The answer in yes, purslane can be both a friend and a foe in the garden depending on how you use it and manage it in the garden. 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.
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 invasive that is edible, invasive edible equals abundant food, how can that be a bad thing.
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.
Culinary Benefits – 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 that any other plant as well as two different potent antioxidants. Because of purslanes high nutritional values many consider this to be a medicinal plant and use it both topically as well as internally.
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.
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.
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. Happy Homesteading!