So Galen wasn’t too keen on purslane. In his work De alimentorum facultatibus, he dismissed it as a fairly useless weed: “Some people use purslane as food, but what little nutrition it does provide is watery, cold, and viscous,” adding that it’s only useful property was remedying “sensitivity of the teeth through its lenitive viscosity.” In the twelfth century, Hildegarde of Bingen was even less impressed: “Purslane is cold. When eaten, it produces mucus and bile in a person. It is not beneficial for a person to eat it.” And in the twenty-first century, yours truly wrote, “STFU, old people, purslane is awesome!”
No, seriously, it’s true. Turns out that purslane is one of the best terrestrial sources of essential omega-3 fatty acids. In Queen of Fats : Why Omega-3s Were Removed from the Western Diet and What We Can Do to Replace Them, Susan Allport describes how “this ordinary plant, a weed in most of the world’s eyes, has an alpha linolenic acid content four times that of cultivated spinach,” which, I might add, is especially important for those of us who don’t eat our fishy friends.
And purslane is extra awesome because the stuff grows damn near everywhere. You may well have uprooted the edible weed from your flowerbeds or the cracks of your driveway without having known its value. Its ubiquity, in fact, made it a useful food for American frontiersmen. Ann Chandonnet in Gold Rush Grub: From Turpentine Stew to Hoochinoo describes boiled wild purslane among the foodstuffs eaten along the trail by those en route to the California gold rush. Likewise, it was also a useful food for the privileged proto-freegan and faux-frontiersmen Henry David Thoreau, as he described in Walden; or, Life in the Woods: “I learned from my two years’ experience that it would cost incredibly little trouble to obtain one’s necessary food, even in this latitude; that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength. I have made a satisfactory dinner, satisfactory on several accounts, simply off a dish of purslane (Portulaca oleracea) which I gathered in my cornfield, boiled and salted.”
Guess I shouldn’t criticize old Henry. My purslane was foraged from the produce aisle of the local co-op. But the pickling, that I did my own damn self, using a recipe from Linda Ziedrich’s The Joy of Pickling. I stripped the leaves and made a simple salad with olive oil and red wine vinegar, and pickled the stems with dill and garlic. The verdict? Tasted like pickles. Omega-3 awesome pickles. And now that I know what the stuff looks like, I might have to keep an eye out for it in the wilds of Olympia…