Taste of Nature

Life abides, even in the most extreme conditions. And if there’s a place that knows extremes, it’s definitely East Texas in June.

Life abides, even in the most extreme conditions. And if there’s a place that knows extremes, it’s definitely East Texas in June. Yet, even in the blast furnace we live in during the summer, wild foods are everywhere. Every bit of green will have something edible in it. Amazingly, this includes your sun-blasted driveway and cement sidewalks.

There, growing up through a crack in the concrete … yeah, that thick, red-stemmed weed with the green, teardrop-shaped, succulent-feeling leaves, and tiny, yellow flowers. Do you see it? If you have a garden out back, you probably do see it right now. Even potted plants outside your door seem to produce this weed. The June heat alone seems to feed it, causing it to spread across any bare patch of soil it can find. Many people have spent many hours trying to get rid of it, this purslane, this king of summertime weeds!

Here’s a tip: Eat it! Yes, seriously. Raw, it has a slight, natural saltiness that gives the crisp stems and thick leaves a wonderful flavor. Eat it right out of your garden or flower pot instead of pulling it up and tossing it aside. It also does well cooked. Local Native Americans loved to eat the diced-up plant mixed with scrambled quail eggs. Toward the end of June, when the stems are as thick as a pencil, remove the leaves and pickle these stems using a standard pickled okra recipe. OK, the results kind of look like pickled earthworms, but their flavor is fantastic. Serve these pickled stems at a Halloween party to freak people out.

In addition to tasting great, purslane is loaded with all sorts of good nutrition, such as vitamins A, C, assorted B’s and E, along with minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese. If that weren’t enough, it also contains a high concentration of antioxidants and melatonin. The compound responsible for the yellow color of its flowers is an anti-mutagen. That means it prevents the changes in DNA that lead to cancer. And the “frosting on the cake” is purslane’s super-high level of omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 is crucial for the proper functioning of both your heart and brain and normally is only found in meat. Very few plants produce omega-3 fatty acids, and of those, none produce as much as purslane!

You know all those purslane plants you’ve pulled up and tossed aside, thinking you were killing a weed? All you did was help it spread. To survive the hot, arid conditions, purslane actually stores enough water in its stem and leaves to produce flowers and then seeds even after it’s been yanked out of the ground. This high water content is part of proper identification of purslane. If the stem bleeds a clear fluid when cut in half, you have purslane. If it bleeds a white, milky sap, then you have the poisonous mimic spurge. Don’t eat spurge. It won’t kill you, but it’ll give you a bad stomachache.

Like any wild plant, you need to be aware of any potential hazardous chemicals in the soil that the purslane may have inadvertently sucked up. Pull up the purslane growing in your driveway to avoid any oil or antifreeze chemicals and toss it in your garden. A garden full of purslane is probably the healthiest crop you can grow.