"Natural Healing with Herbs for a Healthier You"

by Kathy Griffiths
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Purslane is an herb that appears to have been much more widely known in past times than in the present time.  It has been found that purslane (Portulaca oleracea) was well known and appreciated in ancient times, for thousands of years and was used even in this country in the years of the early European settlers.   However its use somewhat died out in the 1900’s.  But now, it is starting to gain in popularity once again.  Purslane is a plant that offers great nourishment and can also be used to treat and prevent a variety of ailments.  Many of the herb books currently available make little or no mention of it.  (All books included in the Bibliography for this paper did have information on the use of Purslane.)


Purslanes are discussed in the classic book A Modern Herbal by Mrs. Grieve, with a discussion of primarily two species:  Portulaca oleracea  which is the subject of this paper, and Portulaca sativa, which has similar qualities.  Mrs. Grieve’s commentary includes the following descriptions: 


“The Purslanes are distributed all over the world.  Portulaca oleracea, the ‘Garden’ or ‘Green’ Purslane, is a herbaceous annual, native of many parts of Europe, found in the East and West Indies, China, Japan and Ascension Island, and though found also in the British Isles is not indigenous there.”  “…the rich red colour of the stems is very striking and most decorative in herb borders.  The Golden Purslane (Portulaca sativa) is a variety of Purslane with yellow leaves, less hardy than the Green Purslane, but possessing the same qualities.”


“Purslane is a pleasant salad herb, and excellent for scorbutic troubles.  The succulent leaves and young shoots are cooling in spring salads, the older shoots are used as a pot-herb, and the thick stems of plants that have run to seed are pickled in salt and vinegar to form winter salads.  Purslane is largely cultivated in Holland and other countries for these purposes.  It is used in equal proportion with Sorrel to make the well-known French soup bonne femme.”


“Purslane in ancient times was looked upon as one of the anti-magic herbs.”  “…It was highly recommended for many complaints.  The expressed juice, taken while fresh, was said to be good for strangury, and taken with sugar and honey to afford relief for dry coughs, shortness of breath and immoderate thirst, as well as for external application in inflammation and sores.” (1)


From a delightful book on herbs from England called Practical Herb Garden, with lots of beautiful photos, author Jessica Houdret talks about the history of purslane, both old and newer, as follows:  “A herb of ancient origin, purslane was known to the Egyptians, and grown in India and China for thousands of years.  The Romans ate it as a vegetable and it was cultivated in Europe from at least the beginning of the 16th century, though not introduced to Britain until 1582.  An important remedy for scurvy, it was one of the herbs that the early settlers thought indispensable and took with them to North America.  Although it had some medicinal applications in former times, especially in China, it has always been chiefly valued for its culinary uses.”   “…In 18th –century Britain it was a popular salad herb and is still eaten in the Middle East and India as a cooked vegetable and in salads.  In France it is used in sorrel soup, helping to reduce the acidity of the sorrel.” (2)


In the book Herbs and Old Time Remedies by Joseph VanSeters, the herb Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is one of the herbs presented.  VanSeters gives some history of the herb as follows:  “In the 1854 classic Walden, Henry David Thoreau gave us a glimpse of one man’s attitude toward the simple vegetables, plants and herbs that could sustain us in life, which are often shunned while searching for more glamorous and tasty foods.  To this, he said ‘I learned that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength.  I have made a satisfactory dinner of a dish of purslane which I gathered and boiled.  Yet, men have come to such a pass that they starve, not for want of necessaries, but for want of luxuries.’” (3)


Joseph VanSeters tells a story of his own about purslane, when he was living in Leeds, Utah, and had a big garden.  One of the weeds that came back each year was purslane.  He got out the books and studied it.  He found out it was good to eat, so he tried it raw in salads, in soups, and as a steamed vegetable.  One day, while he was gathering some purslane for lunch, and old German neighbor stopped by for a visit.  In Mr. VanSeters own words:  “He saw me picking purslane and asked what I was doing.  I told him that this was going to be part of my lunch.  He exclaimed ‘Ach, don’t eat those veeds, throw them avay.  Thas is poor man’s food.’…” (4)


The author known as “Wildman” Steve Brill discusses purslane in his book Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places.   Oleracea means ‘eaten as a cultivated herb.’  This annual was esteemed as food in its native India, and in Persia.  Archaeologists find purslane seeds and pollen in excavations dating back thousands of years.  For two thousand years it was a well-known cultivated garden vegetable in Europe.  Suddenly, in the 20th century, it was forgotten, and just as quickly it’s making a comeback.” (5)


[Table of Contents] [History] [Location] [Chemical Constituents] [Medicinal Qualities]
[Contra-Indications] [Known Herbal Formulas] [Dosages & Applications] [Personal Experience] [Bibliography]