Purslane, Portulaca oleracea, is an edible, leafy, frost-tender plant widely used as an herb and salad vegetable. The fleshy reddish stems are densely clothed with lobed leaves that are either green or golden in colour, depending on the variety, and grow to 15-20cm high. Purslane grows quickly from seed and leaves are ready to pick in 6-8 weeks.
Harvest young leaves to eat raw in salads and sandwiches, and older leaves and stems to cook in soups, stir-fries, and stews. Purslane is a native of Mediterranean countries and has been used for many hundreds of years for culinary purposes. The leaves have a crisp, refreshing flavour not unlike that of green apples, due to the same chemical, malic acid. The tangy taste is strongest in leaves harvested early in the day.
The name ‘purslane’ is used for two other plants of the genus Claytonia which are distinctly different to the purslane described here. These species are Claytonia sibirica (pink purslane), and Claytonia perfoliata (miner’s lettuce).
How to grow purslane
Purslane is only available as seed and is quick and easy to grow. Sow directly into free-draining ground, from spring to late summer. Thin the resulting seedlings, water during long dry spells and harvest as required. At the end of the season, pull up and compost the plants.
Where to grow purslane
Purslane needs free-draining soil that's not too fertile, and full sun. An attractive herb, it works well growing alongside ornamental plants in a border, as well as in an herb or vegetable garden.
How to sow purslane
Sow purslane from late spring to late summer, in the ground directly where the plant is to grow. Sow in rows with the seed covered with 1cm of soil. Purslane matures quickly so making a sowing every month ensures a continuous supply.
Caring for purslane
Once the seedlings have germinated, thin to leave 10cm between each plant. Use the thinnings as microgreens.
Purslane tolerates dry conditions but both quantity and flavour of leaves is boosted by an occasional thorough watering during dry spells of weather.
Growing purslane: problem solving
Purslane is trouble-free, quick, and easy to grow, provided it's planted in free-draining soil. Heavy, poorly drained ground isn’t suitable for purslane and seedlings are likely to rot and fail.
Advice on buying purslane
- Purslane is offered by a few seed suppliers although is less widely available than many salad crops
- Always buy seed from a reputable supplier
- Before you buy seeds, ensure you have the right conditions for growing purslane