Purslane persists

I seem to be spending an inordinate amout of time this summer dealing with purslane.

Instead of sitting in a comfortable chair with a glass of icy lemonade, contemplating the flowers and vegetables that are showing their appreciation for the copious rain, I am on my knees grubbng at weeds.

Other gardeners have told me the same thing, and I presume the rain has encouraged the growth spurt in weeds.

Purslane, otherwise known as pursley, is a prostrate plant that has many branches, eventually forming a mat that grows to a foot in diameter. The leaves are bright green, tinged with red, and thick, filled with special tissue for water storage.

Hand-pulling is the only effective way to remove this menace because it has a long taproot that will break off with the application of a hoe. If you are patient with the small plants that pop up everywhere, it is easier to pull a larger specimen; otherwise, you have to grub in the mud to get the whole thing.

My trusty steak knife is my best weapon, but large or small, I cannot keep ahead of purslane’s remorseless advance.

Starting about now, and continuing until Sepember, small yellow flowers open fron flattened buds. The five yellow petals open in the sun every day, and if you allow pollination to take place, an urn-shaped globular capsule will form, and of course, this container is full of seeds that promise a good crop next year.

You will find purslane listed in all the weed books, but the strange thing is, it is included in books on herbs and also natural cook books. Not to mention moss rose, or portulaca, has a prominent place in articles on recommended mid-summer flowers. And portulaca is the generic name for purslane.

In his book “Stalking the Wild Asparagus,” Euell Gibbons offered an interesting recipe for pickles, using purslane leaves, and also recommended it as a good natural thickener for soups and stews.

It is said the flavor is similar to watercress or spinach, but I am not going to be the one to try out that theory. It can be used on sandwiches instead of lettuce or pickles, or cooked as a potherb, steamed, stir-fried or pureed. One recipe adds the caveat it can get a bit slimy if over-cooked.

This reminds me of the things they say about okra. However, I have no intention of eating either plant, so I will never know for sure.

If tour weed eradification is not going fast enough to suit you, look for the Schitzocerella policornis, or purslane sawfly, which will provide excellent control. The trouble there is, you will have to go to California to find some, but they reportedly work well.

Which brings me finally to the moss rose I cherish in my garden as a border once the pansies start to flag in mid-summer heat. I love this portulaca, which blooms in many colors, is drought-resistant, but also survives copious summer rains. It does reseed, but late in the season, with the shoots just now flourishing.

I mentioned in a column it is hard to find in stores now, and just this morning some appeared on my back porch. Thank you to the unknown donor.

So pull it out, drown it with Round-up, boil it, compost it or put it on your hamburger. Whatever you choose to do, don’t be afraid your supply will dry up. Just as Alfred Lord Tennyson said about the brook, “men may come and men may go, but I go on forever.”

Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at janetdelturco@yahoo.com.