Dear Garden Diary…
As I write this on a blazingly bright July day, the heat index is forecast to reach 115-degrees F. In the pastures, the colors of the wildflowers that exploded into bloom late this spring have burned away, leaving only the white of the Queen Anne’s Lace and the indefatigable yellow of the Brown-Eyed Susan to endure the solar blast furnace. Many of the prairie grasses have already gone to seed and their heavy brown heads hang and sway in the hot wind that blows in from the Gulf, about 600 miles to our south.
In our garden, things are starting to flag. The tomatoes which had been doing so well, are now beginning to cook on the vine before they ripen. Fried green tomatoes. The kale and beets are a distant memory. Oddly, the jalapeno plants, usually thirsty for heat, aren’t happy. Neither are the sweet potatoes. Why haven’t the vines taken over the way they usually do? However, there is one plant that is doing splendidly. In fact, it seems to be thriving even as the temperature climbs. It’s a plant we never cultivated and one we ignore completely, yet it has insinuated itself into every available crack, crevice or torn spot in the black weed guard.
Looking a bit like the baby brother of a jade plant, this spreading succulent is quite content with poor soil and little water. Its leaves are spongy with moisture and the reddish stems are thick and pliable.
Waste Not. Or At Least Waste Not Some of It.
Rather than pull it and discard it, this year I decided to harvest it. Well, not all of it. There is so much of it growing that the great preponderance still ends up in the compost pile. But now when I walk out to the garden to harvest basil, I pull up a few purslane plants, too. Thankfully, their shallow roots put up little resistance to being yanked out of the ground. A quick water bath and a rinse and it’s good to go. If we don’t get to it right away, I keep it in water and pop it into the refrigerator where it lasts about two days.
The Virtues of Purslane.
To give me more reasons to appreciate this hardy volunteer, I did some research. This humble “weed” is full of fiber and has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable. It also contains A, C, and B-complex vitamins such as niacin and carotenoid; and the minerals iron, calcium and potassium.
There’s no need to overthink purslane (nor to plant it…it will find you). Chop it up, stems and all, or pluck off the leaves and sprinkle them into your next salad. You can also stir it into soups and curries. I find the taste to be mild, almost non-existent, but it is described as being tart, sour and peppery.
Apparently, purslane has medicinal indications as well. Use it to sooth insect bites, calm inflamed eyes, cool a heated brow or treat a bout of diarrhea. I can’t personally attest to any of these uses, however. And a word of caution: if you are prone to kidney stones, you may want to avoid purslane. It’s high in oxalic acid.
COMING UP NEXT MONTH: