Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the April 21, 2008 Newsletter written in the community of 28 de Junio, in the Central Valley 8 kms east of Pujiltic, Chiapas, MÉXICO
about 800 meters in elevation, ± LAT. 16° 18'N, LONG. -92° 28'


Above you see a honeybee visiting a yellow blossom of a handsome little plant growing at the edge of my salad-greens patch in the garden. The plant is Purslane, PORTULACA OLERACEA, of the Purslane Family, the Portulacaceae. It's closely related to the Rose-Moss or Rock-Rose of rock-gardens and sidewalk edges. The species is a common weed throughout most of North America, probably originally from Asia.

On the farm back in Kentucky this same species was common in our barnyard and garden, and in the tobacco patch I was always grateful to it because it was so easy to dislodge with a hoe. Just slide the hoe blade beneath the widely spreading branches to the plant's center, where there's a single taproot easy to slice through. Other weeds often root at their stem nodes so you have to pull them out by hand. You can imagine my surprise the first time I came to Mexico back in the 60s and I saw indigenous folks along streets selling green bouquets of our tobacco-patch weed.

The bouquets were for eating, and many people regard the plant as having a good taste. During my entire childhood no one ever told me it was edible, even though Weakely in his Flora of the Carolinas writes that "During the Great Depression, P. oleracea was eaten extensively in the Valley of Virginia as a potherb."

I've eaten it and it isn't bad, maybe a little slimy and fibrous, but it's wholesome tasting and probably nutritious. I'd rather have mustard or collard greens or, probably best, a mixture of the three things.

You can identify Purslane by the way its larger leaves cluster at stem tips, more or less forming a flattish collar or " involucre" beneath the flowers and fruits. Also notice the thick, succulent, pinkish stems. Stems radiate away from its taproot, hugging the soil.