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Shepherd's Purse - Capsella bursa-pastoris

Shepherd's Purse - Capsella burs-pastoris

Main features

  • Grassland and disturbed earth

  • Basal rosette leaves lobed, leaves climbing the flower stalk clasp it are sessile

  • Flowers tiny, cruciform (four petals in a cross shape) and white

  • Flower stalk up to 40cm

  • Seed pods triangular and notched at the top - like a thin loveheart

  • Can be found year round

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Shepherd's Purse - Capsella bursa-pastoris

Edible plant in moderation - novice

Other common names: Mother's Heart


Scientific name meaning: Capsella comes from the Latin "Capsa", meaning "case or box" and a reference to the resemblance of the seed pod's to a medieval Shepherd's Purse. In another reference to the seedpod shape, "Bursa" is both a Greek and Modern Latin word meanign "a hide- or skin-made pouch. Pastoris is derived from the Latin "Pastor", meaning "shepherd or herdsman"

Season All year

Habitat - where will I find it? In grassland and disturbed earth

Description - what does it look like? Shepherd's Purse has a basal rosette of thin, lobed leaves. Its flower stalk reaches up to 40cm and has leaves at intervals up it. These leaves a not lobed, clasp the stalk, and are sessile (they are not attached to the stalk via their own stalk).

The flowers themselves are very small, white and cruciform - having four petals in a cross formation.

The flowers develop into seed pods that are the shape of an inverted triangle with a notch on the uppermost edge. This give the appearance of an elongated loveheart

Possible lookalikes Shepherd's Cress (Teesdalia nudicaulis) may be easily confused with Shepherd's Purse, but can be distinguished by the seed pods.

Use as a food The leaves and flowers can be eaten raw or cooked and have a cress- (raw) or cabbage-like (cooked) taste. The seed pods add a nice crunch and texture to salads, and can also be cooked. Left to age, the seeds become peppery and can be used as a pepper substitute. 

The root has a spiciness to it and has been used to replace ginger. 

All parts should be eaten in moderation - see Hazards

Use in herbal medicine Shepherd's Purse has been used as a stimulant, vasoconstrictor and vasodilator, to treat PMS, nosebleeds, diarrhoea, wounds, scurvy, and cancer.

It is a known anti-fertility plant, and is proven to increase uterine contractions. 

If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner

Other uses When placed in water, the seed of Shepherd's Purse is said to attract and kill mosquitoes and their larvae

Hazards Should be avoided by pregnant women, and those who have thyroid or heart problems.

Can be toxic in large quantities, causing breathing difficulty.  Can become addictive in some cases

Importance to other species The flowers of Shepherd's Purse provide a year round source of nectar for pollinators

Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!

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