It has often been written off as nothing more than a ‘rapid growing weed’, and some of its local names have been translated as ‘crazy plant’ or ‘under-foot’. However, the much under-appreciated Portulaca (or Purslane) has in fact been a highly respected medicinal herb for centuries. This edible, medicinal succulent plant, which is now grown widely across the temperate and tropical areas of the world, may in fact have originated in India. Euell Gibbons, an expert on wild plant-based foods, called it ‘India’s gift to the world’. It is said that Mahatma Gandhi came to appreciate Portulaca (called ‘Luni’ in India) so much that it became a regular part of his diet. He has made a mention of it in his magazine, commenting how the nourishing properties of the innumerable leaves that are found hidden among the wild grasses in India, have never been fully appreciated.
More than its humble role as a mildly sour-cum-salty, crunchy and succulent food enjoyed by common folks, in recent years it is the medicinal role of Portulaca that is being rediscovered with renewed fervour. World Health Organization (WHO) has recognised it as one of the most used medicinal plants. Traditional therapy practitioners have been recommending it for centuries, for multiple ‘treatments’ - for reducing fever, removing worms, soothing urinary infections, and for combating abnormal uterine bleeding and asthma. The ancient Romans used Purslane to treat dysentery, intestinal worms, headache and stomachache. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it is regarded as a longevity herb. It is commonly used as a ‘natural antibiotic’ for the treatment of summer diarrhoea. In addition, it finds wide application as an antioxidant and an immune-modulatory agent, which can help with the treatment of diabetes, atherosclerosis, vascular endothelial dysfunction and urolithiasis. A unique aspect of Portulaca is that it is the richest vegetable source of Omega-3 and Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA). These are important for maintaining heart-health. This is good news for vegans, as they otherwise have to rely on basically flaxseed (alsi). And Purslane is probably a better source, as it can be cooked and eaten in several forms: as a snack, part of a salad or a part of various dishes in a meal. Further, Purslane is a powerhouse of antioxidants, flavonoids, vitamins and minerals. It is also increasingly gaining attention as an antiatherogenic – to help reduce plaque in the arteries. A recent study at the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences has confirmed that Portulaca can positively impact (reduce) the serum lipids profile, especially bad cholesterol (LDL-C and Triglycerides), thanks to its unique polyphenolic and antioxidant capacity.
Tip of the Week
When buying Purslane, it is important to look for produce that looks fresh, as it starts to lose its nutritional qualities immediately after harvest. The best way to maximize the health benefits of Purslane is to grow your own. It can even be easily grown indoors as a micro-green. A small container filled with semi-moist potting soil, and a sunny windowsill, is all that you need.
Nature’s Wonder Food(s) of the Week: Purslane (Portulaca oleracea L.)
Portulaca (or Purslane) has many local names - such as Pigweed, Little Hogweed, Ma Chi Xian (Chinese), Moss Rose, Verdolaga, Herba Portulaca and Luni. Portulaca is one of the richest vegetable sources of Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. The plant has many phenolic constituents and multiple amino acids in its leaves. Its mildly sour taste is due to the presence of various plant acids. Purslane is a particularly good source of Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) - which has often been attributed as the reason for the long life expectancy of people living in Crete or the Kohama Island in Japan. The residents of these locations have one of the lowest coronary heart disease mortality rates in the world, and in part this could be attributed to exceptionally high concentrations of ALA in their blood - although the mechanism of exactly how it works is not entirely clear. Purslane also contains carbohydrates, lipids, glycosides, alkaloids (including oleraceins), sterols, coumarins, triterpenes and flavonoids. It is a rich source of Vitamins A, B, C, and E and is high in carotenoid content, including beta-carotene. Just one cup of raw Purslane (about 43 grams) provides 15% of the daily value of Vitamin C and 11% of the daily value of Vitamin A. It is also rich in minerals. Moderate quantities of iron, folate, lithium, and melatonin are also present.
Portulaca is generally safe for consumption. However, due it is oxalate content, people suffering from kidney stone should avoid it; as should people suffering from diarrhoea caused by a cold. Pregnant women should be aware that Purslane can increase the frequency and intensity of uterine contractions.
For Education purposes only; always consult a Healthcare Practitioner for medical conditions