Portulaca Oleracea (Purslane, Ma Chi Xian)

Herba PortulacaePortulaca oleracea, also known as common purslane and Ma Chi Xian, is one of edible, medicinal succulent plants, which is found everywhere during the seasons of summer and autumn. Thanks to its enormous vitality, this Chinese herb is often regarded as a longevity herb. Even though after rooted up and dried in the sun, it can regrow rapidly once buried in the soil again. No wonder it is said that purslane ever saved many lives that almost starved to death in the famine. Medicinally it is considered a “natural antibiotic” since it has an impressive inhibition on Escherichia coli, Shigella, etc., according to the result of modern research. Hence, it is commonly used for the treatment of summer diarrhea. From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, it is a perfect herb that rises in response to the heat pathogen. For that reason, it is highly recommended to consume it more if you are suffering from hot flashes and night sweats. By the way, portulaca oleracea salad is a good try.

What is portulaca oleracea?

Medicinally it refers to the dried aboveground part of Portolaca oleracea L., which is a plant in the family Portulacaceae. Other names include Moss rose, Verdolaga, Herba Portulacae, Pursley, Pigweed, horse tooth amaranth, Little Hogweed, and so on. Usually it is harvested during summer and autumn.

Purslane plant is an annual herb, which can reach up to 35cm. Lower part of stem creeps and branches; upper part is slightly erect or decumbent, succulent, green or lavender, and entirely smooth and hairless. Simple leaf is alternate or nearly opposite; blade is fleshy, oblong, spatulate, or obovate, 0.6 to 2.7cm long and 0.4 to 1.1cm wide, and with rounded apex, entire margin, and broadly cuneate base that resembles horse teeth. Yellow purslane flower blooms in summer, 3 to 5 of them cluster at the top of branch. Conical capsule contains many small black flat round seeds and cracks into shape of cap from the waist. Habitats include roadside, field, gardens and other sunny places.

Main chemical constituents in the whole plant are a large number of noradrenaline and a lot of potassium salts, which include potassium nitrate, potassium chloride, potassium sulfate, and other sylvites. And it still contains dopa, dopamine, betanidin, isobetanidin, betanin, isobetanin, oxalic acid, malic acid, citric acid, glutamic acid, aspartic acid, alanine, glucose, fructose, sucrose, and so on. Besides, it is reported that it also contains alkaloids, coumarins, flavonoids, cardiac glycosides, anthraquinone glycosides, and large amounts of ω3-polyunsaturated fatty acid (omega 3 fatty acids).

Portulaca oleracea health benefits

Though considered an invasive weed in some place, it is actually a pretty tasty leaf vegetable. As mentioned above, it is also an herb with many medicinal uses. According to reports, clinically purslane is a common medication for dysentery, acute gastroenteritis, diarrhea, etc. And it also has a curative effect on a variety of ulcerative dermatosis and would infections, such as mastitis, boils, erysipelas, cellulitis, athlete’s foot, and so on. In recent year, fresh portulaca oleracea leaf and stem are also widely used in the healing of psoriasis (1), chronic atrophic gastritis associated with intestinal metaplasia and atypical hyperplasia (2), biliary ascariasis (3), hookworm, urinary tract infections, herpes zoster, acne, diabetes, etc. Thanks to its skin benefits, now it is extensively used in the industries of cosmetics, skin care, and even weight loss, available in many different choices, such as portulaca oleracea supplement, tea, tablets, extract, oil, etc.

Modern pharmacological actions of purslane

1. Its ethanol extract and decoction have significant inhibitory effect on Shigella. Besides, it still has an inhibitory effect on E. coli, Salmonella typhi, Staphylococcus aureus, and Microsporum;
2. Its fresh juice and boiling water extract can increase the tension of isolated ileum in animals, enhance intestine peristalsis, and provide dose-dependent relaxation to the colon and duodenum;
3. Oral administration or intraperitoneal injection of the aqueous extract can relax the skeletal muscle;
4. Portulaca oleracea extract has obvious antioxidant, anti-aging, moisturizing, and cosmetic effects;
5. Injection of the extract has obvious excitatory effect on uterine smooth muscle;
6. It can increase the level of potassium;
7. It shows a dose-dependent bi-directional regulation on myocardial contractility;
8. It induces diuresis and lowers cholesterol.

Selected portulaca oleracea recipes on herbal remedies

According to The Chinese Pharmacopoeia, it is sour in taste and cold in nature and goes to meridians of liver and large intestine. Basic functions are heat-clearing and detoxifying and blood cooling and arresting. Major portulaca oleracea uses and indications include heat-toxin causing bloody flux, swollen welling-abscess, deep-rooted boil, eczema, erysipelas, snake bites, mucous or bloody stools, hemorrhoids bleeding, and uterine bleeding. Recommended dosage is from 9 to 15 grams in dried herb or 30 to 60 grams in fresh herb.

1. Ma Chi Zhou from Tai Ping Sheng Hui Fang (Taiping Holy Prescriptions for Universal Relief). It is used to cook congee with rice for the treatment of dysenteric diarrhea.

2. Ma Chi San Fu Fang from Sheng Ji Zong Lu (Complete Record of Holy Benevolence). It is formulated with Mu Xiang (Costus), Dan Sha (cinnabar), and salt to cure paronychia externally.

3. Ma Chi Xian Gao from Yi Zong Jin Jian (Golden Mirror of Orthodox Medicine). It is used alone to treat blood heat and exuberant internal heat toxin, carbuncle, and erysipelas.

Portulaca oleracea side effects and contraindications

Portulaca oleracea herb is edible and there is no apparent health hazard and toxicity in oral administration. But nausea may occur in large volume injection. And when eating purslane make sure to start from a small amount and then gradually increase. In addition, add white sugar instead of brown sugar since the latter will decrease its efficacy because of the warm nature. What’s more, it shouldn’t be used in the following cases.

1. People with diarrhea caused by abdomen exposing to cold. This is because the cold nature of purslane will make it worse.

2. Pregnant women. Experiments show that purslane juice has obvious excitement for the uterus, which increases the frequency of uterine contractions and the intensity and thus lead to miscarriage.

3. Those who are taking herbal tea that contains Bie Jia (Soft Turtle Shell). These two herbs restrict each other on medicinal properties and thus reduce the efficacy. In addition, stay away from it when you are eating foods that contain pepper and calcium powder.


(1). Shi Yong Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi (Practical Journal of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicines), 1995;2:89.
(2). Fu Jian Zhong Yi Yao (Fujian Chinese Medicine & Medicinals), 1996;3:8.
(3). Zhong Guo Min Zhu Min Jian Yi Yao Za Zhi 2000 (Chinese Journal of Ethnomedicine and Ethnopharmacy 2000), total 42 issues:61.

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