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Heartleaf ice plant is a trailing succulent that has angular, thick stems with flat and fleshy, oval to heart-shaped leaves. The stems are crunchy, pale green, and grow close to the ground, while the bright green leaves are glossy, semi-bumpy, and waxy, averaging 2 to 3 centimeters in length. Heartleaf ice plant is crisp and aqueous with a tender consistency. The leaves are commonly consumed when young and have a very mild, vegetal flavor with subtle salty and tangy undertones.
Heartleaf ice plant is available year-round.
Heartleaf ice plant, botanically classified as Mesembryanthemum cordifolium, is an evergreen succulent that belongs to the Aizoaceae family. The low-growing plant is primarily regarded as an ornamental groundcover and is praised by gardeners for its drought tolerance, prolific nature, and creeping, spreading habits. In addition to its ornamental value, the South African succulent is sometimes used in its immature state as a tender salad green and is popularly foraged from home gardens and wild plants.
Heartleaf ice plant is a good source of vitamins A and C, which are antioxidants that can increase collagen production and boost the immune system within the body. The leaves also provide potassium, which can help regulate fluid levels and contain manganese, calcium, vitamin K, and zinc.
Heartleaf ice plant is best suited for raw applications as the crisp, juicy consistency of the leaves and stems are showcased when consumed fresh. The young and tender leaves are preferred for raw dishes as the more mature leaves can sometimes develop a sour, unpalatable flavor. Heartleaf ice plant can be tossed into green salads, used as a mild, spinach substitute, or utilized as a uniquely shaped, edible garnish. It can also be lightly sautéed or stir-fried with other greens and served with roasted meats as a side dish. Heartleaf ice plant pairs well with seafood such as fish, oysters, scallops, and crab, meats such as poultry, beef, and pork, citrus, cucumber, potatoes, carrots, and eggs. The fresh leaves will keep 4-5 days when stored in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator.
In South Africa, Heartleaf ice plant has been traditionally used by medicinal healers in the Zulu and Swazi tribes. The leaves are applied topically as an anti-inflammatory and are used to reduce symptoms associated with sore throats, colds, and infections. Heartleaf ice plant is also rumored to act as a good luck charm to attract love and protect against dark sorcery within the tribes.
Heartleaf ice plant is native to South Africa and has been growing wild since ancient times. The prolific nature of the plant has allowed it to naturalize in many regions around the world as it has often escaped from cultivated habitats and gardens, becoming an aggressive invasive species in areas such as California. Today Heartleaf ice plant can be found along the eastern coastal regions of South Africa and also in Australia, the Mediterranean, and in Florida, Oregon, and California of the United States. The leaves are primarily foraged from the wild, but select grocers also import the leaves for culinary use in local markets in Africa and Europe.