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This plant can be found in driveways, on roadsides, in lawns, gardens, and cultivated areas, mainly in tropical and subtropical regions, and many consider it a weed1,2,3. However, an article published in September 2022 on the anticancer activity of this plant/weed1 caught our attention for the health benefits and anticancer potential of this rarely mentioned but actually edible plant – purslane.

Purslane

The scientific name of this plant is Portulaca oleracea, and it is an annual herbaceous succulent plant in the family Portulacaceae, native to the Middle East and India. The term “Portulaca” is derived from two Latin words; ‘Porto’ means ‘to carry’ and lac means ‘milk’ – which means the presence of a “milky juice” in the plant2. Purslane is also often known as pigweed, fatweed, pulse, and little hogweed4.

In different parts of the world, you can find different cultivars of purslane, with most differences being morphological. Astonishingly, purslane is the eighth most distributed plant in the world2! The common purslane has green-red fleshy stems, obovate succulent leaves, small yellow flowers, single-layered petals, and small black seeds. The ornamental purslane produces flowers of different colors1,4,5 that we dare say, are gorgeous!

Purslane has long been consumed in many regions of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Australia. The stems and leaves are edible and have a slightly acidic and salty taste, similar to spinach, and are usually consumed in salads, soups, and stews1,3,5. In China, the dried plant is often boiled and used to prepare tea or soup5.

Furthermore, purslane is listed as one of the most useful medicinal plants and it has been used both as a vegetable and herbal medicine in different cultures for many centuries. The literature indicates that indigenous communities, from almost all continents, used purslane as an important medicine against several ailments such as diabetes, urinary infections, kidney and cardiovascular diseases, diarrhea, headache, and ulcers, just to name a few, and against snake and insect bites2,5,6,7.

Different parts of the plant can be used for medicinal purposes; the aerial parts of purslane are used as an antiseptic, and to reduce pain and swelling. The leaves and seeds can be used orally or applied topically to mitigate skin allergy, and purslane extracts have been used for their anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties5.

Conclusions

Leafy greens are an amazing source of nutrients, such as amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and, as reported by the literature, “diets abundant in these leafy greens have the potential to delay the onset of age-related diseases8.”

Purslane, albeit not a very well-known leafy green, contains abundant fatty acids, amino acids, organic acids, and uniquely enriched bioactive compounds that can contribute to reducing the risk of many chronic illnesses. Furthermore, when compared with some of the most commonly eaten and nutritionally praised leafy greens, like spinach and kale, purslane possesses unique phytochemical compounds that may provide exceptional health benefits8. Indeed, the authors of a 2021 study comparing bioactive molecules in spinach, kale, and purslane, highlighted that the “data should further promote purslane as among the most nutrient-dense leafy greens and should recommend it for greater use as a health-promoting food ingredient in nutraceutical applications8”. Another study published in the same year considered purslane a “very important nutritional vegetable with huge nutraceutical and pharmacological potential2.”

This is an amazing accomplishment for a leafy green that is more often considered a weed than a food.

We will dive into the nutritional benefits of purslane next week. Stay tuned!

References

  1. de Souza PG, Rosenthal A, Ayres EMM, Teodoro AJ. Potential Functional Food Products and Molecular Mechanisms of Portulaca Oleracea L. on Anticancer Activity: A Review. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2022 Sep 20;2022:7235412. doi: 10.1155/2022/7235412. PMID: 36193066; PMCID: PMC9526644.
  2. Kumar A, Sreedharan S, Kashyap AK, Singh P, Ramchiary N. A review on bioactive phytochemicals and ethnopharmacological potential of purslane (Portulaca oleracea L.). Heliyon. 2021 Dec 27;8(1):e08669. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2021.e08669. PMID: 35028454; PMCID: PMC8741462.
  3. Nemzer B, Al-Taher F, Abshiru N. Phytochemical composition and nutritional value of different plant parts in two cultivated and wild purslane (Portulaca oleracea L.) genotypes. Food Chem. 2020 Aug 1;320:126621. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2020.126621. Epub 2020 Mar 16. PMID: 32203838.
  4. Amirul Alam M, Juraimi AS, Rafii MY, Hamid AA, Kamal Uddin M, Alam MZ, Latif MA. Genetic improvement of purslane (Portulaca oleracea L.) and its future prospects. Mol Biol Rep. 2014 Nov;41(11):7395-411. doi: 10.1007/s11033-014-3628-1. Epub 2014 Aug 2. PMID: 25085039.
  5. Rahimi VB, Ajam F, Rakhshandeh H, Askari VR. A Pharmacological Review on Portulaca oleracea L.: Focusing on Anti-Inflammatory, Anti- Oxidant, Immuno-Modulatory and Antitumor Activities. J Pharmacopuncture. 2019 Mar;22(1):7-15. doi: 10.3831/KPI.2019.22.001. Epub 2019 Mar 31. PMID: 30988996; PMCID: PMC6461301.
  6. Iranshahy M, Javadi B, Iranshahi M, Jahanbakhsh SP, Mahyari S, Hassani FV, Karimi G. A review of traditional uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology of Portulaca oleracea L. J Ethnopharmacol. 2017 Jun 9;205:158-172. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2017.05.004. Epub 2017 May 8. PMID: 28495602.
  7. Chan K, Islam MW, Kamil M, Radhakrishnan R, Zakaria MN, Habibullah M, Attas A. The analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of Portulaca oleracea L. subsp. Sativa (Haw.) Celak. J Ethnopharmacol. 2000 Dec;73(3):445-51. doi: 10.1016/s0378-8741(00)00318-4. PMID: 11090998.
  8. Nemzer B, Al-Taher F, Abshiru N. Extraction and Natural Bioactive Molecules Characterization in Spinach, Kale and Purslane: A Comparative Study. Molecules. 2021 Apr 26;26(9):2515. doi: 10.3390/molecules26092515. PMID: 33925848; PMCID: PMC8123472.
  9. Uddin MK, Juraimi AS, Hossain MS, Nahar MA, Ali ME, Rahman MM. Purslane weed (Portulaca oleracea): a prospective plant source of nutrition, omega-3 fatty acid, and antioxidant attributes. ScientificWorldJournal. 2014 Feb 10;2014:951019. doi: 10.1155/2014/951019. PMID: 24683365; PMCID: PMC3934766.
  10. United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Central. Search Results. Purslane, raw. Published April 1, 2019. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169230/nutrients, accessed Jul 17, 2023.
  11. Askari VR, Rezaee SA, Abnous K, Iranshahi M, Boskabady MH. The influence of hydro-ethanolic extract of Portulaca oleracea L. on Th1/Th2 balance in isolated human lymphocytes. J Ethnopharmacol. 2016 Dec 24;194:1112-1121. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2016.10.082. Epub 2016 Nov 10. PMID: 27842944.
  12. Bai Y, Zang X, Ma J, Xu G. Anti-Diabetic Effect of Portulaca oleracea L. Polysaccharideandits Mechanism in Diabetic Rats. Int J Mol Sci. 2016 Jul 25;17(8):1201. doi: 10.3390/ijms17081201. PMID: 27463713; PMCID: PMC5000599.
  13. Gu JF, Zheng ZY, Yuan JR, Zhao BJ, Wang CF, Zhang L, Xu QY, Yin GW, Feng L, Jia XB. Comparison on hypoglycemic and antioxidant activities of the fresh and dried Portulaca oleracea L. in insulin-resistant HepG2 cells and streptozotocin-induced C57BL/6J diabetic mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015 Feb 23;161:214-23. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2014.12.002. Epub 2014 Dec 16. PMID: 25523372.
  14. Farshori NN, Al-Sheddi ES, Al-Oqail MM, Musarrat J, Al-Khedhairy AA, Siddiqui MA. Cytotoxicity assessments of Portulaca oleracea and Petroselinum sativum seed extracts on human hepatocellular carcinoma cells (HepG2). Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2014;15(16):6633-8. doi: 10.7314/apjcp.2014.15.16.6633. PMID: 25169500.
  15. Lee AS, Kim JS, Lee YJ, Kang DG, Lee HS. Anti-TNF-α activity of Portulaca oleracea in vascular endothelial cells. Int J Mol Sci. 2012;13(5):5628-5644. doi: 10.3390/ijms13055628. Epub 2012 May 10. PMID: 22754320; PMCID: PMC3382818.
  16. Alipour S, Pishkar L, Chaleshi V. Cytotoxic Effect of Portulaca Oleracea Extract on the Regulation of CDK1 and P53 Gene Expression in Pancreatic Cancer Cell Line. Nutr Cancer. 2022;74(5):1792-1801. doi: 10.1080/01635581.2021.1960386. Epub 2021 Aug 25. PMID: 34431425.
  17. Baradaran Rahimi V, Mousavi SH, Haghighi S, Soheili-Far S, Askari VR. Cytotoxicity and apoptogenic properties of the standardized extract of Portulaca oleracea on glioblastoma multiforme cancer cell line (U-87): a mechanistic study. EXCLI J. 2019 Mar 20;18:165-186. doi: 10.17179/excli2019-1063. PMID: 31217780; PMCID: PMC6558513.
  18. Asnani GP, Kokare CR. In vitro and in vivo evaluation of colon cancer targeted epichlorohydrin crosslinked Portulaca-alginate beads. Biomol Concepts. 2018 Dec 31;9(1):190-199. doi: 10.1515/bmc-2018-0019. PMID: 30676996.
  19. Al-Sheddi ES, Farshori NN, Al-Oqail MM, Musarrat J, Al-Khedhairy AA, Siddiqui MA. Portulaca oleracea Seed Oil Exerts Cytotoxic Effects on Human Liver Cancer (HepG2) and Human Lung Cancer (A-549) Cell Lines. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2015;16(8):3383-7. doi: 10.7314/apjcp.2015.16.8.3383. PMID: 25921149.
  20. Li Y, Hu Y, Shi S, Jiang L. Evaluation of antioxidant and immuno-enhancing activities of Purslane polysaccharides in gastric cancer rats. Int J Biol Macromol. 2014 Jul;68:113-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2014.04.038. Epub 2014 Apr 24. PMID: 24768972.
  21. Shen H, Tang G, Zeng G, Yang Y, Cai X, Li D, Liu H, Zhou N. Purification and characterization of an antitumor polysaccharide from Portulaca oleracea L. Carbohydr Polym. 2013 Apr 2;93(2):395-400. doi: 10.1016/j.carbpol.2012.11.107. Epub 2012 Dec 17. PMID: 23499074.
  22. Zhao R, Gao X, Cai Y, Shao X, Jia G, Huang Y, Qin X, Wang J, Zheng X. Antitumor activity of Portulaca oleracea L. polysaccharides against cervical carcinoma in vitro and in vivo. Carbohydr Polym. 2013 Jul 25;96(2):376-83. doi: 10.1016/j.carbpol.2013.04.023. Epub 2013 Apr 17. PMID: 23768576.
  23. YouGuo C, ZongJi S, XiaoPing C. Evaluation of free radicals scavenging and immunity-modulatory activities of Purslane polysaccharides. Int J Biol Macromol. 2009 Dec 1;45(5):448-52. doi: 10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2009.07.009. Epub 2009 Jul 28. PMID: 19643128.

Vanessa Pinto graduated with a degree in Biology and Masters in Ecology from Lisbon University. After graduating, she underwent a series of professional and personal growth experiences, including being an officer in the Portuguese Army, working in countries as diverse as Iceland and Costa Rica.  Vanessa became certified as a Yoga and Meditation teacher in rural India.

Being a compassionate person by nature, Vanessa is able to bring her connectedness when working with others while enhancing the importance and practicality of a pragmatic evidence-based approach to facilitating lasting and permanent change. Vanessa is a certified health coach whose specialties are nutrition, exercise, and mind/ body connection.  She works both in Portugal, Thailand and USA, where she develops her work closely with people diagnosed with cancer, mainly in the areas of nutrition, movement and health education.

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