Purslane, the Noxious Weed That Mexicans (and Others) Love
Verdolagas according to Hispanics
An Invasive Weed? No, It Is Good to Eat According to Daniel
This morning after having my morning cup of java and taking the dog for a walk, my wife served breakfast and we relaxed for a few minutes before beginning the projects of the day. The gardener was due in a few minutes, so I went outside to look at the yard and the garden. There they were again, those invasive weeds with the little yellow flowers, the ones that the Greek lady yesterday had called glistritha. I decided to ask the gardener about them when he showed up.
My gardener goes by the name of Daniel and he had told me that when he was a child, his family had emigrated from the State of Michoacan in Mexico. His English was perfect and he had several years of college where he had studied agriculture. He is a really nice man, always on time, does a good job, cleans up the mess; he is someone that I would highly recommend. After looking around, I went back into the house to get a refill for my coffee mug. Sure, enough, as I puttered around the living room, I could hear the sound of a diesel truck.
Right on time, Daniel arrived in his new Dodge diesel truck with a young boy. They got out of the truck and immediately got started on the mowing; I assumed that the boy was Daniel's son, "he knows how work just like his dad," I thought to myself. I did a few chores inside the house and then headed outside. As soon as I got outside, Daniel introduced me to his son, Armando, and as I watched Daniel and Armando put their lawn equipment into the truck and then started on the flower beds in front of the house. I noticed that most of the weeds went into a weed bucket similar to mine, but I also noticed that he was putting some of the weeds into a bag that he had around his middle. The boy was trimming the bushes with shears while Daniel worked on the weeds. After watching for a while, I finally meandered over to where Daniel was working and asked him, "Daniel, why are you putting some of the weeds into that bag? What are they"? Daniel replied, "the weeds are verdolagas, my wife puts them in the green sauce for my chile verde." He showed one of the weeds to me and I recognized it immediately and cried out with the only Greek word that I know, "Oh, it is gree-stree-tha." Daniel looked puzzled so I added, "that is what the Greek lady from down the street calls it." Daniel replied, "we call it verdolagas where I come from and everyone eats it, it is very healthy."
Soon, the work was done, Daniel and Armando took off for their next job, and I headed into the house determined to find out more about the noxious weed, gristritha or verdolagas, whatever it was called. I had a suspicion that there might be another name for the weed in the English language.
This vignette is the second in a group whereby I came to an appreciation of the so-called weed, Purslane, as a very valuable addition to my salads and other food dishes that I eat. It is valuable primarily because of its benefit to my health and also because, being wild and cultivated it is easy to locate and harvest. I list the additional vignettes below:
Vignette 1: Purslane, The Incredible Edible Weed
Mother and Child, Millstone of Australian Aborigines used in grinding Purslane seeds
More About the Characteristics of Purslane: First As a Friend To the Cook
- The invasive characteristics of the wild variety of Purslane have been well documented, it grows everywhere it can find a friendly environment, bar none. But, so far we have not looked at the culinary characteristics of the plant; this will be a long continuing journey because almost every culture (except of the American farmer and gardener) in the world appreciates Purslane; in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if one might find Eskimos eating purslane in the difficult agricultural environment of Alaska. The photo to the right is taken of an Australian Aborigine millstone for grinding seeds for bread, among them, Purslane seeds found in the Australian bush.
- That reminds me of a story about eating greens. Years ago, I was taking a graduate class in "Principalship" planning to ultimately obtain an administrative credential as an educator. The class was taught by a very interesting professor who had quite a background. He attended LSU for his B. A. degree, but was also an All American on their football team. He was drafted by the professional Rams football team and had a few years in their defensive backfield when the Korean conflict started. He soon found himself in the cockpit of a fighter aircraft over Korea due to his ROTC requirements. He was shot down and ended up in a North Korean prison camp. All around him men were dying as a results of their wounds, initially, but he noticed as time went on that many American prisoners became malnourished and died as a result of the poor diet. But the Turkish prisoners, excepting the ones who died from wounds, did not die even though they ate the same poor diet with its lack of nutrients, as the American prisoners. My professor noticed as he watched the Turks,that they ate almost anything green that poked its head up above the ground, so he followed suit. He survived in the camp for three years, was finally released, and then returned to the backfield of the Rams. He then told the class that he got to thinking that playing football was not good for his physical future, so he returned to Louisiana, completed a PHD program and ultimately ended up as a full professor in education department of the university.
- Purslane fits into the genre of greens that poke their heads above the ground, something to quickly grab and eat is you find yourself in a prison camp. Our friends on the Wikipedia venue state that:
Although purslane is considered a weed in the United States, it may be eaten as a leaf vegetable. It has a slightly sour and salty taste and is eaten throughout much of Europe, the middle east, Asia, and Mexico. The stems, leaves and flower buds are all edible. Purslane may be used fresh as a salad, stir-fried, or cooked as spinach is, and because of its mucilaginous quality it also is suitable for soups and stews. Australian Aborigines use the seeds to make seedcakes. Greeks, who call it andrakla (αντράκλα) or glystrida (γλυστρίδα), fry the leaves and the stems with fetacheese, tomato, onion, garlic, oregano, and olive oil, add it in salads, boil it or add to casseroled chicken. In Turkey, besides being used in salads and in baked pastries, it is cooked as a vegetable similar to spinach. In Albania it is called burdullak, and also is used as a vegetable similar to spinach, mostly simmered and served in olive oil dressing, or mixed with other ingredients as a filling for dough layers of byrek. In the south of Portugal (Alentejo), "baldroegas" are used as a soup ingredient.
- Can you imagine a plant being called a weed that does all of the above. Everywhere in the world except the United States, the plant is food and medicine and is commonly eaten in many different ways. Makes one wonder, how long have the aborigines of Australia been harvesting Purslane for Bush Bread (seedcakes) and I wonder what they have named the plant, that might be another quest for my to do list: find out the aborigine name for Purslane? I found a link to a site, I Dig My Garden, that has an on-going discussion about harvesting Purslane seeds (poor writing, but good information). An interesting fact is that the name for Purslane in Australia tends to be Pigweed; here in the United States (in the South)k, Pigweed is the term used for a variety of Amaranth. Incidently, Pigweed in the South (United States) has involved to one of the most invasive plant imaginable as a result of using Roundup Ready cotton plants.