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What's in Season at the Farmers Market: Purslane

Purslane from Flora Bella Farms at the Hollywood market
Purslane from Flora Bella Farms at the Hollywood market
Felicia Friesema

Purslane is considered an invasive weed in the state of California, and getting it under control has been a challenge. The thick stems and succulent teardrop leaves are easy to identify, and the plant itself pulls up from the ground without much of a fight. What makes it invasive is its ability to propagate -- one centimeter of errant stem has all the genetic capability to make a whole new plant if the conditions are right, pushing out other native species that are slower to establish.

Are you listening, foragers? This is one plant you don't have to worry about over-harvesting. You see it, you pick it. All of it. Because purslane, along with being a big nuisance, is also big in flavor. Those succulent lobes of leaves are sharp and lemony and have a smooth, chewy texture when raw.

And bonus: They're incredibly high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Some farmers are even using purslane as a companion plant to keep moisture in the ground around water-hungry crops like corn. Its deep roots penetrate some of the hardest clay soils, providing a sort of root highway for other plants that don't have the power to push down.

Still, purslane is an uncommon sight in the local markets. Two vendors at the Hollywood market -- Flora Bella and ABC Rhubarb -- both offer it in healthy and carefully tied (the plants bruise easily) bunches. Flora Bella will have it for just a few more weeks while ABC Rhubarb just started carrying it for the season.

Purslane is eaten and enjoyed all over the world -- and it has a long list of names. The one we know here in L.A. is verdolagas, where it is stewed for long hours with pork to add snap to a comforting pot of chile verde. In Arabic you'd call it baqleh and serve it with other fresh summer greens and vegetables in a delicate salad. In China it's ma chi xian and is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat everything from bug bites to dysentery.

Purslane almost has to be invasive because so many people the world over are happily ripping it out of the ground. Turns out they're also purposely planting it, so chances are pretty good that it'll be around for a long time.

Many local farmers' fields get a little too hot during the height of summer to keep purslane on the tables. But ABC Rhubarb has a few patches of still cool soil that will provide a good crop into July. Owner Lily Baltazar will happily provide recipes if you're at a loss.


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