Purslane is native to India and Persia but has spread throughout the world and it's regarded as a weed or as an edible plant, depending on where you live. For the record, the US Department of Agriculture classifies it as a "noxious weed."
Purslane has fleshy succulent leaves and stems with yellow flowers. Perhaps that's why in Malawi its name translates to "the buttocks of a chief's wife." The stems lay flat on the ground as they radiate from a single taproot sometimes forming large mats of leaves.
It's an annual reproducing from seeds and from stem pieces. Seeds of purslane have been known to stay viable for 40 years in the soil. Purslane grows just about anywhere from fertile garden soil to the poor arid soils. The stuff will even grow in rock driveways and it's very drought tolerant.
If you are trying to control purslane don't let it go to seed. About three weeks after you notice seedlings, the flowers and seeds will be produced. Also, plants or plant pieces that are uprooted but not removed can root back into the soil. It doesn't germinate well when seeds are more than 1/2 inch deep so tilling will bring the seeds to the surface where they quickly germinate. Mulching will help to control purslane because the seeds germinate best with soil temperatures of 90 degrees so mulching may help to control it. Because it germinates in high soil temperatures it doesn't appear until June and by that time herbicides used in the Spring have likely lost their effectiveness.
It was only recently that I became aware that the stuff was actually edible, especially the leaves and stem tips of fresh young plants. You can use it in salads or on sandwiches instead of lettuce or pickles. It's supposed to be really tasty on ham sandwiches. It gets a bit slimy when cooked, but it can be used as a substitute for spinach.
Purslane contains the following nutrients:
1) Omega-3 fatty acids, the highest levels of any other green plant
3) Calcium and magnesium
What's it taste like? With some trepidation, I tasted it and found it hard to describe, but others described it as a crunchy, zesty flavor with a slight lemony, peppery taste which sounds about right. Not bad.
In fact, it's best not to touch it with unprotected hands to avoid skin redness, swelling and blistering. Like purslane, spurge kind of has red stems too, but they are woody and thin and when the stems are broken, they emit a milky substance. Spurge also radiates out from the center in a circle while purslane is an erect plant that grows upright.
45 Things To Do With Fresh Purslane