I've never noticed it before. If it has plagued our garden in previous years I didn't see it -- or I was consumed with different, more urgent concerns. We've been transitioning our system this growing season, resulting in the movement of a lot of dirt and, very likely, weed seeds which could account for the emergence. One of these new sections has been particularly afflicted. I can run the wheel hoe through the walking spaces and between the plants one day, clearing the overgrowth, and by morning the ground is covered again as if I had been absent a week. Blast this low-growing, oddly attractive, curiously prolific succulent."Never be so focused on what you're looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find."-----Ann Patchett
Yesterday an acquaintance who operates a certified organic vegetable farm came over to perform my annual inspection to renew my Certified Naturally Grown designation for garden and chickens. Passing through the garden gate I pointed out this spidery green nemesis, muttered a few profanities by way of description, and asked if he had any idea what it is. His lips curling into a knowing, sympathetic smile, he uttered a single word: "purslane."
I had heard of purslane, and been curious about it, but obviously had no idea what it was. The internet offers plenty of pictures, of course, but scale is difficult for me to assess in such photos, and I'm left never really sure of what I'm looking for. The mystery, however, is now solved. My inspector friend went on to tell me that most other cultures value the plant's culinary and nutritional assets. We, on the other hand, cavalierly label it a weed and hoe it away. Together we plucked some leaves and sampled some of this aspirational supper. "Not bad," I thought as I considered the possibilities.
Later, having chewed a few more leaves, we researched for more understanding. Nature, I am continually learning, abhors bare ground. Bare ground rapidly loses moisture. Bare ground blows away. So it is that Nature finds ways to cover it. Quickly. Enter: purslane. But Nature isn't the plant's only admirer. Purslane, it turns out, is a wonder inside the home as well. Indeed enjoyed around the world, some believe the plant originated in Persia and India. Italians have have included it in their favorite recipes since the 1200's. Sporting higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids than many fish oils, impressive levels of fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, B-family vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium, copper, anti-oxidents and carotenoids, this pesky yet delicious little weed can reduce "bad" cholesterol, reduce cardiovascular disease, assist in weight loss, prevent certain cancers, boost vision, strengthen the immune system, build strong bones and improve circulation. Where has this stuff been all my life?
In her book, The Wild Wisdom of Weeds, Katrina Blair delivers kitchen recipes for Purslane Sauerkraut, Walnut Purslane Coleslaw, Purslane Peach Pie, Purslane Lime Sorbet and Purslane Gazpacho among others. Hygienically, she walks readers through the steps to Purslane Lemon Elixer, Purslane Shampoo and Purslane Lotion.
I'll have to admit that, while I'm becoming more and more adventurous in the kitchen, I'm skeptical as to how many of those are going to show up in our repertoire. Nonetheless, I'm excited to try something new -- ancient, that is, but new. Happy, as well, to approach my weeding with a kinder, more benevolent view.
It couldn't hurt to approach a few other things in my world with those clearer, more informed eyes as well -- wondering what other "purslanes" might be out there in the neighborhood, in the communities through which I pass, in the various immigrant communities to which we all belong; things and people who look, for all the world, like weeds but could just save our lives.
It's something to chew on.