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My Entrée into Foraging: A Superfood Weed called Purslane
When my mother visited a few months ago, she weeded my kitchen garden. Because which African mother would sit around with a garden full of weeds? She spared two types of weeds. One of the weeds is called Nkoonko in my native Meru language. It is a thorny weed often used as fodder but has medicinal roots. The second type was Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), as I came to know much later. Purslane is a persistent weed in my garden, but I had no idea it was edible. Until an Instagram kitchen gardener posted a picture of her foraged dinner. I noticed the weed in the picture and recognised it. So, what’s the deal with Purslane and why was I interested in it?
Benefits of Purslane
Purslane has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antitumor, anticancer, pain-relieving (analgesic),neuro-protective, anti-insomnia, wound-healing and antidiabetic properties according to research studies. It has the highest omega 3 fatty acids among green plants. Purslane synthesises α-linolenic acid, gamma-linolenic acid, and linoleic acid, unlike any other terrestrial plant. Its range of vitamins and minerals include A, C, E, some B vitamins, potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, iron, and metabolites such as glutathione and melatonin.
Purslane is eaten raw in salads or smoothies or cooked lightly like a vegetable. All plant parts are edible. The leaves have higher macronutrients and total organic acids compared to stems. In addition, stems contain more palmitic and linoleic acid while leaves are richer in alpha-linoleic acid. Oxalic acid (anti-nutritional compound) is higher in the leaves, especially towards the end of the growing season. Early harvesting could ensure lower amounts of the compound. The plant stems contain water, as much as 40 grams for a 43-gram serving, which could be helpful in hydration.
Purslane is a Climate-Resilient Plant
Purslane can thrive in most growing conditions. It can tolerate water, drought, nutrient deficiency, heat, and other environmental stressors. Purslane can withstand saline soils and is an important bio-saline plant. The nutritional density of Purslane inspires its categorization as a Superfood. It is also a “food for the future” based on its ability to thrive in multiple environments, where most food crops cannot. Can you picture people nibbling on Purslane to provide instant hydration and nutrition as they walk about a dry, polluted, inhabitable planet if we do nothing about climate change? Regardless, Purslane’s potential is enormous particularly in the drier parts of Kenya and Africa in general.
Purslane has a poisonous look-alike, Spurge. Spurge is dry and thin while Purslane is extremely succulent. Purslane has hairless stems that are either red or green while Spurge is hairy. Succulence is a key differentiating factor.
I use a simple method:
Clean the plants
Chop into desired size
Sauté with garlic and onion
Season with pepper and salt
Garnish with bell peppers, cilantro or chives if desired
Sprinkle Moringa powder for more protein if desired
Serve with a side of starch
Purslane should be ready after 3-5 minutes on medium heat. The taste of cooked Purslane is somewhere in between the softness of a juicy medium-rare steak, the delicateness of mushroom and the succulency of lettuce.
Purslane was the first attempt at foraging. I look forward to learning more about picking wild edibles, especially my favourite – mushrooms.