The power of purslane

It grows wild and can be mistaken for a weed but its health benefits are enormous

March 15, 2018 03:35 pm | Updated 03:35 pm IST

Incredible health benefits Purslance is a drought-resistant succulent

Incredible health benefits Purslance is a drought-resistant succulent

A few years ago, I was introduced to the grow bag system of raising plants, which many kitchen gardening expert encouraged as the best way of conserving water and space. Our grow bags contain those plants that I feel thrive on their own. So currently we have basil, pineapple, mint, thyme, rosemary, turmeric and cherry tomato. It was also easier to keep these weed free .

At one point, a whole month went by without my paying attention to the wild foliage that had sprung around these plants. Later I noticed one particular ‘weed’ had spread and taken up a generous amount of space at the base of the grow bag and was beginning to spill over the rim. The pink fleshy stem-like creeper with small spongy green leaves looked so pretty that I just sat and admired it, sad at the thought of having to yank it out.

On closer examination, the leaves looked similar to our paruppu keerai but never having seen its growth pattern, I was not sure if this particular plant was edible. So I took photos and showed them to people who are familiar with wild local ingredients. The first person I asked was a farmer who called it kattu keerai (forest greens) and said that he had been eating it for years.

Delighted at this discovery, I proceeded to include this foraged green plant on a regular basis whenever available. It was then that I discovered that its existence wasn’t confined to the grow bags; it was just harder to locate on the ground amid actual weeds. One quiet afternoon, I decided to google kattu keerai and among the names that popped up was purslane. The image also closely resembled the plant that I had found. The health benefits listed left me incredulous. Unable to contain my excitement, I shared the pictures with foodie friends. The ensuing discussion inspired a friend to cook a fantastic meal with a mix of international flavours but with conscious focus on local produce. A cousin living in Palani spoke about her purslane discovery and how it is now an important part of her diet.

Purslane grows wildly in India and is also known as luni-bhaji or kulfa in other parts of the country. In many parts of the world, it is acclaimed as a gourmet ingredient. Purslane red gruner seeds are available online and are much in demand for their nutritive properties. Michael Pollan, whose “don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” is a popular mantra for food consciousness, makes a mention of this plant. In his Defense of Food, he has named purslane as one of the two most nutritious foods on the planet.

At home we follow a quick, easy recipe for purslane. After allowing it to steam gently for a few minutes, the leaves and stems are cooled and beaten to a smooth consistency along with ginger, green chillies, salt and, sometimes, garlic. This puree can be made to the required consistency by adding water. It makes a great gravy base for paneer, corn or even egg and can be added to soups, juices, pestos and chutneys. It is easy to cook and tastes a little tangy without the bitter after-taste that one associates with certain varieties of spinach. Just remember to wash it thoroughly before use, as it grows close to the ground. Truth be told, I’m much happier using this drought-resistant succulent than any other cultivated greens.

More about purslane

Purslane is a rich source of Vitamin A (powerful antioxidant,essential for vision,healthy mucosa and skin) and Vitamin C

Purslane also contains some B-complex vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine and carotenoids, as well as dietary minerals, such as iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and manganese

It has more omega 3 fatty acids than any other green leafy vegetable

It is high in dietary fibre and low in calories

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