Portulaca oleracea has an extensive history of use as a medicinal herb. Commonly known as purslane, portulaca oleracea is used to treat a variety of afflictions including arthritis, headaches, burns, and coughs. This herb was described by Discorides in the first century AD as having medicinal powers. He claimed that it reduced the sex drive, could expel worms, and relieved the pain of headaches. It is still used to treat those same afflictions today in addition to many others including multiple sclerosis, depression, gingivitis, cardiac arrhythmia, and psoriasis.
Purslane is an annual that produces flowers in the summer. The leaves can be used either fresh or dried and are collected before the plant blooms, since the flavor and healing properties weaken after the plant begins to flower. It is a popular potherb in the Mediterranean, Asia, and Europe. Portulaca oleracea is rich in nutrients and is sometimes used as an ingredient in salads. It contains a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids along with vitamins A, B, C, and E, and the minerals potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
These different nutrients affect different parts of the body and can relieve different afflictions. For example, the omega-3 fatty acids relieve the symptoms of psoriasis by inhibiting the production of leukotriene, the substance responsible for the itching, flaking skin, while the vitamin C content makes portulaca oleracea an effective treatment for scurvy and gum disease. Purslane also contains lithium, a natural antidepressant that has been used for years as a treatment for bipolar disorder.
Portulaca oleracea can be used in animal feed to provide some of the same benefits as it does to humans. It stimulates the animal’s immune system and helps prevent diarrhea. Portulaca oleracea is used to treat animals that have amoebic dysentery and other parasites.
Since portulaca oleracea has a higher magnesium content than any other leafy plant, it is a recommended source of the mineral for people living a natural lifestyle. Magnesium can strengthen the heart, prevent cardiac arrhythmia, and fortify the immune system. It is a mild relaxant that can ease tension headaches, migraines, and muscle tension as well.
The crushed leaves or purslane juice can be applied directly to the skin to treat burns, insect stings, sores, acne, and psoriasis. Although much is known about the chemical composition and benefits of portulaca oleracea, little is known about the effect it may have on a pregnant woman or developing fetus. A pregnant woman should never take purslane or any other herb without the guidance of a medical professional.