Plants

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Adorning garden beds, pavements and areas with disturbed soil during the hottest months of the year is Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) – an edible, introduced annual plant with succulent leaves and in the same family as spekboom.

Purslane has a rich history of use around the world, with in impressive global distribution. It is believed that the species is native to southern Europe. The seeds germinate around the first prolonged spell of around 26°C and up, emerging from cracks in paving and sometimes in other unexpected places. In areas where the soil is poor and contains little nutrients, the crawling arrangements of succulent Purslane leaves will grow to be considerably smaller. It can often act as a “pioneer plant” in these environments, and, if contained in the garden where food could be plentiful, the leaves can reach an impressive size and are beneficial as both a food source and as a medicine. As a companion plant, it can act as a ground cover to increase humidity for nearby plants, stabilizing the ground moisture.

Purslane’s green, crunchy leaves are foraged all over South Africa, sometimes used as a spinach substitute. Their tart, slightly lemony tang is crisp like cucumber, with a minor mucilaginous quality, while the reddish stems are slightly peppery. The plants are harvested before they go to flower, at which point the leaves and stems become a bit too tough to eat. Flowering occurs a bit later in their season, with small yellow flowers emerging. It should be harvested when still young and tender. If harvested in the late afternoon sun, Purslane leaves will contain less malic acid and have less of an acidic flavour. The leaves collected during this stage are perfect for salads, stir-fries or as part of an unusual chimichurri sauce.

In various parts of the world, Puslane was traditionally prescribed for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, as well as a tonic taken for heart complaints. The leaves are rich in magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids.

This website takes a sustainable approach to foraging and doesn’t focus on protected or indigenous plants or fungi. Like the other invasive plants on this website, this is a species that should not be cultivated or propagated in South Africa. It’s often illegal to buy, sell or trade in exotic plants.

Learn how to forage with this South African foraging guide, or find out which South African books cover foraging

Other wild edible plants to forage in South Africa