Scientific Name(s): Portulaca oleracea L.
Common Name(s): Garden (common) purslane, Ma Chi Xian, Munyeroo, Pigweed, Portulaca, Pourpier, Purslane, Pusley, Pussly, Rigla, Sormai
The purslane family includes several fleshy plants. P. oleracea is an herbaceous, succulent annual growing 10 to 30 cm tall and preferring sandy soil and warmer conditions. It is sometimes considered a weed because of its invasive growth patterns. It has reddish-brown stems, alternate wedge-shaped leaves, clusters of yellow flowers containing 4 to 6 petals that bloom in summer, and numerous black, shiny, and rough seeds. The botanical name is derived from the Latin potare, meaning to "carry," and lac or "milk," referring to the milky sap of the plant. Synonyms are Portulaca neglecta Mack. & Bush and Portulaca retusa Engelm. This plant (also known as little hogweed) should not be confused with giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum).1, 2, 3
In ancient times, purslane was used to protect against evil spirits. Purslane's medicinal use dates back at least 2,000 years, but it was used as food well before this period. Traditional medicinal uses for purslane are broad. Ancient Romans used purslane to treat dysentery, intestinal worms, headache, and stomachache. It has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is referred to as the "vegetable for long life." Aerial parts are dried and used for fever, diarrhea, carbuncle, eczema, and hematochezia.4 Other TCM uses include diabetes, atherosclerosis, vascular endothelial dysfunction, and urolithiasis.5 The Chinese, French, Italians, and English also used purslane as a food source.2, 6
Purslane is considered a rich vegetable source of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, including tocopherol, ascorbic acid, beta carotene, and glutathione.7, 8, 9, 10, 11 The alpha-linolenic acid content varies with cultivar, geography, and environmental factors, with leaves having a greater percentage than seeds and stems.10, 12 The plant's bright yellow flowers are of interest in the food industry because of the nitrogen-containing betalain pigments.13, 14
Purslane also contains carbohydrates, lipids, glycosides, alkaloids (including oleraceins), sterols, coumarins, triterpenes, and flavonoids.15, 16, 17, 18 Phenolic constituents of the plant include scopoletin, bergapten, isopimpinellin, lonchocarpic acid, robustin, genistein, and others.19 Amino acids in the leaves of the Portulaca species include phenylalanine, alanine, tyrosine, and aspartate.20 Plant acids include citric, malic, ascorbic, succinic, fumaric, and acetic acids.21 The volatile oil of P. oleracea has also been studied and contains mainly linalool and 3,7,11,15-tetramethyl-2-hexadecen-1-ol.22
Purslane is a rich source of vitamins A, B, C, and E and is high in carotenoid content, including beta-carotene. Calcium, magnesium, potassium, folate, lithium, and melatonin are also present.2, 8, 9, 11
Uses and Pharmacology
Purslane has been investigated for its pharmacological actions in neurological disorders, diabetes, cancer, ulcers, microbial infections, liver disease, and as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Clinical studies are limited.4
Abnormal uterine bleeding
A small clinical study (N = 10) evaluated the efficacy of purslane seeds and found reductions in duration and volume of uterine bleeding.23
A small clinical trial (N = 13) evaluated the bronchodilatory effect of oral purslane extract compared with that of oral theophylline and inhaled salbutamol. Purslane extract showed improvements in pulmonary function tests similar to those of theophylline.24
Effects of both ethanol and aqueous extracts of purslane are attributed in part to observed antioxidant activity. Both histological and biochemical studies have shown free-radical scavenging activity, as well as reduced lipid peroxidation, lactate dehydrogenase, and consequent reduced oxidative stress.15, 25, 26, 27 Reduced inflammation consequent to hypoxic injury has been demonstrated with administration of purslane extracts.28 Other proposed mechanisms include increased glycolysis and adenosine triphosphate levels and promotion of endogenous erythropoietin.29, 30 Experimental studies report levels of noradrenaline and dopamine in the leaves, stems, and seeds of less than 1%, but no anticholinesterase activity for either ethanol or water extracts.26, 31
Limited experiments conducted in mice have demonstrated neuroprotective effects against induced hypoxic injury by ethanol extracts and betacyanins. Cognition improved and anxiety was reduced in behavioral tests, and histology and biochemical measurements showed neuroprotective properties.28, 29, 32, 33
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of purslane for neuroprotective effects or other CNS conditions.
A small clinical trial (N = 30) evaluated the effect of purslane seeds in type 2 diabetes. At 8 weeks, improvements in serum insulin and triglycerides were noted, as well as improvements in liver function tests.34 The efficacy of purslane extract in achieving glucose control in adults with type 2 diabetes was evaluated in a 12-week, double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial (n=63). Purslane extract was dosed at 180 mg/day, which corresponded to 750 mg dried purslane or 15 g fresh herb per day. This dose met the criteria as 'food' and was in line with the recommended dosage of 10 to 30 g/day described in a Chinese herbal medicine text. No significant improvement was seen in glucose control overall. However, a statistically significant improvement in HbA1c was observed in 'responders' (HbA1c less at end of study) who received purslane. Responders who were treated with biguanides before study enrollment demonstrated a significantly greater change in HbA1c when treated with purslane compared to placebo. Purslane was well tolerated with constipation listed as the only adverse event probably related to treatment.35
As a component of medical nutrition therapy for patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the American Diabetes Association Standards of Care (2014) recommend an increase in foods containing alpha-linolenic acid based on beneficial effects observed on lipoprotein profiles, heart disease prevention, and overall positive health in patients with diabetes (moderate-quality evidence).36
A triple-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial conducted in 74 obese Iranian adolescents with dyslipidemia to determine the effects of purslane seeds (500 mg twice daily × 1 month) on lipid parameters. Purslane was standardized to total phenolics equivalent to approximately 1.8 mg gallic acid. After 1 month, significant improvements from baseline observed with purslane that were also significantly different than placebo were seen in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (−11 mg/dL, P<0.001) and triglycerides (−16 mg/dL, P=0.006). No adverse effects were reported.5
Oral lichen planus
Oral purslane performed better than placebo in treating oral lichen planus when administered daily at 235 mg of purslane extract.37
Other animal or laboratory experiments
In vitro studies demonstrated hepatoprotective effects against cisplatin-induced injury38 activity against human hepatoma and cervical cancer cell lines17 and increased proliferation of thymocytes and splenic lymphocytes.25 Purslane has been reported to possess antifungal, vermicidal, and antiviral effects.18, 19, 39 Experiments in mice showed increased wound-healing rates with topical applications of crude fresh plant extracts3 and reduced severity of induced-gastric ulcers with ethanol and aqueous leaf extracts.40 Studies in chickens fed purslane have shown improved feed efficiency with reduced body weight and increased egg production. There was no change in the cholesterol content of the eggs, but there was an increase in omega-3 fatty acid content.41 Circulating levels of melatonin have been increased in chickens and rats fed purslane.11
100 g of fresh purslane leaves yields approximately 300 to 400 mg of alpha linolenic acid.11
Limited clinical studies are available to provide dosage guidelines; however, the following dosages have been used:
Bronchodilation: one clinical study used 0.25 mL/kg body weight of a 5% aqueous extract.24
Type 2 diabetes: 5 g of powdered seeds taken twice daily over 8 weeks.34 When 180 mg/day of purslane extract (Portusana EFLA 308), equivalent to 750 mg/day dried herb or 15 g/day fresh herb, given for 12 weeks was showed potential benefit in diabetic adults treated with biguanides.35
Hyperlipidemia (adolescents): Purslane seeds 500 mg twice daily for 1 month improved LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in obese adolescents.5
Oral lichen planus: 235 mg/day of purslane ethanol extract.37
Abnormal uterine bleeding: Powdered seeds at a dose of 5 g every 4 hours for 3 days.23
Pregnancy / Lactation
None well documented.
Clinical studies are limited; however, no clinically important adverse events have been reported in these trials.23, 24, 34, 37 Older references suggest increases in kidney filtration rates and increased urine production, but these have not been further evaluated.34
Studies are lacking; however, a toxicology study of Portulaca grandiflora Hook, a related species, found no evidence of toxicity on histology, hematology, or biochemistry.42
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