Shepherd’s Purse – Capsella Bursa-pastoris: Edible & Medicinal Uses of Another Mustard of Wild Plants

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Shepherd’s purse is the second-most prolific wild “weed” in the entire world (polygonum aviculare/pigweed is #1). In cottage country Ontario it’s not that prolific, but you can still find this edible and medicinal mustard.

Shepherd’s purse (capsella bursa-pastoris) may be found around here on dry sandy sites and moist wooded roadsides. I’ve only found it sporadically and usually in a grassy driveway. It’s not hard to ID when the seed pods are out – they look like heart shaped purses.

Shepherd’s Purse – Capsella Bursa-pastoris
Shepherd’s Purse – Capsella Bursa-pastoris

Edible Uses of Shepherd’s Purse

Like the field mustards featured last month, shepherd’s purse is in the mustard family and is entirely edible whether wild or cultivated.

Young rosette leaves are the most palatable yet usually boiled, and older leaves can have much of their bitterness boiled out of them. The flavour is turnip or cabbage-like, and due to its pungency may be best mixed with other greens or vegetables, or used as seasoning.

Typical of brassicaceae the seeds are spicy and can be used for a homemade mustard, in vinegars, etc. In this case the pods can be ground along with the seeds. You can also sprout the seeds. In colonial times, the dried seeds were ground for a pepper substitute, hence the folk name “peppergrass”.

The fresh or dried roots make a ginger substitute. Similar to coltsfoot, the plant burnt to ash can be used as a salt substitute or tenderizer.

In China, where it is called jìcài (荠菜; 薺菜), it is used in stir-fries and in some recipes for wonton filling. It is used in the Japanese spring-time festival dish, Nanakusa-no-sekku. In Korea, it is called naengi (냉이) and used in a dish called namul. Burdock comes to mind as a similar “weed” that is cultivated as produce in Asia.

Rich in vitamin C.

Medicinal Uses of Shepherd’s Purse

Shepherd’s Purse is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary
  • Urinary
  • Reproductive

Medicinal tags include Alterative, Antihemorrhagic, Antiseptic, Astringent, Diuretic and Emmenagogue. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes to stop bleeding, usually used during childbirth, with professional supervision. It stimulates the smooth muscles in the uterus, which is why there is a warning below to not consume if pregnant. Its use for childbirth is why one folk name is “mother’s herb”. Otherwise it’s primarily used as an anti-hemorrhage juice or tea for internal bleeding from nosebleeds to blood in urine. Fresh juice or bruised leaves can be used for external bleeding.

Shepherd’s Purse – Capsella Bursa-pastoris
Shepherd’s Purse – Capsella Bursa-pastoris

Alternative Uses of Pepper-and-salt

The seeds can be soaked in water to make a jelly that you can trap and poison mosquito larvae in. I haven’t tried this, for the record, and prefer to attract dragonflies instead.

Growing Capsella Bursa-pastoris

While not a native plant, some shorter tongued bees and flies and the occasional small butterfly may visit the plant in your vegetable garden. But be aware that fauna like deer can spread the seeds easily if you let it go to seed.


Large doses are poisonous.

Don’t consume if pregnant as it’s a uterine stimulant.

It may effect blood pressure.

It can cause skin blistering for some sensitive people.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

The Green Pharmacy: The Ultimate Compendium Of Natural Remedies From The World’s Foremost Authority On Healing Herbs

Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries (Regional Foraging Series)

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments

The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine

Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

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