Something tells me some of you may have clicked on this because you thought it was a joke. But no, I assure you, purslane is not just an obnoxious weed that grows whether you want it to or not (even if sometimes it is definitely that). Rather, purslane may be one of the most ideal summer greens around. Yeah, to grow on purpose.
Unlike lettuce, spinach and other tender greens that readily bolt in pounding heat of summer, purslane thrives. It is also extremely nutritious, high in vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and other minerals. Or perhaps you just want to add another tasty addition to your microgreen production. Purslane can do that, too. This edible succulent is simply too good to overlook when it comes to planning the summer garden. And as you may have noticed when it has volunteered in your paths or around your yard, it practically grows itself.
The two types of purslane seed most common in seed catalogs are Gruner Red and Goldberg—though according to Wikipedia, there are over 40 different varieties in cultivation (do with that what you will). If looking for heirlooms or alternatives, you may also find seed under the verdolaga, it’s Spanish name.
Cultivated purslanes generally have larger leaves than wild purslane and grow upright, making harvesting easier. If you want to propagate your own variety, seed can be harvested from wild purslane once the plant has senesced, but the production may be more variable, yields lower and stems shorter. However, what you lack in convenience you may make up for in flavor.
1. Grow Purslane As Microgreens
Microgreens can be a nutritious treat, as well as an excellent market item—especially for chefs. To grow purslane as microgreens, use a perforated seedling tray. Cover the bottom with organic potting mix to at least 1/2-inch deep. Sprinkle seeds evenly but thickly overtop, and cover with a thin layer of soil mix. Place in sunny area at about 75 degrees F, and keep moist until germinated. Once germinated, a slightly cooler temperature between 60 and 70 degrees F, is optimal. Keep the soil moist, irrigate the sprouts from underneath to avoid splashing the plants. Cut the microgreens when the reach 2 to 4 inches.
2. Keep Soil Dry
Although soil fertility for purslane doesn’t have to be particularly high, as a succulent, purslane does enjoy a drier, well-drained soil. It is a fast grower, so it can often outcompete many other weeds, but a good preemptive flame-weeding or stale seed bedding is always recommended before direct seeding it into the ground.
As a member of the same family, purslane will share diseases with other succulents. It is also somewhat susceptible in my own experience to fungi if the season is too wet and planting too dense, as it actually prefers a dry climate.
3. Grow In A Warm Spot
Purslane cannot tolerate cold and prefers germination temperatures of 70 degrees F or more. Wait to place in field until days are long and average temperatures are above 70 during the day and 50 at night, preferably warmer.
Purlsane can be started in seed containers or sown directly into beds. Seeds should be sown every 3/4 inch in rows 8 inches apart. Thin to roughly two or three per foot in row. If transplanting, sow in flats and transplant once first true leaves appear at roughly 8 inches apart.
4. Harvest In The Morning For Tartness
When harvesting purslane, take into consideration the malic acid content of the plant, which is higher in the morning than at night thus making it more tart. Some will prefer this while others may find they enjoy purslane harvested in the evening, when the flavor is milder.
5. Cool Immediately After Picking
Purslane is a delicate crop and should be cooled immediately after harvest. Warm temperatures after harvest will bring out the mucilaginous texture of the crop. Gardeners can either pick off stems continuously over several weeks or cut the whole plant. It will regrow if 2 inches or more of the plant is left on the stem, though it should get no more than three weeks of harvest if the flavor begins to decline and the plant shows signs of bolting. Store purslane in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, and use within a week.
6. Seek Out Chefs
If looking to grow a lot of purslane, contact chefs beforehand. It will sell a bit at market, but it is a specialty crop and may need some other outlets to move it. Ask chefs at what size they would prefer it and how many pounds. And since it is a rarer green, consider selling at herb prices.