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Tuesday, March 22, 2011


There are different types of purslane including the common purslane (Portulaca oleorosa) and Golden Purslane (Portulaca sativa). They are both weeds and grow in abundance once they take hold in a garden or in the wild. The Latin name Portulaca means little doors, referring to the way the seed pods burst open. They are native to the Indian subcontinent and the Western Himalayan region through to Russia and Greece, and were indigenous to the Persian Empire, so grow in North Africa, Iran and the Middle East. Golden purslane is so called because it has golden coloured leaves, rich in beta-carotene. Common purslane has green leaves and yellow flowers.
  They can be used in salads, especially the young leaves and tender tips of stems. This is perhaps the best way to use purslane to take full advantage of its many health benefits. It has been traditionally used as a herb for soups and stews and is famously used in the French soup Bonne Femme with equal quantities of sorrel. However, when purslane is overcooked it goes slimy and is not at its best. It tastes a little like watercress or spinach.
  In Pakistan we eat purslane or Kulfa or Kulfa falooda in saags with methi (fenugreek leaves) and spinach and it tastes delicious. It is full of vitamins including vitamin A (good for eyesight), the B-complex vitamins, and vitamins C and E and also contains Omega-3 fatty acids which are usually found in some fish oils. This makes purslane ideal for vegetarians who normally wouldn’t get Omega-3 from many foodstuffs. Omega-3 fatty acids are good for the skin and help to prevent the ravages of the aging process, as well as strengthening the immune system. It also helps to lower cholesterol levels and helps to reduce the incidence of heart disease. It also contains the minerals; calcium magnesium, potassium, folate and lithium. Glutathione is also present (this boosts the immune system and is a detoxifying agent) as well as many bioflavonoids and amino acids, and because of its constituents it has a powerful antioxidant effect in the body. Betatin is also present in purslane and this also has potent antioxidant properties. Coenzyme Q10 has been identified in this plant and this helps to reduce the visible signs of aging. Pectin is also present in purslane and this helps to lower cholesterol levels too.
   Purslane was cultivated as a vegetable and a medicinal herb in ancient Egypt and was used as both in ancient Greece and Rome. The ancient Greeks made flour for bread from the ground seeds. Hippocrates used it as a wound healer as well as to bring down the temperature in fevers, for ‘female problems’ stomach aches and piles. Later, in the first century AD Dioscorides used it for inflamed eyes, to relieve headaches and fevers and to get rid of internal worms. He also mentioned that it “reduces the desire to fornicate” and as it contains norepinephrin which causes a reduction of the blood flow around the body by contracting the main arteries, it probably does lower the libido.
  In mediaeval times the Arabs referred to purslane as “the blessed vegetable” and it was cultivated as one in Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries. In the 17th century in Britain it was combined in salads with basil, cress, rocket and garlic as a cure for the common cold.
Golden Purslane
  Gerard says that purslane is good to chew if you have sensitive teeth after they have been set on edge by something you have eaten, lemons for example. Culpeper has this to say about purslane:
  “If the herb is placed under the tongue, it assuageth thirst. Applied to the gout, it easeth the pains thereof and helps harden the sinews, if it come not of the cramp or a cold cause.”
In the 16th and 17th centuries the seeds were boiled in wine and given to children to get rid of worms. It has had a number of uses in traditional medicine in Asia and Europe and has been used to treat burns, to relieve headaches, to help problems of the liver and help with arthritis. It has also been used as a heart tonic as a diuretic, an anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant. Zulus use it as an emetic, and the ancient Romans believed it could cure dysentery. In the Indian subcontinent it is used as a remedy for liver complaints, dysentery and a general health tonic. It is currently used in men’s skin care preparations to soothe razor burn and irritated skin and to tone down redness of the skin.
Golden Purslane
   Juice can be extracted from the leaves and stems and used in combination with rose oil as a mouthwash. The juice has anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties.
 You can use it in sandwiches instead of lettuce and pickles, and an old Italian recipe mixes purslane with fresh coriander, garden cress, borage and mint. If you use fresh purslane you need to wash it thoroughly as soil sticks to it, and you may need to use several changes of water. It can be pickled in cider vinegar with garlic and black peppercorns, and the recipe below comes from the chefs of Charles II’s court in the 17th century.

2 handfuls of purslane, cleaned thoroughly and dried
4 handfuls lettuce leaves
small bunch of chervil, chopped
borage flowers
marigold petals
olive oil
lemon juice or wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Mix the olive oil and lemon juice and put all the other ingredients into a salad bowl.
Toss thoroughly in the lemon and olive oil dressing.
This has Taste and is a Treat.

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