Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Capsella bursa-pastoris - Shepherd's Purse

Family: Mustard - Brassicaceae [E-flora]

"Shepherd's purse is an annual tap-rooted, introduced European species that is found in North America across Canada and in all but one US state (Puerto Rico) (USDA 2011). This species begins to flower early in lowland areas in BC (February/March). It is found in disturbed sites (roadsides, fields and waste places) in the lowland, steppe and montane zones. It is readily identifiable because of the distinctive fruits (heart-shaped silicles)." [E-flora]

"The distinctive shape of shepherd's purse pods helps distinguish this plant from close relatives like pennycress (1hlaspi arvense). The longer the stem gets, the more pods develop along its length." [Kallas EWP]

"Capsella bursa-pastoris is a ANNUAL growing to 0.3 m (1ft) by 0.1 m (0ft 4in). It is hardy to zone (UK) 6 and is not frost tender. It is in flower all year, and the seeds ripen all year. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs). The plant is self-fertile.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid and saline soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil." [PFAF]

"General Annual herb from a taproot; stems simple to branched, 10-50 cm long, with simple and starlike hairs." [IFBC-E-flora]

"Habitat/Range Mesic to dry roadsides, fields and waste places in the lowland, steppe and montane zones; common throughout BC; introduced from Eurasia" [IFBC-E-flora]

Origin Status: Exotic [E-flora]


"Signs of toxicity are sedation, pupil enlargement and breathing difficulty. Avoid if on treatments for high blood pressure. Avoid with thyroid gland disorders or heart disease. Possible addictive sedative effects with other depressants (e.g. Alcohol). Avoid during pregnancy [301]." [PFAF]

Edible Uses

Other Uses

Medicinal Uses


"Medicinally, Capsella is astringent and diuretic; it is especially known as a potent vasoconstrictor and coagulant. The tea can be used internally or externally to stop bleeding; it is commonly used for women's mid-cycle bleeding. . It may also equalize blood pressure (Willard), but it can have inconsistent effects, causing either vasodilation or hypertension. As an astringent and diuretic, Capsella is good for the urinary tract and bladder, and it stimulates phosphate recycling in the kidneys. It is given during birth to stimulate uterine contractions (Moore). It is a remedy for diarrhea (Kloss)." [BIAD]

Various Facts

"Dairy cattle that graze too freely on this plant may produce off-tasting milk." [????]

Shepherd's Purse – Capsella bursa-pastoris

Part: Greens Per 100 g fresh weight [????]
Food Energy (Kcal) 33 Ash (g) 1.5 Potassium (mg) 376
Water (g) 87 Thiamine (mg) 0.25 Magnesium (mg)|19.2
Protein (g) 3 Riboflavin (mg) 0.17 Calcium (mg) 235
Fat (g)|0.5 Niacin (mg) 0.4 Phosphorus (mg) 81
Carbohydrate (g) - Vitamin C (mg) 63.5 Sodium (mg) 47
Crude Fiber (g) 3.4 Vitamin A (RE) 327 Iron (mg) 3.8
Zinc (mg) 0.4 Manganese (mg) 5.8 Copper (mg) 0.2
Molybdenum (mg) <0.1 Chloride (mg) 40.4 - -

Shepherd's Purse – Capsella bursa-pastoris

Part: Leaves Per 100 g dry weight [PFAF]
Food Energy (Kcal) 280 Ash (g) - Potassium (mg) 3939
Water (g) 0 Thiamine (mg) 2.12 Magnesium (mg) -
Protein (g) 35.6 Riboflavin (mg) 1.44 Calcium (mg) 1763
Fat (g) 4.2 Niacin (mg) 3.4 Phosphorus (mg) 729
Carbohydrate (g) 44.1 Vitamin C (mg) 305 Sodium (mg) -
Fiber (g) 10.2 Vitamin A (mg) 21949 Iron (mg) 40.7
Zinc (mg) - Manganese (mg) - Copper (mg) -

An analysis of 100 grams (about cup) of the leaves shows 208 milligrams of calcium, 86 milligrams of phosphorus, 40 milligrams of sodium, 394 milligrams of potassium, 36 milligrams of vitamin C, and 1,554 international units of vitamin A. [????]


"This plant is easily grown from seed, and will grow in almost any soil, though it gets bigger and more succulent in rich moist soil." [Tozer UWP]

"Shepherd's purse thrives in even the poorest of soils. When given hospitable conditions, the leaves grow large and succulent. When blanched like growing celery (just place an inverted flowerpot over the shepherd's purse in your garden), the greens are choice." [Schofield]

"Plants flourish in most soils[17]. They will grow even in the poorest of soils, though in such a situation the plants might only reach a few centimetres tall before they flower and set seed[4]. In rich soils plants will take longer to go to seed and will grow up to 60cm tall[4]. Shepherd's purse is a very common garden weed that can spread freely in cultivated ground. It is usually in flower and producing seed in all months of the year. This species is a prime example of how a plant can be viewed as an annoying weed in some areas of the world whilst in others it is actually cultivated for its wide range of uses[4, 183]. The plant is extensively cultivated in some areas of the world as a cabbage-flavoured spring greens[268], in Japan it is one of the essential ingredients of a ceremonial rice and barley gruel that is eaten on January 7th[183]. The leaves grow rather larger under cultivation, they can be harvested about a month after sowing and can be treated as a cut and come again crop[206]. They do run to seed fairly rapidly, however, especially in hot dry weather or when in poor soils[206, K]. A member of the cabbage family, it is a host plant for many diseases of Brassicas[200]." [PFAF]



Capsella Sp. - Shepherd's Purse

"Annual, biennial; hairs sessile, stellate, occasionally also simple.
Leaf: basal rosetted, petioled, pinnately lobed to dentate or entire; cauline sessile, sagittate to basally lobed or clasping.
Inflorescence: elongated.
Flower: sepals erect to ascending, base sac-like; petals obovate to spoon-shaped, white or ± pink.
Fruit: silicle, obtriangular-obcordate, dehiscent, unsegmented, flat perpendicular to septum; valves veined; stigma entire.
Seed: (10)20–40, in 2 rows per chamber, wingless.
4 species: Eurasia. (Latin: little box resembling a medieval wallet or purse)" [Jepson]

Local Species;

"There are other very similiar species in the genus, all edible, with no poisonous lookalikes." [Wildman]


Page last modified on Wednesday, May 4, 2022 9:55 PM