I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I didn’t ever pay enough attention when my mom was talking about plants. And boy do I regret that. But something surprising I’ve been finding is how much miscellaneous information that I didn’t realize had registered at all is floating around in my brain just waiting to be discovered.
And this brings me to “the weed” I insisted not get pulled when Jocelyn came and helped me one day in the plots. The thing is, I didn’t have much of an explanation…she was weeding and I said, “Don’t pull that one! I mean…well…I think they might be edible or good or something…so…leave those.” Sweetly, which is the only way Joce ever responds to my requests, no matter how hair-brained they might be, she said, “Okayyyy…” and left them meticulously be.
A few days later, Juan was in his plot and I worked up the courage to go and ask him about the weeds. I say worked up the courage not because he is intimidating or unkind — this couldn’t be further from the truth. But I had already pestered him about my strawberries and he had offered to help me with those, and then I had pestered him about the tomatoes I had being swallowed up by my squash so he helped me with those, and then he had offered to help me re-cover my strawberries, too. I didn’t want to become the cringe-worthy neighbor who was never just saying hi and ONLY ever borrowing a cup of sugar. But I gathered up my courage and went and asked.
“Hi Mary! How are your strawberries? I worry for them…”
“Oh, fine…they are beautiful. Thank you, Juan. I’ll have that new plastic soon.”
“How soon? They need the better plastic, Mary…”
“Okay, Thursday I be here with plenty of time and we do it. I do it for you.”
I really love this guy. He is amazing and generous.
“Juan? Those things down there…” I pointed to the weeds he has like mine, which he seems to either cultivate or just let be. “Are those good or bad? I mean…okay my mom used to tell me that In Mexico they are a vegetable, not a weed.”
He laughed. “It is good. People eat it. We do eat it in Mexico. I? I don’t like it so much but you cook it and you eat it. I don’t know…It is not my favorite but it is good.”
It turns out we were discussing verdolaga. In the U.S. it’s commonly thought of as a weed and we call it purslane. In fact, when some of the other gardeners found out that I was going to try eating it, they wished me well, offered a memorial service and the always jovial Dick clutched me in a hug saying, “Well, it was nice knowing you. You’re a lovely girl! Can I have your zucchini?” Oh those gardeners.
But the thing is, after a little bit of research, I have begun to find some things out about purslane that maybe we Americans del Norte might want to pay some attention to. For instance, purslane is remarkably high in an Omega 3 fatty acid known as alpha lenolinic acid — very unusual in a food that is not fish (New England Journal of Medicine, 1986). According to the New York Times, it also contains surprising amounts of melatonin (which aids in sleep) and other beneficial nutrients. Surprisingly, a simple Google search of purslane showed multiple write-ups in the New York Times and the Washington Post. “Really?” I thought. “About a weed?”
But the idea of “weed” is really just ours. Apparently, purslane is eaten and relished all over the world — Mexico, Greece, Kuala Limpur, to name just a few places that think differently than we do in the U.S. But purslane is having something of a comeback here, too. This little, hardy succulent is beginning to be a hot item in farmer’s markets and chefs are using it more and more in top restaurants.
So last night I took the plunge. I heard from Juan that he and his daughter would be pulling out their purslane that day because it was choking out their bell peppers and so I came home with a huge bag of it, promising everyone who dubiously watched me leave that I’d return with a recipe if it was, indeed, good. Here is a picture of what I brought home. I was soaking to revive it after an hour in a hot car while I ran errands on the way home:
The recipe I used was for Greek Island Chickpea Salad With Purslane and Arugula from the Times. If you have the following in your kitchen, you can make the salad:
- lemons or lemon juice
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
This is how it turned out:
I have to say, it’s a rare day that I have pesto and pine nuts on my plate and something else interests me more. This was one of those days. Ryan and I purred our way through dinner and though the recipe allegedly made 4 servings of salad, we finished it between the two of us. And look! I’m still alive the next day!
So gardeners, think twice before you pull that weed. It might just be your next favorite vegetable.
Gosh, I’m glad I sort of listened to my mom sometimes, even without meaning to.