When It Comes to the Neighborhood, Stays with You Forever: Generous-Hearted Purslane

Common purslane, Portulaca oleracea, is a member of the Portulacaceae family with more than 120 different species found in that family.[1] It is also known as pigweed, fatweed, pusle, and little hogweed, is an annual succulent herb in the family Portulacaceae that is found in most corners of the globe.[2] Purslane was one of the most widespread plants in the world since distant times.

Purslane / Portulaca Oleracea / Semizotu.

Purslane / Portulaca Oleracea / Semizotu.

Purslane is a native of Persia where it was used over 2,000 years ago.[1] It was introduced to North America from India and Persia.[2] The Arabs in the Middle Ages called it baqla hamqa, which means “mad” or “crazy vegetable” because of the fact that its branches spread over the ground without any control. In Spanish, names such as verdilacas, yerba aurato and yerba orate are known (which again mean “crazy herb”).[3]

Nowadays it is distributed over the hot temperate zones of a great part of the world. Together with other species of the genus it occurs as a weed in the majority of tropical and subtropical countries.[4] The purslane is suitable for light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and prefers well-drained soil. It requires a moist light rich well-drained soil in a sunny position. Plants will not produce good quality leaves when growing in dry conditions. The soil should have soil pH of 5.5 to 7.[5]

Purslane flowers grow at the tips of the fat stems from late spring through late summer. The flowers typically open from mid-morning to early afternoon on hot, sunny days. Flowering takes place from May through September.[6] The yellow flowers give way to small, dark, pointed seed capsules that, when mature, break open and release an abundance of tiny, black seeds, each about the size of a grain of sand. [7] Seeds are tiny, less than 1/25 of an inch (1 mm) in diameter, circular to egg shaped, flattened, and brown to black with a white point of attachment. Numerous seeds are produced.[8]

Common purslane is edible, with a sweet, yet acid-like flavor. It has been cultivated in India and the Middle East and has been popular in Europe since the Middle Ages.[9]  It can grow alongside roads, in crop fields, gardens, vineyards and orchards, in construction sites and other disturbed areas.

It was categorized in the Mediterranean countries of the Near East and central Asia as a weed and vegetable. For Istanbul and Turkey, due to its suitable conditions and also its acceptance as something edible, purslane has an important place. Therefore, not surprisingly, in our field trips for this class, at every functioning garden in Yedikule and walled-city, we saw  huge amounts of purslanes.

Purslane From Sources[10]

Today, purslane is known to be antibacterial, antiscorbutic, depurative, diuretic and febrifuge. The leaves are a very rich source of omega-3 fatty acids which prevents heart attacks and strengthens the immune system.[11] How about before? Via looking at some sources the way it was used and its importance can be discussed.

It is mentioned in the “Natural History” of Pliny as one of the vegetables used by the Romans. Pliny, or Gaius Plinius Secundus, usually referred to as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman living about 23-79 A.D. [12] Also, one of the richest sources that can be used is the Geoponika since it is referencing other sources. In Geoponika, Purslane was mentioned a few times for its different usages. Taken from Varro, it is said that some vines fruit normally but not their grapes before they have swollen and ripened. These should be cured with purslane juice.[13] From there we can see that there is something called purslane juice. Cited from Demokritos, in order to make pomegranates bear plentiful fruit suggests to grind purslane and spurge together finely and smear around the base of the trunk.[14] Africanus proposes for making all trees fruit more heavily rubbing purslane and spurge, mixing and well pounding together, around the trunk is useful.[15] Paxamos claims purslane is applied as a poultice, cures erysipelas. The leaf, placed under the tongue, makes one less thirsty and for particular treatments for poultry one may treats the eyes of fowl by bathing the outer eye with human milk or with purslane juice.[16] According to Apsyrtos, in a case if a horse is feverish and thin from overwork, it is necessary to give- for three days or more, until healthy- a mixture of one kotyle goat’s milk, one metron frumenty, half a kotyle olive oil, 4 eggs, juice of pounded purslane.[17]

While searching from the Internet I found this site about the sources mentioning purslane in some detail which I found very valuable and would like to take a part of it as a long quote here: “Columela writes in his poem on the garden: “Already the juicy purslane covers the dry beds”; and in Los doce libros de agricultura: “Leafy purslane appeases the plot’s thirst” (Book X); Paladio refers to it exclusively because of its mucilaginous, medicinal and veterinary properties. Similar references are found in Kastos, taking up the Byzantine tradition. The writers of oriental and Arabic treatises concerned themselves most with this vegetable. Ibn Wahsiyya describes its cultivation in the Near East, presenting it as a summer crop. Most of the Hispano-Arab agronomists deal with this plant. Arib (tenth century) mentions it in his Calendario agricola. Al Zahrawi and Ibn Hayyay (eleventh century) also mention it. Ibn Bassal (eleventh century) deals extensively with its cultivation, already recognizing a certain intraspecific variability, setting out its temperature and water requirements (summer cultivation and irrigation or vegetable garden), drawing up a sowing calendar which extends from March to August and demonstrating the practice of two basic cultivation periods, depending on whether the aim is to produce seed or to produce for human consumption. Sowing quantities and manuring and irrigation requirements also appear and are dealt with in great detail by the author. Ibn Wafid (Hispano-Arab agronomist of the eleventh and twelfth centuries) mentions it under the names baqla hamqa’ and missita. Ibn al-Awwam, in his Kitab al-Filaha, recalls that it is mentioned by almost all the Arab authors and refers to different varieties. He uses the adjectives “mild”, “vain” and “blessed”.[18]

Purslane Trivia

Through the research I also learned that the thing I know as semizotu (purslane) has different names. For instance in Mersin it is called tömeken, in Elazığ, Urfa and most of the Aegean cities it is called pirpirim, in Adana it is soğukluk, in Malatya it is known as pırpır, in Karaman, the name is töymakan, around Tunceli it is perper and in some places around Mediterranean it is tohumeken. Some of the names are different because they are wild variations of purslane that we have in Istanbul, but it turns out the names are also used interchangeable at some point.

Especially for the Aegean region, Purslane is known to be the most important member of the dining tables. It is something cultural. As a sign, there is even a well-known folk song mentioning the purslane. It is a song attributed to Aegean cities of Balıkesir and Çanakkale: “Bahçelerde pirpirim, yandım Ayşem / Hasta oldum yatarım, yandım Ayşem / Hekim, doktor istemem, yandım Ayşem / Sevdiğimi getirin, yandım Ayşem…”[19]

My relationship with semizotu is a long and very intense one thanks to my mother’s “we should eat some healthy things” attitude. The semizotu salad made with yoghurt is a loyal member of our dinner tables. Also, semizotu is something like spinach for Turkish people. Even the recipes for the way they are cooked are very similar. One can make a salad out of it with or without yoghurt, or use it as an ingredient for börek or poğaça (roughly translated as pastry), it can be the main ingredient of soup or part of a vegetable soup. Moreover, of course, there is a vegetable dish made out of it that the ingredients can change according to cook’s wish or the equipments present at the moment of preparing it.

Purslane Recipe

“Purslane is a pleasant salad herb, and excellent for scorbutic troubles.  The succulent leaves and young shoots are cooling in spring salads, the older shoots are used as a pot-herb, and the thick stems of plants that have run to seed are pickled in salt and vinegar to form winter salads.”[20] 

At this point, I would like to add one of the delicious salad recipes that can be made with Purslane.

Purslane Salad with Strawberries and Cheese.

One bunch of Purslane (it is sold as bunches in Istanbul)

10-15 strawberries

30 gr. white cheese

2 tbsp olive-oil

3 tbsp pomegranate syrup

Half a glass of lemon squash

Walnuts

Clean the purslane and wash it with strawberries. Cut the non-leaved parts and separate, then chop rest of the material and put it in a bowl. Cut the strawberries in the half and dice the cheese. Then add them to the bowl along with the walnuts which should be also cut in the half or even smaller. Add the olive oil with the lemon juice. Mix all the ingredients. Put them in a salad bowl and before you serve add the pomegranate syrup. Voila!

Since it is not the season for strawberry I had to add the most accurate picture I could find. Photo courtesy http://www.egedentarifler.com/2014/07/cilekli-ve-peynirli-semizotu-salatas.html

Since it is not the season for strawberries I had to add the most accurate picture I could find. Photo courtesy http://www.egedentarifler.com/2014/07/cilekli-ve-peynirli-semizotu-salatas.html

P.s: You should prepare the salad not long before you serve it since the strawberries would be ruined otherwise. And also if you plan to serve it after some time, you should not add the lemon and olive-oil until the last minute.

 

 

[1] Accessed August 4, 2014. http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7461.html

[2] “Genetic improvement of Purslane (Portulaca oleracea L.) and its future prospects.” Accessed August 4, 2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25085039

[3] James M. Stephens,”Purslane – Portulaca oleracea L.” Accessed August 4, 2014. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mv118

[4] Richard Hoyt, “Purslane Plant Care” Accessed August 4, 2014. http://homeguides.sfgate.com/purslane-plant-care-37723.html

[5] Kathy Griffiths, “Purslane”  Accessed August 4, 2014. http://www.herballegacy.com/Griffiths_History.html

[6] Ibid.

[7] Richard Hoyt, “Purslane Plant Care” Accessed August 4, 2014. http://homeguides.sfgate.com/purslane-plant-care-37723.html

[8] Accessed August 4, 2014. http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/WEEDS/purslane.html

[9] Frances Robinson, “Power-Packed Purslane” Accessed August 4, 2014. http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/power-packed-purslane-zmaz05amzsel.aspx#ixzz39T9Vg6T2

[10] Accessed August 4, 2014. http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/WEEDS/purslane.html

[11] Accessed August 4, 2014. http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7461.html

[12] For further information about Purslane’s ancient and modern sources see. http://www.herballegacy.com/Griffiths_Bibliography.html

[13] “Purslane (Portulaca)” Accessed August 4, 2014. http://www.ediblewildfood.com/purslane.aspx

[14] Helen Roca-Garcia, “Weeds: A Link with the Past” Accessed August 4, 2014. http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/1970-30-3-weeds-a-link-with-the-past-purslane.pdf

[15] Bassus Cassianus. “Geoponika: Farm Work: A Modern Translation of the Roman and Byzantine Farming Handbook.” (Totnes, Devon: Prospect Books, 2011), 143.

[16] Ibid., 214.

[17] Ibid., 231.

[18] Ibid., 266 and 289.

[19] Ibid., 310.

[20] “Purslane: Proprieties, uses and cultivation.” Accessed August 4, 2014. http://www.mdidea.com/products/new/new03304.html

[21] Translation can be like: “Purslane in the gardens, oh my Ayşe / I feel sick, resting, oh my Ayşe / I don’t want a physician or doctor, oh my Ayşe / Bring me my beloved, oh my Ayşe…” http://sarkilarnotalar.blogspot.com.tr/2011/11/karyolamin-demiri-yandim-aysem.html Also, you can listen a version of it from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJm1KIgy13Q

[22] Kathy Griffiths, “Purslane”  Accessed August 4, 2014. http://www.herballegacy.com/Griffiths_History.html

 

Introducing the Yedikule Marul

The Yedikule marul is a type of romaine lettuce famously grown in the Yedikule bostans of Istanbul. Being a lettuce, its wild progenitor likely stemmed from the Lactuca species from southwest Asia and the L. serriola, an a type of weed located in temperate and subtropical zones (Zohary 2012). Ancient Egyptians first cultivated lettuce as early as 2680 BC from a weed for oil use. Later, the Greeks and Romans farmed lettuce seeds and leaves that led to documented cultivation of the plant by the medieval age. By the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, European understandings of lettuce had resulted in medicinal discoveries as well as classifications of different species (Weaver 1997, 170-172). It is then safe to assume then during this transition, the Byzantines had adopted lettuce cultivation from the Romans, which consequently resulted in the Ottomans continuing the trend through the fertile soils of Istanbul.

In terms of consumption, lettuce has changed since antiquity. Around 50 AD, the Romans cooked the leaves with oil and vinegar while smaller leaves were occasionally eaten raw. After the Romans, medieval Europe popularized poaching lettuce alongside mixing the leaves with hot oil and vinegar (Weaver 1997, 170-172). Lettuce is still mainly consumed for its leaves today while some stems and seeds are used for oil. The Yedikule marul, being a romaine species, is thus most seen in salads with a Mediterranean seasoning of olive oil, vinegar, and spices rather than a Western European style of salad dressing. Differing from its earlier wild weed form, modern lettuce is much less prickly, and it is known that wild lettuce leaves resemble closely to tobacco leaves with a more bitter taste (Katz and Weaver 2003, 377).

When one grows the Yedikule lettuce, full sun is a best option. On the technical side, nitrogen-rich soils with a pH from 6.0 to 6.8 and a temperature between 16 and 18 °C is preferred. Temperatures above 27 °C will likely destroy the germination of lettuce seeds while some can survive as low as 7 °C or as high as 24 °C if shade is provided or else the plant will bolt. Having a high water content of around 94.9%, lettuce cannot be frozen, canned, or dried and hence, must be eaten when fresh (Bradley 2009, 129). When planting, lettuces are placed in thick, straight rows. After developing several leaves, they may be transplanted to individual spots 20 to 36 cm apart. With more space, they are able to receive more sunlight and develop greater nutrients (Weaver 1977, 175-176).

Regarding pests, lettuce is targeted by cutworms, wireworms, nematodes, tarnished plant bugs and aphids, leafhoppers, thrips, leafminers, flea beetles, caterpillars, slugs and snails, as well as mammals like rabbits and groundhogs (Bradley 2009, 129-132). The plants itself contains compounds like sesquiterpene lactones, flavonol, and glycosides which protect it against pests (United States Department of Agricultures). For domesticated lettuce, herbicides are used to control weeds and viral diseases such as the mosaic virus spread by aphids that stunt plant growth and fungal diseases that rot leaves (Davey et al. 2007, 222-225). In the Geoponika, caterpillars were averted by throwing ashes of the vine into water or applying asphaltus and sulpur to the plants. Mixing and boiling urine and amurca will also destroy caterpillars (Cassianus 2011, 250-251). It is also advised to smear fresh cow dung on the lettuce to obtain saucer-shaped leaves with no stalk. Dividing each plant with a knife and placing them in an “unpitched potsherd” will allow the plant to grow upwards in a healthy manner as well (Cassianus 2011, 252). Here we see the similarities of killing off insects so that the vegetable can grow, even though classical methods involved organic methods while modern techniques employ chemical pesticides.

The Yedikule marul appears a lush bright green. The stem is white and blends into the light green of the leaves. The tips of the leaves appear wrinkled and soft while the stem is firm. After a few days in the refrigerator however, the whole plant seems to have softened. Thick veins running from the stem thin and branch out at the leaves. Further, a few black spots litter the stem pointing to the plant’s organic nature. The plant smells fresh, blending in a sense of the earth with its leafy aroma. When eaten, the stem is surprisingly moist. Even after a few days of fridge storage, one can noticeably taste the juices of the lettuce along with its audible crunch. As for the leaves, they have a mild yet refreshing taste. Due to the freshness of the vegetable, the leaves seem to almost dissolve in one’s mouth without much effort needed to chew. Taken together, the stem and leaf compliment each other in texture and taste. While the stem is crisp and juicy, the leaf is tender and less damp, thus offering a great spectrum of flavors within one bite.

Personally, I am familiar with lettuce due to my liking for Caesar salads. However, the Yedikule marul is definitely a new taste and texture for me. On the whole, it feels fresher due to its water content as well as the crispness of its stems. The color also appears fuller with a stronger green at the leaves and a brighter white at the stems.

One notable recipe utilizing the Yedikule marul is the Yedikule lettuce mixed salad. The recipe is as follows (Yemek Tarifleri):

12 red chicory leaves

12 leaves of Yedikule lettuce

Half a bunch of endivy

Half a bunch of herb cress

8 Priceworthy leaves

4 hard-boiled eggs

Freshly ground black pepper

Wash and mix the chicory, Yedikule lettuce, watercress herb, and endivy with filtered water. Divide the leaves into chunks into a serving dish.

Cut the hard-boiled eggs in half, and place salad on top. Sprinkle on freshly ground black pepper. Pour on mustard sauce.

The mustard sauce is comprised of 5 tablespoons mustard, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise in a bowl. Stir in 1 clove garlic peel, 2 tablespoons yogurt, and half-a-tea-cup of extra virgin olive oil. Mix well.

Yedikule Marul

Yedikule Marul

Works Cited:

Bradley, Fern M., Barbara W. Ellis, and Deborah L. Martin, eds. 2009. The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control. Pennsylvania: Rodale.

Cassianus, Bassus. Geoponika: Farm Work: A Modern Translation of the Roman and Byzantine Farming Handbook. 2011. Totnes, Devon: Prospect Books, 9-55 and 246-267.

Davey, M. R., and Anthony, P., P. Van Hooff, J. B. Power, and K. C. Lowe. 2007. “Lettuce”. Transgenic Crops. Biotechnology in Agriculture and Forestry. Volume 59. Springer.

Katz, Solomon H. and Williams Woys Weaver. 2003. Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. Volume 2. New York: Scribner.

United States Department of Agriculture. “Developing Multi-Species Insect Resistance in Romaine Lettuce.” Retrieved 5 April 2012. http://www.reeis.usda.gov/web/crisprojectpages/0198636-developing-multi-species-insect-resistance-in-romaine-lettuce.html.

Weaver, Williams Woys. 1997. Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master Gardener’s Guide to Planting, Seed Saving and Cultural History. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Yemek Tarifleri. “Yedikule marullu karışık salata.” Accessed August 2, 2014. http://www.lezzet.com.tr/yemek-tarifleri/salata-tarifleri/yedikule-marullu-karisik-salata-6112#ixzz39EfrKrJh .

Zohary, Daniel, Maria Hopf, and Ehud Weiss. 2012. Domestication of Plants in the Old World: The Origin and Spread of Domesticated Plants in Southwest Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean Basin. Oxford: Oxford University Press.