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Shepherds Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) Identification Guide

Shepherds Purse / Spring / Summer / Autumn / Edible

Shepherds Purse is a tasty, native, annual member of the mustard family, the common name comes from the shape of the seed pods which look like old fashioned purses. It’s very common in fact it’s the world’s 2nd most prolific wild plant.


Common Names

Shepherds Purse, Mothers Heart


Botanical Name

Capsella bursa-pastoris


Scientific Classification

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Brassicales

Family – Brassicaceae


Physical Characteristics for Shepherds Purse

Leaves

The plant develops two types of leaves, the basal leaves grow from a rosette. These are deeply lobed and look a little like Dandelion leaves. From the centre of the rosette a flowering stalk emerges, the leaves from this are spear shaped and are have much smoother edges.

Rob Hille, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Flowers

The flowers are white and like all Brassicas they form a cross. They grow on top of a straight stem in racemes.

AnRo0002, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
AnRo0002, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Seeds

They are heart shaped and look like an old fashioned draw-string purse. The seeds are inside the pods and each plant can produce up to 3000 seeds.

Yurii Basov, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Habitat

It’s one of the most common weeds in the UK and can be found almost anywhere. Most often it’s found on waste ground and the edges of farmers’ fields.


Known Hazards

None known.


Could be Confused with…

With the distinctive seeds pods it would be hard to confuse it with anything else.


Edible Uses

The plant has a lovely spicy, cabbage flavour. The leaves, flowers and pods can be eaten raw or cooked.

In Asia it is grown as a cultivated crop and used is added to rice cakes and wontons.

The dried seeds make a good substitute for black pepper.


Notes on Herbal Uses

It has a long history of use in herbal medicine and is typically taken in the form of teas made from the leaves and seeds. It is said to be useful in treating heart and circulatory problems including mild heart failure, low blood pressure, nervous heart complaints, and headache, vomiting blood, blood in the urine, diarrhoea, and bladder infections.

Women can use the plant to treat shepherd’s premenstrual problems, long periods, and menstrual cramps.

As it’s thought to stem blood flow the leaves can be applied directly to the skin to treat cuts and nosebleeds.


Extra notes from the Foragers

The plant is classed as a ‘protocarnivore’, since it has been found that its seeds attract and kill nematodes as a means to locally enrich the soil.


References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capsella_bursa-pastoris

https://www.first-nature.com/flowers/capsella-bursa-pastoris.php#:~:text=Shepherd’s%20Purse%20is%20one%20of,to%20help%20confirm%20its%20identity.

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