Purslane with sardines

Purslane sprouts from sidewalk cracks and earns contempt from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which classifies it as a "noxious weed," but it also happens to be a "superfood." (Photo by Terrence Antonio James)

"If I can sell my weeds, I'm really making money," she said.

One Straw offers a popular community-supported agriculture program known as a CSA, through which customers pay for a season's worth of produce up front and get a weekly allotment of veggies. When purslane shows up in the CSA box, customers are puzzled.

"The first question is, 'What is it?'" Norman said. "And you say, 'It's purslane. … It's a weed.' At that point, they say, 'Is that what I saw on the front sidewalk? I can eat it?'"

Norman's response to that: "Well, it depends where your dog goes."

One stumped CSA subscriber recently posted a photo of purslane on the Google group Baltimore Food Makers, asking for help identifying the mystery green.

Hanne Blank, an author and accomplished cook, was among those who piped up to sing purslane's praises.

She recommended it in dishes ranging from Salade Nicoise ("its texture and taste marry well with the oily/pungent things like olives and anchovies") to the Mexican pork stew Puerco con Verdolagas ("it does become mucilaginous, but the effect is very like putting okra in gumbo").

"The only thing to bear in mind with purslane is that you either want it raw/barely cooked through, or else you wanna cook the [heck] out of it, probably with an acid along for the ride," she wrote. "Anything in between is likely to seem unpleasantly slimy to the American palate."

From July until frost, Jamie Forsythe is surrounded by purslane by day, as manager of the Karzai restaurant group's Fig Leaf Farm in Howard County, Maryland. He takes some of the stuff with him to his night job, as chef at b restaurant in Bolton Hill.

He likes its "lemony" and "assertive cucumber" flavors, at least before the plant flowers later in the season and gets too tough.

"We've used it to finish soups," he said. "When you get it when it's small and tender, it's really great for a salad."

Not that he's growing the stuff on purpose at the restaurant farm. It just sprouted around his corn and tomato plants.

"I know someone who tried to cultivate it once and they were never able to get rid of it," he said. "Like mint."

For recipes visit Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture's website at prairielandcsa.org.