How to Identify Purslane and Tell the Difference from Its Look-Alikes

How to Identify Purslane

Purslane is an edible and nutritious succulent plant, making it a foraging favorite. But, there are a lot of poisonous look-alikes of the purslane plant, so it’s important to identify them correctly before eating them. 

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about how to spot a common purslane like a pro and tell its difference from its look-alikes. Read on to safely forage purslane and enjoy this delicious weed!

What is common purslane?

What is common purslane
Image: Grow Forage Cook Ferment

Common purslane is an annual succulent native to Europe, Asia and Africa. It is an edible, low-growing plant with spatula-shaped leaves and fleshy stems. 

Purslane comes from the Portulacaceae family and is known to have existed back to 4,000 years ago. It commonly grows on sidewalk cracks, with its red stems and fleshy leaves emerging in most gardens during spring, summer and fall.

It’s a good food source with vitamins C and E and omega-3 fatty acids. All of its edible parts are usually added to salads or cooked.

Purslane has been used for centuries to treat ailments such as wounds, burns, stomach problems and high blood pressure. It’s also a great source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that keep cells healthy.

Here’s an overview of the physical characteristics of the common purslane plant. 

Scientific namePortulaca oleracea
Common namesCommon purslane, pigweed, little hogweed, garden purslane
FamilyPortulacaceae
LightFull sun to partial shade
SoilWell-drained, sandy soil
PropagationSeed, cuttings
Growth rateFast
MaintenanceLow-maintenance
Garden use/sGroundcover, edible plant, medicinal plant
Edible part/sLeaves, stems, flowers
Medicinal use/sTreats wounds, burns, stomach problems, high blood pressure

Edible Uses of Purslane

Edible Uses of Purslane
Image: Raw Edible Plants

Although a weed, purslane is a nutritious vegetable because of its high omega-3 fatty acid, vitamins and mineral content. It’s a prized vegetable in most parts of the world, such as in Spain, where it’s called “verdolagas.”

The leaves, stems, flowers and seeds of the common purslane plant are all edible and nutritious, which give a slightly mild sour taste.

Its fleshy leaves and stems are usually eaten raw in salads, pickled, used to thicken soups and stews, or added to smoothies. Their flowers, on the other hand, are used as an edible garnish.

Medicinal Uses

Medicinal Uses
Image: Dr. Axe

The United States Department of Agriculture found that purslane is exceptionally rich in magnesium, potassium and other antioxidants, which help treat headaches, chronic fatigue and depression. 

Native Americans even used purslane to treat burns and used its juice to treat earaches or made tea for headaches. 

It’s also rich in glutathione, which also helps boost the immune system and other antioxidants that protect the body against cancer and cardiovascular diseases. 

The leaves and stems of this plant are rich in mucilage, which is helpful for healing wounds in herbal medicine. It also has antibacterial properties which boost the immune system and help relieve digestive problems, colds and bronchitis.

For instance, in Europe, they use purslane as a cooling herb, adding it to poultices to treat eczema, sores, cuts, burns and inflammation. They simply break the purslane leaf and rub it on the sore or affected area. 

Where to Find Common Purslane

Where to Find Common Purslane
Image: Clemson University

Common purslane is a hardy plant that grows almost anywhere, from gardens, mountains, deserts, and beaches to roadside areas. They can tolerate various conditions, such as hot and dry weather or poor, sandy soil.

Purslanes generally thrive in full-sun locations with well-drained soil. But you can also find them in disturbed and wasted areas such as roadsides, sidewalk cracks or vacant parking lots.

How to Identify Common Purslane

How to Identify Common Purslane
Image: Nature & Garden

The common purslane is a low-growing, mat-spreading plant with fleshy, oval-shaped leaves arranged on its thick stems. It blooms small yellow flowers with five petals and develops smooth, shiny black seeds.

Keep reading to know each characteristic to properly identify the purslane plant. 

1. Growth Habit

Growth Habit
Image: Almanac

Common purslanes have a sprawling growth habit and spread on the ground, forming a dense mat. It’s a low-growing plant, reaching between 6 to 16 inches tall. 

It has branching, fleshy and hairless red stems which help the plant store water and thrive in hot, dry weather. It makes an excellent ground cover as it reseeds itself every year.

2. Leaves

Leaves
Image: University of Nevada

Purslane plants have smooth, fleshy bright green leaves with a tinge of red on the edges. They’re shaped like a spatula and are arranged opposite each other on its red stem. 

These leaves are usually an inch long and can easily be spotted because of their shiny surface. Their waxy coating helps protect the plant from the sun and wind and retain moisture to survive in hot, dry conditions.

The purslane leaves are an excellent source of vitamins A and C and omega-3 fatty acids, making them a favorite addition to salads, pickles, soups and stews.

3. Flowers

Flowers
Image: Coastal Illustrated

Every summer, purslane plants bloom small yellow, orange or red edible flowers that close at night and open during the day. Each flower is half an inch wide with five petals fused at the base, forming a tube. 

The flowers are arranged in clusters at the end of their fleshy red stems, which bees, butterflies and other insects pollinate. After pollination, these flowers will produce tiny black seeds dispersed by wind. 

The edible flowers are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help improve eye health, boost the immune system, reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol levels in the body. 

4. Seeds 

Seeds
Image: Wild Foodism

After pollination, the purslane flowers produce pods filled with tiny shiny black seeds, each about ⅙ inch long. The seeds are naturally dispersed by wind but can also be spread by pollinators and other animals. 

These purslane seeds germinate quickly when exposed to light. They sprout at a temperature between 25 to 30 degrees Celsius.

Common Purslane Look-Alikes

Purslane is a common plant and it also has several look-alikes. The bad news is that they’re poisonous. 

Read on as we guide you on how to differentiate purslane from its toxic look-alikes.

1. Prostrate Spurge (Euphorbia Prostrata)

Prostrate Spurge (Euphorbia Prostrata)
Image: Go Botany

Prostrate spurge is the most common, yet poisonous, look-alike of the common purslane plant. It’s another creeping plant with red stems often found near purslane. 

Here’s a summary of the common purslane and prostrate spurge differences. 

FeatureCommon PurslaneProstrate Spurge
Scientific namePortulaca oleraceaEuphorbia prostrata
Common names:Common purslane, pigweed, little hogweedProstrate spurge, creeping spurge, garden spurge
AppearanceLeaves are oval or spatula-shaped and arranged opposite each other on the stem. 
The flowers are small and yellow.
Leaves are arranged in opposite pairs or whorls of three. 
Flowers are small and white or pink.
HabitatFound in a variety of habitats, including gardens, fields, and roadsidesFound in disturbed areas, such as roadsides and vacant lots
EdibilityEdible leaves, stems, and flowersNot edible
ToxicityNot toxicMilky sap can cause skin irritation and nausea if ingested

Spurge’s leaves and stems are flatter than the fleshy leaves and stems of the purslane plant. Its leaves have serrated edges, while purslane leaves are smooth. 

The common purslane has spatula-shaped leaves, oppositely arranged.

On the other hand, spurge leaves are arranged in whorls of three.

Another key difference is that spurge stems are thinner and hairy compared with the fleshy, hairless purslane stems. 

Spurge blooms tiny white flowers at the base of the leaves, while purslane produces red, yellow or orange edible flowers at the end of their red stems. 

Finally, when you break the stem, you’ll see a white milky latex from a spurge plant, not in purslane stems. This milky sap causes skin irritation and nausea to whoever comes in contact with or ingests it. 

2. Other Plants in the Genus Portulaca

Other Plants in the Genus Portulaca
Image: West Hawaii Today

The other look-alikes of purslane come from plants in its genus, Portulaca, which are over 100 species. 

The leaves of common purslanes are oval-shaped, while other Portulaca plant leaves are lobes, heart-shaped or triangular. Common purslane stems are arranged opposite each other, but for other plants in this genus, they’re arranged spirally or in whorls.

Additionally, common purslane doesn’t produce milky sap. Other Portulaca plants, such as the prostrate spurge, have the milky white toxic latex from its stem.

Examples of species from this genus are

  1. Portulaca quadrifolia
  2. Portulaca oleracea var. sativa
  3. Portulaca umbraticola
  4. Portulaca amilis
  5. Portulaca pilosa
  6. Portulaca grandiflora
  7. Portulaca lutea

FAQs on Purslane Look-Alike

What does purslane taste like?


Purslane has a slightly mild sour taste similar to watercress or spinach. It is commonly eaten raw in salads, thickening soups and stews or pickled.

Who should not eat purslane?


People with kidney disease or high uric acid should not eat purslane because of its high oxalic acid content, leading to kidney stones.

Is purslane a jade plant?


Purslane is not a jade plant. A jade plant is a succulent with inedible leaves, while purslane is a vegetable with fleshy leaves. 

What is the life of a purslane?


A purslane’s life span is three months. Its seeds can last up to 19 years in dry storage and 40 years if buried in soil. 

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