Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
Shepherd's Purse Root
Season: Spring to Fall
Urban, Rural or Both: Both - disturbed land
For the edible greens of Shepherd's Purse, see the Shepherd's Purse Greens page.
For the edible seeds of Shepherd's Purse, see the Shepherd's Purse seeds page.
Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) is a wild food in North America, but in Asia it is grown as a food crop. It is grown and used in Korea as a root vegetable. Not bad at all, you don't get a lot per root, but since it is common, if you find a few, and the soil is light and loamy, it can be worth the effort. The taste is not particularly great, but certainly nothing bad about it. Good for a soup ingredient.
Go here to the Leaves and Greens section for the entry on Shepherd's Purse for a detailed description of the plant and pictures.
Growing this plant in your home garden:
Easy with this one. Find one with brown (mature) seed pods, take them home, break (rub between hands) over the soil where you want them, tamp the area down, and put down a very fine layer of mulch. Done. Each time you see mature seed heads on plants in your garden, just give the mature seed heads a good rub with both hands, and very shortly you will have new ones with fresh greens.
For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Shepherds Purse page.
- Plant Size: Up to 60 cm (2 feet) tall or slightly more
- Duration: Annual. This plant is able to produce multiple generations in one season.
- Leaf Shape: Two kinds of leaves: There is a rosette of pinnately lobed (Pinnatisect) leaves right at the ground forming a circle around the root. On the stem there are alternate pointed leaves that partly grasp the stem (wrap around it, but not all the way)
- Leaf Phyllotaxis (Leaf Arrangement) on branch: rosette at base, alternate on stem.
- Leaf Size: up to 13 cm (5 inches) long and 2.5 cm (1 inch) wide
- Leaf Margin: rosette leaves at bottom are deeply lobed with some sawtooth near the tip. Leaves on stem are almost Entire with a few bumps.
- Flowers: very small (3 mm or 1/8 inch) four petalled white flower at the top of stem
- Fruit: flat, triangular seed pods on the ends of stems filled with very tiny yellowish to reddish brown seeds
- Habitat: A ruderal plant. Waste places, fields, disturbed soils. The seeds can remain viable in the soil for years, and when the ground is disturbed, the seed will sprout. Needs full or partial sun, will not grow in shaded woods.
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
- The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.
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