Wild foods are viable and valuable components in our diet. In The Wild Food Cookbook (The Countryman Press, 2014), Roger Phillips provides an appetizing and intriguing selection of recipes using the many plants, mushrooms and seaweeds that are edible and plentiful in North America. This Tzatziki with Common Purslane Recipe is from Chapter 1, “Leaves, Shoots, Flowers and Herbs.”
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Common Purslane or Pusley, Portulaca oleracea, an annual herb with yellow flowers that open only on sunny mornings, grows close to the ground in gardens, and flowers, then fruits, from June to November.
Found throughout North America.
Although one of our most common and nutritious wild plants, purslane is now thought of solely as a weed. This was not always so. In colonial times, according to the Reverend Manasseh Cutler (1785), purslane was eaten as a potherb and regarded as little inferior to asparagus. The Paiute Indians also ate purslane greens (Palmer, 1878) and the ground seeds as well. By the end of the 19th century, F. V. Colville (1895) could write that purslane’s chief economic value was supposedly as food for hogs, but he highly recommends it as food for humans: “As a potherb . . . it is very palatable, still retaining when cooked a slight acid taste. It can be heartily recommended to those who have a liking for this kind of vegetable food.”
The leaves, stems, and flower buds of purslane can all be eaten. To keep your patch flourishing, it is best first to snip off the young leaf tips. Use them raw in a variety of salads or cook them lightly and serve them with butter as a crunchy green vegetable. Alternatively, the slightly mucilanginous texture of the leaves helps to thicken soups and casseroles. Many people like to fry purslane leaves with chopped bacon.
Having read that Indians made flour from the tiny black seeds that ripen in capsules when the plant is mature, Euell Gibbons dried the whole mature plants on a plastic sheet for two weeks, then sieved and winnowed them to accumulate the seeds. These he ground and mixed half and half with wheat flour to make pancakes, which he pronounced “delicious.”
A woman who sold Mexican purslane in bunches at a Tucson street market, told me that Mexicans eat purslane as a side dish. They boil the leaves for a few minutes, then fry them in oil with a little chopped onion, adding slices of cheese and serving it when the cheese is hot and melting.
Tzatziki with Common Purslane Recipe
• 1-1/2 cups plain yogurt
• 1 medium-sized cucumber, peeled and cubed
• 2 cloves garlic, crushed
• 1 cup coarsely chopped purslane leaves
• salt and pepper to taste
1. Combine all the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Put the mixture into a serving bowl and decorate with purslane sprigs.
This wild food version of a traditional Greek hors d’oeuvre has a refreshingly crunchy texture and is a good accompaniment for charbroiled meat.
More Wild Food Recipes
This recipe has been reprinted with permission from The Wild Food Cookbook, by Roger Phillips, published by The Countryman Press, 2014. Buy this book from our store: The Wild Food Cookbook.