Purslane is either the bane of gardeners or a culinary treat, depending on who you ask. It certainly is long-lived and hardy. The plant is found from Europe to Africa to the Western Hemisphere. There are 900 species of purslane and 19 generas. Nine generas exist in the United States, according to Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture.
Purslane thrives in dry, sandy soils and finds its way into orchards, vineyards, gardens and landscaped areas. It grows along roadsides and in fields. The plant is so drought tolerant that when tilled, small bits of it left on the soil will survive and regrow. Purslane seeds are brought to the surface during cultivation, so an area where no purslane previously grew may become infested after being disturbed.
Purslane seeds are tiny, brown and egg-shaped. They remain viable for up to 30 years in undisturbed soil, just waiting for an opportunity to emerge. Purslane seedlings emerge with two or three padded, succulent leaves. The leaves are thick and waxy, and are sometimes tinged with red. As the plant grows, it spreads through runners, quickly invading a large area if left unchecked. Mature plants have many small, paddle-shaped leaves and small yellow flowers. The plant is an annual, dying with the first hard frost.
The best way to control purslane is to dig it up and remove it completely from the soil, preferably before it flowers. Each small, seemingly innocuous flower contains up to 52,000 seeds. Pull purslane in the spring, when the soil is damp and the plant stands less than 3 inches high. The purslane sawfly feeds on purslane and provides good natural control, according to the University of California Davis Integrated Pest Control Program. Flaming and systemic herbicides such as glyphosate may also provide good control, if applied to young plants.
Purslane isn't all bad. For centuries, it was used in Europe to treat arthritis and inflammation. The plant is used in cooking in many cultures. Russians dry and can it for winter use. In Mexico, it is called verdolaga and is used in omelets, soups and stews, or rolled in tortillas.
Purslane has more beta-carotene than spinach, according to Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture (PCSA). The plant is high in magnesium and potassium and researchers recently discovered it contains a type of omega-3 fatty acids. Regularly consuming purslane may lower blood pressure and cholesterol, adds PCSA.