Grow (or find) Omega-3 Rich Weeds

Getting enough of the omega-3 fatty acids into our diets is essential, and often difficult. Many of us rely on fish oil, evening primrose or borage oil supplements. While we dish out the big bucks, right under our noses — a weed may be growing in the yard containing the highest amount of omega-3 found in any green leafy plant.

I’ll bet some of you’ve already guessed it – purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

A heat  lover, you’ll find it sprawling on the ground once things really warm up in the summer. The 1/2 to 2 inch green leaves are spatulate, grow in clusters of 5-6 and the whole plant is succulent. Its thick stems differentiate it from a toxic look alike – spurge. Spurge is thin stalked and has a milky white sap in the stem. Purslane stems are filled with water, are round and smooth and trail the ground like a short vine. There are different kinds. The wild variety often takes on a reddish hue as it ages. In Europe it was bred into a garden plant, golden purslane.

Porols1

When I first encountered it, knowing it was one of Henry Thoreau’s favorites and all about how healthy it was, I just couldn’t bring myself to eat it!! For some reason it triggered my “gross out” button. Maybe that’s why it isn’t ranking as the 5-star wild vegetable it truly is? Well, I finally tried it and now agree with Thoreau and centuries of Middle Eastern chefs – its GOOD! Porol1

Here are a few culinary tips: cut it close to ground when harvesting, then add to raw salads, stir fry it, add it to omelets, anything that could use its light lemony flavor. In France its combined with another lemony “weed”, sorrel, to make the classic soup called bonnefemme (equal parts of each).You’ll find a lot of recipes for it on the web. Once it gets older and the stems are thickened, the stems can be pickled for your winter larder. Australian aborigines favor the seeds which they make into highly nutritious seed cakes. Studies verify the seeds as nutritionally dense.

Nutrients:

  • Vitamins: A, B1, C (a lot), niacinamide, nicotinic acid, a-tocopherol, Beta carotene, etc.
  • Minerals: especially high in potassium (something we need more of when its hot) and magnesium.
  • Glutathione, glutamic acid, aspartic acid
  • A mucilage composed of an acidic and neutral fraction with structure determined, calcium oxalate, malic and citric acids, dopamine and dopa, coumarins, flavonoids, alkaloids, saponins, and urea.
  • Interesting to find large amounts of l-norepinephrine (l-noradrenaline; 0.25% in fresh herb). This is a neurohormone with vasopressor and antihypotensive activities and reduces hemorrhage at the tissue level, accounting for its use to stop bleeding.
  • Contains the bioflavonoid liquiritin.
  • A new monoterpene glucoside, portuloside A, was extracted from the leaf in Japan.

Medicinal Properties:

Dr. Christopher recommends purslane for preventing and treating a wide variety of conditions including: scurvy, cataracts, heart disease, asthma, cardiac arrhythmia, depression (magnesium & potassium), gingivitis, multiple sclerosis (needs lots of magnesium and purslane is the richest herb in magnesium),psoriasis (due to its omega-3),and boosting the immune system.

  • Its unique mucilage has been shown to reinforce the body’s own insulin supply. In fact, there’s a new product out called “Portusana” which, in clinical studies, was shown to regulate glucose levels. Purslane is known to have a beneficial effect on blood glucose metabolism.
  • Express the juice from it and mix it with honey for the following: dry cough, shortness of breath, extreme thirst.
  • External application of expressed juice for inflammation, sores, insect stings, skin diseases. A poultice from fresh or dried leaves made with very hot water and wrapped in cloth can be applied for the same purposes.
  • An old remedy for thirst includes just laying a piece of the herb under the tongue. I think this would be a similar action to how oxalis allays thirst by chewing it. (both with a lemon flavor, I wonder if the lemon flavor is a sign of cooling thirst quenchers? Should we test drive this theory?)
  • Expressed juice for painful urination.
  • Its said to cool heat in the liver (liver inflammation) as well as help headaches brought on by heat. For the headache bruise a bunch of the herb and lay it over the forehead and temples (cover with cloth to keep it in place). Similarly crushed plant can be laid over eyes for eye inflammation. A note on headaches, magnesium deficiency has been found in people with frequent tension headache, its recommended that such folks get 600 milligrams of it a day, purslane is one bioavailable source…but see cautions under “safety” below.
  • It was used to stop hemorrhage
  • Its good for the teeth, even simply chewing it helps. One old time combination for teeth, gums and mouth sores was to combine it with  oil of roses. This was used for loose teeth. When mixed with distilled water, purslane was said to remove tooth pain.
  • Seeds, ground and boiled in wine were used to get rid of worms in children. An infusion of seeds (1oz to 570 ml. boiling water) taken internally to treat dyspepsia and corneal opacity.
  • A standard infusion of fresh or dry leaf (1oz to 570 ml water,steep 15 min. to 4 hours) for stomach ache and headache.
  • Herpes, purslane has a folk reputation in China for herpes. It might help shingles as well.
  • Finally, purslane added to water is supposed to draw out BPA, not sure how this is done, perhaps use as a filter? Some research is needed here.

Folklore:

If you’ve read Stephen Buhner’s books on plant intelligence you’ll be familiar with the mysterious manner in which cultures all over the world identify the very  same plants for “warding off evil” or being “anti-magic”. Purslane is among them.

In ancient Europe its strewn under the bed for this purpose. Worn on the person it was thought to attract love and luck. In Ghana its called an emblem of peace. They mix it with oil to act as a palliative against evil spirits. Its used as a charm by other African tribes for various purposes like being re-paid money owed, protection against sickness and lightning.

Being under the sign of the Moon, its use is said to enhance clairvoyance and psychic abilities in general. The infusion is used to wash the third eye as well as crystal balls and scrying mirrors.

Safety:

Is it perfectly safe? Of course not. It has a lot of oxalic acid which means eating large quantities can be harmful. If you do give in to the urge to have a hefty helping, cook it. Livestock have been poisoned by eating too much of it so watch for it in pastures…better yet, harvest it from pastures. Its not recommended for folks with digestive problems or for pregnant women.

Remember: don’t eat any plant until you’ve positively identified it 100%!

Now then folks, any of you with recipes or experiences to share? I’ve heard of a special purslane cream that’s nearly a cure-all for skin, muscle,joint issues. Any of you familiar with it?

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About dcoda

An herbalist for over 40 years, ten years spent alone in the Ozark Hurricane Creek Wilderness Preserve, working with its brilliant botanicals. I'm an instructor and co-founder of the Ozark Herbal Academy which offers training in medicinal and edible plants through hands-on workshops and online courses.

Posted on July 30, 2010, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Great article… I find it as a volunteer in my garden, as well as in my container fruit trees.

    Doesn’t Oxalic Acid also promote vigorous contractions and can be used to help in ChildBirth?

    Great article…

    mel

  2. BTW the deer in my yard LOVE the decorative Portulaca my wife plants for the colored flowers.

    They will eat it to the ground, but it usually comes back up.

  3. Good article. I believe there is both purslane and spurge growing in and around my garden. I have googled images and am unable to definiteley identify the two. Can you point out the differences to my untrained eye!?

    Thank you,
    Sarah
    moonmooring.wordpress.com

    • Hi Sarah, one of the differences is that purslane is succulent, there’s a “rounded” look to it, the stem will be reddish and without hairs, nick the stem…most spurge is obviously different but there’s a large variety that can fool us. If in doubt, nick the stem …if a milky sap comes out its spurge. Purslane’s fluids are watery. If you’ve any doubts, hold off on using it until you can get with someone who can verify the plant. Another approach is to get seed for it and grow it…compare with what grows wild. Here’s a website with good photos and description of it.

      http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/Plants.Folder/Purslane.html

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