Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
Shepherd's Purse Seeds
Season: Late Spring to Early Fall
Urban, Rural or Both: Both
For the edible greens of Shepherd's Purse, see the Shepherd's Purse Greens page.
For the edible roots of Shepherd's Purse, see the Shepherd's Purse Roots page.
Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) seeds have been used for a long time, but I have to say, they are quite a bit of work to gather, and it takes a long time to even get a tablespoon of them, however they taste good. You can eat them raw, put in soups, or with baked goods.
Just wait for the little seed pods to turn tan, and take the stem with pods, put in a bag and rub them with your hand inside the bag. Unfortunately, the seeds pods don't mature at the same time. They start maturing from the bottom and work their way up.
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 Shepherd's 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.
Shepherd's Purse stalk with flowers on top and triangular seed pods. This one is still too green for seed harvesting.
The base of the Shepherd's Purse plant with the basal leaves forming a circle around the stem.
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