Do a bit of online research on weeds these days and you might think you’ve landed in the supermarket produce aisle. Rather than information on how to combat garden pests, you will likely find an abundance of nutritional information and even recipes. Don’t rid the garden of these weeds is a common exhortation - harvest and eat them!
Purslane, a reportedly tangy tasting succulent, seems a good example. It is said that purslane was Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite food. Yet even the famously lean Gandhi might have packed on the pounds if he’d tried to eat all the purslane his garden could grow. Just one purslane plant can create up to 240,000 seeds in a single growing season.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) grows around the world and throughout the United States and it ranks right up there with asparagus, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes and tomatoes as a source of glutathione (an antioxidant).
Purslane is a successful weed because it is very adaptable and able to propagate in a variety of ways including seed, root division and from bits of stem. It’s a prostrate plant that spreads quickly, creating a dense mat covering the ground. It’s easy to pull after rain, but difficult to remove effectively without creating new plants. Purslane’s abundant seeds sprout readily in summer when soil is warm and moist or when disturbed soil exposes buried dormant seeds to light.
Purslane certainly qualifies as a plant with many fine qualities, including being a rich source of vitamins A and C and yielding a higher amount of beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids than any other plant source. Those wishing to pursue purslane as a salad ingredient might be best advised to grow it in containers and to harvest with care.
Of course, most gardeners would prefer to banish purslane and other unwelcome volunteers from their gardens. Garden soil harbors millions of dormant weed seeds, ready to sprout when exposed to light. They are aided and abetted in this pursuit by gardeners themselves. Every time a new plant is planted, or worse, when weeds are aggressively pulled – the soil is turned and weed seeds come to the surface. A program of weed prevention that includes a layer of mulch and a garden weed preventer such as Trifluralin (Preen) can help.
Mulch is highly effective in the war against garden weeds. It denies weed seeds the light they need to sprout. Mulch and pre-emergents aren’t weed killers. They’re weed preventers. By stopping seeds from sprouting, they stop weeds before they start. Together, these stop many weeds when they’re seeds, including such pesky and pernicious plants as purslane.