Post 57: Fast Lane, or Purslane?

I’d originally planned for this post to be an essay about the irrigation ditch I dug from the street through my front yard. It was all written, ready for photos, when the contents of the Word file went blank. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but computers are inhabited with little devils, whose favorite pastime—when your back is turned—is to select text and then delete it.

When my tech support is available, I’ll see if we can retrieve that text; if so, I’ll publish it next week. If not, I guess those profound thoughts are gone forever. Either way, here are some for you to read in the meantime.

Horse purslane and true purslane
The larger plant, shown above the orange dotted line, is horse purslane. The smaller plant is true purslane.

If you live in the Southwest like I do, you’ve probably gotten a lot of rain—along with a lot of weeds. So I thought I’d share some tips about eating those monsoon weeds.

My favorite edible weed is purslane. It’s incredibly nutritious and delicious, raw or cooked.

The photo above shows two kinds of purslane that came up in my yard—though the larger plant, called “horse purslane,” isn’t actually in the purslane family, portulaca.

The first couple decades of my purslane-eating, I didn’t know the difference. Horse purslane was dominant around town, and it didn’t taste bad at all. But when I first sampled true purslane, sauteed with onions and garlic, the taste was exceptional. I converted.

In my yard this year, the horse purslane got a head start and is bigger. But the best way to tell the difference between the two weeds is that the true purslane has tear-drop shaped leaves. It can also be a little “stemmier.” (Some of the distinctions you’ll find online are a bit confusing, but I think you can clearly tell the difference from my photo.) If you happen to have more of the true portulaca dominating your yard, you’re lucky!

Eat some! Here are some recipes.

At the top of this post is a picture of another purslane relative, the elephant bush (Portulacaria afra). Native to South Africa—where elephants do eat it—it seems to be becoming a fairly common landscape plant around here as well. I took cuttings for this one from a friend. I also took cuttings from a big pot in front of Safeway. (Was that a theft? You decide—the planter had been neglected, with its soil surface completely bare, and straggly, dying tendrils spilling over the pot’s hot sides. I only regret I didn’t prune the plant while it was still growing mostly upward and within the pot—it would have grown lusher.)

Though elephant bush is also edible for humans, I haven’t tried eating mine yet. I want the plants to grow bigger first.

Portulaca is a succulent and contains a high percentage of water—usually more than 90 percent. Someday maybe you’ll find yourself wandering around, lost and thirsty, with an empty water bottle. Eat some elephant bush leaves and they could save your life.

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