can survive in a bed of gravel if it has to, it doesn’t tolerate wet roots. If you live in a space that gets higher rainfall during the active growing season, you may want to plant it in a greenhouse as this is a more controlled and protected space.
Getting the growing conditions right virtually guarantees that you’ll have a thriving purslane plant that quickly spreads through your yard or garden.
Growing the Purslane Plant for Microgreens
Microgreens from the purslane plant are juicy and tart, and you can easily grow them all year-round on your windowsill. Since they have such a rapid growth habit, you’ll have a constant supply to use. To grow them, you’ll start by getting a seed tray or wide, flat container and fill it with potting mix until it’s at least ½-inch deep. Sprinkle your seeds over the soil after you lightly moisten it and gently press them in. Put the tray in a sunny space where the temperature stays around 75°F.
Keep the soil moist until your seeds sprout, and this takes roughly a week. Once they sprout, you should let the surface of the soil dry out between watering sessions. When the greens poke out of the soil with the first leaves, you can harvest them. This usually happens between 14 and 21 days.
Unlike other plants, the embryonic seed leaves are delicious and succulent, so you won’t have to wait for true leaves to develop before you pick them. You can pick them as you intend to use them, and leave a dozen seedlings or so alone that you can then transplant outside later.
After you plant your seeds, you usually start harvesting them within 50 days. The time of day that you harvest this plant will impact the flavor profile. In the morning, the plants have a higher malic acid content, and this makes them have a more tart taste. In the evening hours, they are a bit sweeter due to a lower malic acid content.
To harvest the purslane plant, you’ll need sharp scissors that you snip sections off the plant and put them in a cool location. You can harvest one stem at a time and it’ll regrow, or you can harvest as much as you want at one time. You do want to leave roughly two inches of plant growing above the soil so it comes back when it’s warm enough.
Preserving the Purslane Plant
You can store your harvested purslane plant stems and leaves in the refrigerator or in a plastic bag wrapped in a cotton cloth for up to a week. They can last a few days longer if you don’t wash them off before you put them in the refrigerator.
If you don’t plan on using them right away, and this may happen if you decide to harvest a large patch at one time, you can dry your purslane plant. Dried purslane can work well as a thickening agent in desserts or soups.
Because purslane has so much water in it, it’s best to pull the leaves off of the stems and lay them in a single layer on a cookie sheet or rack. Then, using an oven or food dehydrator set to 135°F, you’ll dry your purslane plant until it’s brittle. You can then use them as a dried herb in your cooking, or you can blend them to make a powder you can add to smoothies and soups.
It’s easy to harvest and save purslane to use in a range of dishes from desserts and smoothies to soup thickeners.
Managing Purslane Pests and Disease
The purslane plant is very hardy, and it usually doesn’t attract pests or succumb to diseases that you’ll have to address. However, there are a few things to watch for, including:
Virtually the only disease that the purslane plant has a problem with is black stem rot, and the fungus Dichotomophthora portulacae causes it. This infection usually only takes hold if you overwater the plants or if you live in a very moist climate. You’ll notice that the stems have black lesions that spread to the leaves. You can use a copper or sulfur-based fungicide to get rid of it before it gets to the leaves. Regularly applying neem oil will take care of a mild case that only causes a few spots.
Portulaca Leaf Mining Weevil
The Hippurus bertrandi weevil larvae are tiny grubs that can quickly chew tunnels through your purslane plant leaves. Adults can also cause some damage as they feed on the edges and surfaces of your plant’s leaves and develop seed pod stems. This causes only a small fraction of the damage the larvae cause. Common purslane usually has issues with these pests.
You can usually find it in fruit orchards because this is where the common purslane plant grows as a weed. You can use a targeted insecticide to get rid of them, and you want to apply it at night as this is when the bugs are at their most active. You can also lure parasitic wasps to the area as they feed on this pest.
Purslane Blotchmine Sawfly
The larvae of this pest are another one that tends to eat tunnels through your purslane plant leaves. They can leave blotchy or black spots on the leaves, and a more severe infestation can destroy a whole crop if you don’t treat it. The yellow-hued, pale larvae will burrow underground to pupate, and females will come out early in the spring to lay eggs along the edges of your plants.
The ½-inch long dark colored or black adults can be challenging to see because they only live for a day. The larvae spend the majority of the time feeding ginside instead of on the surfaces of the purslane plant leaves. Multiple generations of this pest can come about in a single year, and the purslane plant is this pest’s only host. You can find them in help fields, but purslane commonly grows here as a weed too.
If you do find evidence that larvae have been feeding on your purslane plants, remove any bugs you can see by picking them off by hand before applying diatomaceous earth around the plants. You can squish any leaves with mining damage in your fingers to kill the larvae or remove and get rid of them. Encouraging parasitic wasps to come to the area will also get rid of them as they love feeding on them.
How to Get Rid of the Purslane Plant
If the purslane plant is starting to take over your garden or yard, you’ll need to work extremely hard to get rid of it. The seeds stay viable for decades, so they’ll keep coming back again and again. Tilling or hoeing the ground will spread the seeds because they can root from tiny pieces of plants. The best way to get rid of them is to pull up the entire plant, and you’ll have to get every piece with the entire root system.
You’ll have the most success with this after a soaking rain comes through and the soil is wet because it’s much easier to pull the whole plant out. You want to pull it as soon as you see the plant, and don’t allow it to flower or it’ll produce thousands of seeds. Don’t put any of the plants you pull into the compost bin as they’ll happily root and spread. Put them in a garbage bag and toss them in the trash.
This process will take a few years. However, if you pull every plant you see, it’ll eventually stop coming back. Just don’t disturb the soil later as this will bring the seeds to the surface and you’ll have to start the pulling process over.
The purslane plant is a very hardy ground cover that is edible. It’s a great way to cover large areas of your garden, but it can also quickly become invasive and take over since it self-seeds with thousands of seeds per plant. If you want to grow it, follow our instructions and consider making it a container plant so it stays neat.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.