The Cactus Patch
Volume 3       August 2000      Number 8

The Most Widespread Succulent
by Bruce J. Hargreaves

The answer to last month's question as to the succulent mentioned in Thoreau's Walden is purslane (Portulaca oleracea). This is probably the most widespread of all succulents. Although most people consider it a weed, it is edible both raw and cooked and is sometimes deliberately cultivated. My brother Robert recently purchased a bunch at the local Marcado Latino and Dr. Peter Kortmann, a Dutch physician, proudly served us some from his garden in Malawi. I use it as food for our desert tortoise.

Although some claim has been made for its pre-Columbian presence in the New World, most botanists accept an Old World origin. W.J. Burchell, in his Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa (facsimile reprint 1967, C. Struik, Cape Town), describes feasting on purslane which covered Asbestos Hill in South Africa. Allen Moorehead, in his historical fiction Cooper's Creek, describes how early British explorers in Australia fed on purslane. Unfortunately, they didn't eat enough as they all eventually died of scurvy.

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