Portulaca oleracea (Common Purslane, also known as Verdolaga, Pigweed, Little Hogweed or Pusley), is an annual succulent in the family Portulacaceae, which can reach 40 cm in height. About 40 varieties are currently cultivated.
It has an extensive old-world distribution extending from North Africa through the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent to Malesia and Australasia.
The species status in the New World is uncertain: it is generally considered an exotic weed; however, there is evidence that the species was in Crawford Lake deposits (Ontario) in 1430-89, suggesting that it reached North America in the pre-Columbian era.
It is naturalised elsewhere and in some regions is considered an invasive weed. It has smooth, reddish, mostly prostrate stems and alternate leaves clustered at stem joints and ends. The yellow flowers have five regular parts and are up to 6 mm wide.
The flowers appear depending upon rainfall and may occur year round. The flowers open singly at the center of the leaf cluster for only a few hours on sunny mornings.
Seeds are formed in a tiny pod, which opens when the seeds are ready. Purslane has a taproot with fibrous secondary roots and is able to tolerate poor, compacted soils and drought.
Although purslane is considered a weed in the United States, it can be eaten as a leaf vegetable, providing sources can be found which have not been poisoned deliberately.
It has a slightly sour and salty taste and is eaten throughout much of Europe, Asia and Mexico. The stems, leaves and flower buds are all good to eat.
Purslane can be used fresh as a salad, stir-fried, or cooked like spinach, and because of its mucilaginous quality it is also suitable for soups and stews. Australian Aborigines used to use the seeds to make seedcakes.
As a companion plant, Purslane provides ground cover to create a humid microclimate for nearby plants, stabilizing ground moisture.
Its deep roots also bring up moisture and nutrients that those plants can use, and some, including corn, will actually "follow" purslane roots down through harder soil than they can penetrate on their own. It is known as a beneficial weed in places that don't already grow it as a crop in its own right.
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