Edible Wild Plants: Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella Bursa-Pastoris)

Shepherd’s purse (Capsella Bursa-Pastoris) is a lover of waste grounds, roadsides and old fields. It bears flat, heart-shaped seed pods and is similar to peppergrasses. The basal leaves are dandelionlike, while the stem leaves are clasping. It produces white flowers that are found on spikelike clusters.

Shepherds Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

The vigorously growing new foliage is sometimes cooked like spinach and, although its turnip-like odor and flavor are disagreeable to some, it is relished by many people.

Survival Edible Wild Plant - Shepherds PurseBarton, in 1818, writing from Philadelphia, said: “The young radical leaves are brought to market and sold for greens, in the spring of the year” and Correa de Serra in 1821 wrote to the Horticultural Society of London: “The Capsella bursa pastoris, or common Shepherd’s purse… is an esculent plant in Philadelphia, brought to market in large quantities in the early season. The taste, when boiled, approaches that of Cabbage, but is softer and milder. This plant varies wonderfully in size and succulence of leaves, according to the nature and state of the soil where it grows. Those from the gardens and highly cultivated spots near Philadelphia come to a size and succulence of leaf scarcely to be believed without seeing them. They may be easily bleached by the common method, and certainly in that state would be a valuable addition to the list of delicate culinary vegetables.”

By 1837 Darlington, writing from neighboring West Chester, Pennsylvania with special emphasis on “domestic and rural economy,” did not know of the phenomenal plant of the Philadelphia market and spoke of Shepard’s purse, as others have ever since, merely as “a troublesome weed.”

Chestnut states that by California Indians the seeds are sometimes gathered and ground into meal.

Shepherd’s purse flowers from mid-spring to mid-fall, and is found throughout the United States.

Edible Parts

  • Leaves
  • Seeds
  • Oil

Uses

Leaves – raw or cooked. The young leaves, used before the plant comes into flower, make a fine addition to salads.

The leaves are a cress and cabbage substitute, becoming peppery with age. Leaves are usually available all year round, though they can also be dried for later use. The leaves contain about 2.9% protein, 0.2% fat, 3.4% carbohydrate, 1% ash. They are rich in iron, calcium and vitamin C. A zero moisture basis analysis is available.

The young flowering shoots can be eaten raw or cooked. They are rather thin and fiddly but the taste is quite acceptable. They can be available at most times of the year.

Seed – raw or cooked. It can be ground into a meal and used in soups etc. It is very fiddly to harvest and utilize, the seed is very small.

The seed contains 35% of a fatty oil. This oil can be extracted and is edible. The seedpods can be used as a peppery seasoning for soups and stews.

The fresh or dried root is a ginger substitute.

Shepherds Purse Medicinal Properties
Medicinal Uses

Shepherd’s purse is little used in herbalism, though it is a commonly used domestic remedy, being especially efficacious in the treatment of both internal and external bleeding, diarrhea etc.

A tea made from the whole plant is anti-scorbutic, astringent, diuretic, emmenagogue, haemostatic, hypotensive, oxytocic, stimulant, vasoconstrictor, vasodilator and vulnerary. A tea made from the dried herb is considered to be a sovereign remedy against hemorrhages of all kinds – the stomach, the lungs, the uterus and more especially the kidneys.

The plant can be used fresh or dried, for drying it is harvested in the summer. The dried herb quickly loses its effectiveness and should not be stored for more than a year. Clinical trials on the effectiveness of this plant as a wound herb have been inconclusive. It appears that either it varies considerably in its effectiveness from batch to batch, or perhaps a white fungus that is often found on the plant contains the medically active properties.

The plant has been ranked 7th amongst 250 potential anti-fertility plants in China. It has proven uterine-contracting properties and is traditionally used during childbirth.

The plant is a folk remedy for cancer – it contains fumaric acid which has markedly reduced growth and viability of Ehrlich tumor in mice.

A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh plant. It is used in the treatment of nose bleeds and urinary calculus.

The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Capsella bursa-pastoris Shepherd’s Purse for nose bleeds, premenstrual syndrome, wounds & burns.

Other Uses

The seed, when placed in water, attracts mosquitoes. It has a gummy substance that binds the insects mouth to the seed.

The seed also releases a substance toxic to the larvae. ½ kilo of seed is said to be able to kill 10 million larvae.

Plants can be grown on salty or marshy land in order to reclaim it by absorbing the salt and ‘sweetening’ the soil.

Where Does Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella Bursa-Pastoris) Grow?

Shepherds Purse (Capsella Bursa-Pastoris) Growing Area

How To Identify Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella Bursa-Pastoris)

Shepherds Purse Identification

Shepherds Purse Leaves
Leaves

Shepherd’s purse basal leaves grow to 10 cm long. The leaves are stalked, and the first leaves are usually rounded, while the later leaves are usually deeply toothed but may be rather variable. Smaller, slightly toothed, alternate leaves clasp the flower stalk.

Shepherds Purse Flowers
Flower

Flowering takes place mostly in late winter or spring, but can take place year-round under favorable conditions. Flower stalks grow erect or slightly horizontal and are mostly 2/5 to 3/5 of an inch (10–15 mm) long. The four white flower petals are sometimes tinged pale pink, and narrow toward the base (clawed).

Shepherds Purse Fruit
Fruit

Fruit consist of flat, heart or triangular-shaped pods making this species easy to recognize when mature and distinguishes it from other plants in the mustard family. Each pod has two chambers divided by a narrow ridge (septum). The pods attach to the stem on long stalks. They are peppery in taste, and eventually open to release many seeds from each chamber.

Shepherds Purse Seeds
Seeds

Seeds are oblong, slightly flattened, a dull, reddish to yellowish brown, and tiny—about 1/25 of an inch (1 mm) long.

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