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The growth of the plant somewhat resembles Samphire, and the rich red colour of the stems is very striking and most decorative in herb borders. The Golden Purslane (Portulaca sativa) is a variety of Purslane with yellow leaves, less hardy than the Green Purslane, but possessing the same qualities. The seeds of an individual plant have been known to produce both green and goldenleaved plants.
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. Purslane is largely cultivated in Holland and other countries for these purposes. It is used in equal proportion with Sorrel to make the well-known French soup bonne femme. Gerard said of this herb: 'Raw Purslane is much used in sallads, with oil, salt and vinegar. It cools the blood and causes appetite;' and Evelyn tells us that, 'familiarly eaten alone with Oyl and Vinegar,' moderation should be used, adding that it is eminently moist and cooling, 'especially the golden,' and is 'generally entertained in all our sallets. Some eate of it cold, after it has been boiled, which Dr. Muffit would have in wine for nourishment.'
Most of the plants in this order are mucilaginous. The root of one species, Lewisia rediviva, the Tobacco root, a native of North America, so called from its odour when cooked, possesses great nutritive properties. It is boiled and eaten by the Indians, and Hogg tells us that it proves most sustaining on long journeys, and that 2 or 3 OZ. a day are quite sufficient for a man, even while undergoing great fatigue. Claytonia tuberosa, another plant belonging to the same order as the Purslanes, likewise a native of North America, has also an edible root.
Purslane in ancient times was looked upon as one of the anti-magic herbs, and strewn round a bed was said to afford protection against evil spirits. We are told that it was a sure cure for 'blastings by lightening or planets and burning of gunpowder.'
---Medicinal Action and Uses---It was highly recommended for many complaints. The expressed juice, taken while fresh, was said to be good for strangury, and taken with sugar and honey to afford relief for dry coughs, shortness of breath and immoderate thirst, as well as for external application in inflammation and sores.
It was supposed to cool 'heat in the liver' and to be excellent for 'hot agues,' and all pains in the head 'proceeding from the heat, want of sleep or the frenzy,' and also to stop haemorrhages.
The herb, bruised and applied to the forehead and temple, was said to allay excessive heat, and applied to the eyes to remove inflammation. Culpepper says: 'The herb if placed under the tongue assuayeth thirst. Applied to the gout, it easeth pains thereof, and helps the hardness of the sinews, if it come not of the cramp, or a cold cause.'
The juice, with oil of Roses, was recommended for sore mouths and swollen gums and also to fasten loose teeth. Another authority declared that the distilled water took away pains in the teeth, both Gerard and Turner telling us too, that the leaves eaten raw are good for teeth that are 'set on edge with eating of sharpe and soure things.'
The seeds, bruised and boiled in wine, were given to children as a vermifuge.
---Cultivation---Sow the seeds in drills, on a bed of rich light earth, during any of the summer months, from May onwards. To have it early in the season, it should be sown upon a hot bed, at the end of March and planted out in a warm border in May. The Green Purslane is quite hardy, the Golden Purslane less so.
Keep the plants clear from weeds, and in dry weather water them two or three times a week. The Purslanes need rather more watering than most herbs.
In warm weather, they will be fit for use in six weeks. When the leaves are gathered, the plants must be cut low and then a fresh crop will appear.
To continue a succession, sow three or four times, at an interval of a fortnight or three weeks.
If the seeds are to be saved, leave some of the earliest plants for that purpose.
An entirely different plant, one of the great Pink family, the Houckenya peploides, is sometimes called the 'ovate-leaved Sea Purslane.' It is a common plant on seabeaches, with large white five-petalled blossoms. Another name for it is 'ovate Sandwort.'
The generic title of the Sea Purslane, Atriplex, is one of Pliny's plant names. It is derived from two Greek words signifying 'not to flourish,' the meaning of the word applied to the plant is obscure. The specific name, Potrulacoides, signifies 'resembling the purslane plant,' the portulaca. Another name for the Sea Purslane is 'Shrubby Orache.'
The origin of the name 'Purslane' is unknown. Turner calls the plant 'purcellaine,' and in the Grete Herball, 1516, it is 'procelayne.'
In the North American prairies Purslane is called 'Pussly.'
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