The portulaca, also known as “porcelain grass”Is an annual herbaceous plant with a particular predilection for uncultivated fields, vegetable gardens, sandy soils, stony environments, flower beds, gardens and cracks in sidewalks. An extraordinary product of nature so much so that it is known and appreciated since ancient times.
Original of South Asia, was already cultivated in Mesopotamia two thousand years ago and its rapid spread has affected the Mediterranean regions and all of Europe. Popular tradition considered it one lucky plant and a powerful amulet against evil spirits and spells: some branches placed under the mattress guaranteed a peaceful sleep full of premonitory dreams.
Even Mahatma Gandhi, in an effort to rid his country of poverty and hunger, he promoted agriculture run by a set of self-sufficient villages. For this purpose he had drawn up a list of 30 cultivable species, among which he had also included portulaca.
The whole plant contains numerous substances including quercetin, sitosteringlucoside, camferol, cyanidin, dopamine, mucillagine, oxalic acid and calcium oxalates. It features vitamins such as C and Vitamin A (retinol and equivalents), vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) and small concentrations of B vitamins. The concentrations of some minerals such as magnesium, manganese, potassium and iron (although not very bioavailable).
The health benefits
The main nutritional feature of this weed is the high presence of omega 3 essential fatty acids (alpha-linolenic in optimal quantity) to a greater extent than any other leafy vegetable plant. This feature, together with the simultaneous presence of C vitamin, especially if eaten raw, makes it a suitable food in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and in the enhancement of immunitary defense.
In the phytotherapeutic field, it is useful for its anti-inflammatory, emollient, diuretic, refreshing, antiscorbutic, antioxidant and choleretic. The presence of mucillagine, in addition to making it a natural emollient useful for dry, red or inflamed skin, since they are water-soluble they are excellent for modulating intestinal absorption and nourishing the microbiota, carrying out a prebiotic action. Furthermore, they are able to counteract slowed intestinal transit, in association with the right amount of water, avoiding the side effects typical of insoluble fibers such as swelling and intestinal bloating.
In folk medicine, fresh juice is used as a mouthwash to treat gengiviti and ulcers of the oral cavity (alternatively it is sufficient to chew the leaves).
Recipes and uses in the kitchen
And just as extraordinary are the uses of this plant, which can be picked up virtually anywhere in between spring and summer. The leaves and tender stems have a pleasant sour taste and in the raw state they are a precious ingredient of mixed salads and green sauces. They go well with creamy cheeses, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, legumes, vegetables and fish-based dishes. They are added to the soups and soups, taking advantage of their thickening capacity due to the presence of mucilage.
Boil and seasoned with oil and lemon (accompanied, for example, with mayonnaise or a spicy sauce) or sautéed with garlic, anchovies and olives (some recipes require the use of bacon), make up a side dish or a starter original and tasty.
Thanks to its fleshy consistency, it also lends itself to being preserved in vinegar, brine or oil.
A plant, therefore, useful and appetizing that can be consumed freely taking into account a single warning: being rich in oxalates, if consumed in high doses and for long periods of time, it can cause problems of kidney stones to people predisposed to this pathology.