What’s Thriving at Baker Creek (and maybe hiding in your garden)
By Shannon McCabe
Baker Creek is enjoying glorious summer weather this week. The sun is shining and the breeze is blowing. Today we took a stroll through our gardens to harvest one of the best kept culinary secrets: a mouth watering, almost succulent green, high in omega three fatty acid, endlessly versatile, and beloved by gourmet chefs and veggie lovers. Despite its culinary and nutritional prowess, and incredible flavor, you may have not eaten it or have even heard of it. You probably have it growing in your very own garden and you might not even know it’s there; in fact, you may have been pulling it up and discarding it! Don’t feel too bad; I had a zero tolerance policy for this unsung hero in my garden for years before I discovered its tangy refreshing taste and uncanny ability to fight free radicals. Portulaca oleraceae, also known as Purslane, is often regarded as a weed in most people’s gardens. It is related to portulaca, which is a colorful flowering succulent. Purslane has recently become more popular, and some gardeners have learned to love this weed. Wild purslane grows low to the ground, often creating a mat, shading out other weeds and providing a moist soil surface for the plants around it. Weed suppression? Moisture retention? What more could you ask for in a weed?!
Aside from the fact that it can be a great companion plant, the nutritional benefits of Purslane are astounding. It has the highest amounts of alpha linolenic acid, which is an omega-3 fatty acid, of any vegetable. Purslane has five times more ALA than that of spinach. Omega 3 fatty acid is a polyunsaturated fat which humans cannot synthesize themselves and must get from their diet. Omega 3s are found in high quantities in fish and some vegetables. They are essential for human growth, development, the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and maintenance of a healthy immune system. Purslane is widely grown around the world and is grown as a potherb in Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean. It appears that this nutritional super plant has been hiding in plain sight for years, lying in wait for American gardeners to discover its benefits.
This summer gardeners will have a great opportunity to try wild purslane. Just make sure it is growing in a safe, non polluted area; you will see purslane growing out of the sidewalks and pavement cracks, but you don’t want to eat that! The best method is to find it growing in the garden and snip or pinch off an entire stem. Just another useful characteristic of this plant is that most parts are edible. The stems, leaves and flowers are all perfectly delicious and safe to eat. We recommend eating fresh in a salad with thin shaved beets and carrots drizzled with a light, lemon or balsamic dressing. Or very lightly sautéed in olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, it is a perfect side dish to fish. The salty and tangy flavor marries beautifully with a piece of fresh fish with a wedge of lemon.
Here at Baker Creek we are growing a domesticated version of this wild and wondrous weed. It is very similar to the wild version, with just a few more benefits. Domesticated purslane grows tall and has larger leaves. This can save on prep time when cooking (the wild version needs a bit of rinsing to get the dirt off because it grows so low). A larger leaf makes for a better yield when cooking because purslane tends to cook down quite a bit. We grow and sell two different kinds of purslane. Golden purslane is a bright golden green color, it has a thirst quenching, almost crunchy leaf and a mellow flavor. Green purslane has a tangy, lemon flavor and a deep emerald green color. Both varieties grow tall with incredibly high yields. On our walk through the Baker Creek gardens today, we picked a basket full of both the green and golden varieties for a light, tangy spring salad to serve at the Baker Creek restaurant. We pulled beets up from another bed and shaved them thinly atop a bed of Purslane and mixed greens. With a sprinkling of edible flower petals and a bit of balsamic dressing, it was the perfect salad to cool off after a warm, sun drenched day working in the fields.
If you find that you like the wild version (and you quickly eat all of the purslane that was growing in your garden) It’s not to late to order and plant seeds this season for a taller, more dependable and vigorous crop.