Down on the Farm: Purslane
The bane of gardeners, purslane is the most common and persistent weed afloat.
The flat little succulent turns over easily with a hoe. Once uprooted, purslane lies there as helpless as an overturned turtle.
Don't be fooled. Don't declare victory. The battle against purslane has just begin.
Throw it out in the lawn. Mow over the wilting, uprooted plant. Purslane will simply use the mower experience to divide and replant itself.
If you succeed in killing a single purslane plant, biologists have found, it will likely have already produced over 200,000 seeds the size of a grain of sand. The seeds remain viable in the ground for up to forty years, waiting for the right time to germinate.
The right time comes when a seed finds itself at the surface of newly-crusted soil after a rain.
A few days after tilled ground crusts, get down on your hands and knees and put your eye at ground level. You will detect an aura of pink given off by the millions of freshly germinated, barely visible purslane.
Purslane is an annual. Frost kills them all. But billions of seeds remain, ready for next year. Or the next. Or forty years from now.
As purslane matures, it develops green, rubbery leaves. The stems mature to a deep red. It thrives in wet, it thrives in dry, hot or cool, shade and sun.
Last week was peak garden season. I grazed veggies planted by others. You want to leave the first few tomatoes for the actual gardener, but after that, nobody notices a few missing.
Tomatoes, ground cherries, green peppers. A good raw breakfast. Or snack. Or dinner. Corn on the cob only requires a little boiling water and a stick of butter to be a meal unto itself.
To get at the veggies, I trampled down a lot of purslane.
Enthused by fresh vegetables, I picked up the book Food Rules by Michael Pollan.
Pollan is a journalist who decided to get to the bottom of all the seemingly contradictory nutrition studies that tell us to eat fat, then not to eat fat, to eat spaghetti, then not to eat spaghetti.
After years of study, Pollan came up with a list of simple rules upon which all nutritionists agree.
Eat your greens. Eat small servings. Eat less meat. Eat more veggies and cook them less. Don't eat processed foods. Dark bread, not white. Grass-fed meat, not corn.
About mid-way through the book, one paragraph grabbed my attention: One of the most nutritious vegetables in the world, Pollan said, almost in passing, is...purslane.
Yes, the weed I trod down in the garden to get at the tomatoes is more healthy than the tomatoes. It is not even close.
Purslane, it turns out, is a wonder vegetable.
Do you take fish oil capsules to get your Omega 3 fatty acids? Eat purslane instead. Our creeping little weed has more Omega 3s than any edible plant ever tested.
Purslane contains more iron and calcium than chard, many times more beta carotene than carrots, many times more Vitamin E than spinach, and 10 to 20 times more of the cancer-fighting antioxidant melatonin than any other plant.
Skeptical of the taste, I decided to cook some up. I picked a few plants, rinsed off the soil, chopped them up and threw the results in an omelette.
Delicious! Tangy. Firm and crunchy, even when cooked. Spinach without the slime and grit.
So why don't humans gobble up this wonder plant?
They did, and they do. We've just forgotten it in this part of the world.
Thoreau ate purslane and declared it a complete and delicious meal. Hippocrates used it as a medicine. The Greeks and Romans used it as a staple.
Pre-historic tribes in the desert southwest dried purslane leaves and stems for future use, and actually collected the tiny seeds to grind up into flour.
Travel to the Mediterranean today and you are likely to encounter purslane in a salad, or at a farmer's market. For a premium price!
So, I now have a new profession. I am a purslane picker. In the past week, I have proven that in the space of one hour, you can pick a 13-gallon garbage bag full of the stuff, rinse it off three times, cut it up, grind it in the food processor and pack away about 25 baggies full in the freezer.
All through the winter (at least this is the plan) I am going to sprinkle pureed purslane on whatever dish I make.
Thanks to this fully legal, fully edible wonder weed, I plan to live long and prosper.