Monday, July 25, 2011

One person's weed...another person's gift

The tiny pink flowers of Portulaca pilosa, commonly known as pink purslane.
Simply Living
July 25, 2011

Until recently, our yard had a number of bare spots. Not anymore. All of a sudden, many of those exposed areas are covered with the tiny pink flowers of Portulaca pilosa, commonly known as pink purslane.

I didn't plant these undomesticated relatives of moss rose and I doubt if a green-thumbed gremlin is sowing seeds behind my back. No, my surprise blooms came directly from nature. Although some call them weeds and scorn their appearance, to me, pink purslane is a gift I'm glad to receive.

Portulaca pilosa is a Florida native that loves hot weather and tolerates drought. A low-growing succulent, it attractsbees, butterflies and birds. Although pink purslane is one of its nicknames, it is also called shaggy portulaca, pigweed and kiss-me-quick, one of my favorite monikers because it not only suggests the flowers' lipstick color but also its fast-growing pace.

Perhaps the name that best captures the plant's essence is chisme, Spanish for "gossip" because that's how fast the seeds spread. Portulaca pilosa propagates easily through underground rhizomes, seeds and broken-off pieces of stem. It also has the uncanny ability to lie dormant for up to 40 years before sprouting and bursting into bloom.

That must be what happened in our yard. Dormant seeds were probably disturbed during recent excavations. With the ground upturned, underlying seeds found themselves facing a perfect storm for germination. The intense summer heat, sudden showers and limited botanical competition encouraged sprouting. And sprout they did. When I walked back from the barn on a recent morning, I saw that several brown patches of dirt had vanished beneath carpets of bright pink blooms.

Not everyone greets purslane's ability to pop up unexpectedly with such an enthusiastic welcome. Many people consider this ground-hugging wildflower a scourge on the landscape. To them, it is an invasive weed choking out grass, popping up through cracks in pavement and creeping its way into unwanted garden space. They strive to eliminate all traces of purslane by whatever means necessary.

I don't feel that way.

Why waste time and energy spewing environmentally dangerous herbicides on a plant that has so much to offer? In addition to being an attractive groundcover that thrives on neglect, flourishes in places where few other plants grow and attracts wildlife, purslane is also a powerhouse of nutritious value. This edible herb is high in vitamins A and C, contains traces of iron, calcium, potassium and phosphorus and has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other plant source.

In a 2006 TV broadcast of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Mehmet Oz touted purslane's merits.

"Purslane is rich in omega-3 fats," he said. "Those are the healthy oils we want to coat our membranes and our joints. You can make them in salads. In my home, we mix them with yogurt and garlic and it's just spectacular."

I haven't tried Dr. Oz's concoction, but in my own lazy way I've come to appreciate purslane's edible qualities. As I do with sorrel, another somewhat acidic but juicy wildflower, I like to pluck off a few purslane leaves to munch on when I'm in the garden or taking a walk.

It is possible to make flour out of the plant's ground-up seeds or to sprout the seeds like alfalfa, but purslane's most commonly eaten parts are its tender tips and stems, which are tastiest when picked before flowering. Pinching back the plant at this stage has the added benefit of encouraging new growth, an important feature for those who value the sweetly sour flavor of this underappreciated potherb.

Purslane recipes are many and varied. The raw tips are good in salads and sandwiches but can also be steamed like spinach, stir-fried, pickled, used as a thickener for soups and as an ingredient in a number of baked dishes. Medicinally, the leaves make a soothing poultice for wounds and burns. Native Americans used a juice made out of purslane leaves to relieve earaches and traditional Chinese medicine uses it to treat infections and dysentery. Its syrup purportedly treats dry coughs.

It has been an unexpected treat to discover pink purslane in my yard. Finding a preponderance of volunteer plants that not only look pretty but also taste good and attract wildlife is nothing short of wondrous. Yes, they are weeds and, yes, they spread robustly. But is that really so bad?

Perhaps A.A. Milne had it right when he wrote, "Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them."


  1. I agree. So bright and colorful. You comment might just inspire me to do the same!

  2. Love and Honey Hemp FoodsMay 10, 2016 at 8:49 PM

    purslane and dollar weed went well with Chinese Mustard Green Pesto

  3. Being known as 'the crazy gardening lady' is a badge i'd be proud to wear. You're doing great!

  4. Hi Sherry, great blog. Been trying to identify a plant...looks very similar to this ...purslane... I took a cutting from our community garden and it flourishes ..on my a hot and humid winds... love learning and thanks for information. Isabella ...Tweed Heads, New South Wales, Australia.

    1. Thank you for the kind words about my column, Isabella, and I'm glad my post helped ID the plant. Like you, I also love learning about what's growing in my area. It's also great to know my words have found their way to your home in New South Wales, Australia. I hope you come back often to my blog!

  5. This statement is in fact absolutely true.There can be no garden or lawn which doesn't have the unwelcome presence of these hardy plants. weed

  6. I'm going to assume my sulcata tortoise can eat this... he loves other purslane varieties, the more rounded-leaf wild kind here North of Tampa, the domestic ones with the larger flowers... he's in luck if this is good for him like other pruslane with the more oval leaves, since he's supposed to get varied diet yet many natural foods for him in Sahel is varous succulent "weeds". I've enjoyed these for years, putting them in pots for bonsai ground cover for a central plant in the middle. Thanks!

  7. I saw this growing in my yard. I xeroscape, living in the Southeast. I don't use chemicals, so I ate some, as I like to eat what I choose to grow. Not as bitter as kale, but palatable. Having researched the healthful benefits, I now have plants which cascade over the sides of the baskets. Beautiful. Thank you you for the info.