BACKGROUND, ORIGIN, AND DISTRIBUTION
The plant is a prostrate fleshy herb with spreading branches. Leaves are fleshy, shiny and widest at the tips, shaped like a water droplet. Flowers are born terminally in clusters, with small round seed pods dispersing numerous small black seeds.
This is a common, spontaneously appearing plant found growing throughout the tropics and warmer temperate regions. The wide range is due to high genetic flexibility which permits rapid adaptation to new environments. There are many forms, with different size leaves.
PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION
Cultivation of this plant is easy, and it is most familiar to most people as a spontaneous "weed". In favorable tropical climates it can be readily observed growing out of cracks in sidewalks, even out of rubble and deteriorating walls. Increasingly, due to its reputable health benefits and nutritious properties, improved purslane cultivars/varieties can be found, faster growing with larger leaves.
The plant is cultivated in France, Denmark and the Netherlands.
As a companion plant, purslane provides ground cover to create a humid microclimate for nearby plants, stabilising ground moisture. Its deep roots bring up moisture and nutrients that those plants can use, and some, including corn, will follow purslane roots down through harder soil that they cannot penetrate on their own (ecological facilitation). It is known as a beneficial weed in places that do not already grow it as a crop in its own right.
USES AND ETHNOBOTANY
The leaves and shoots can be eaten raw and have a mild but pleasant taste. The leaves also make a good forage for poultry. The plant is versatile when it comes to how it can be eaten, and can be mixed into most any dish, raw or cooked.
In East Africa the seeds are ground into a flour that is used to make porridge.
Purslane contains more omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid in particular) than any other leafy vegetable plant. Studies have found that purslane has 0.01 mg/g of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). It also contains vitamins (mainly vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), vitamin B, carotenoids), and dietary minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron.