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] "found as a weed in fields and waste places nearly all over the world." [EWP] "Worldwide, except tropical regions." [PDR] "Cosmopolitan found in cold areas." [Abbasi WEVLH]

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] "he chemistry of shepherd’s purse is well documented. Several actions affecting the circulatory system have been observed in animal studies, although these actions do not relate to the traditional herbal uses. There is a lack of robust clinical research assessing the efficacy and safety of shepherd’s purse. Limited toxicity data are available. In view of this together with the demonstrated pharmacological activity of the herb, excessive use of shepherd’s purse and use during pregnancy and lactation should be avoided." [HerbalMed3]

Edible Uses

Other Uses

Medicinal Uses


"Mode of Administration: Comminuted drug for tea and other galenic preparations for internal use and external administration."[PDR]

"Daily Dosage: Internally, the average daily dose is 10 to 15 gm of drug. The liquid extract daily dose is 5 to 8 gm drug. The infusion may be drunk throughout the day. Externally an infusion is prepared by adding 3 to 5 gm drug to 150 ml water."[PDR]

"Homeopathic Dosage: 5 drops or 1 tablet or 10 globules every 30 to 60 minutes (acute) or 1 to 3 times a day (chronic); parenterally: 1 to 2 ml 3 times a day sc (HAB1)"[PDR]


"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]

"The mixture of Capsella bursa-pastoris and Glycyrrhiza glabra extracts was more effec- tive against all the oral pathogenic bacteria Streptococcus mutans, S. sanguis, Actinomyces viscosus, Enterococcus faecalis than the separate individual extracts indicating synergistic effects between the two plant extracts (Soleimanpour et al. 2013 )." [EMNMPV.10]

"Shepherd's purse is reputed to act as an abortifacient and to affect the menstrual cycle, and tyramine is documented as a utero-active constituent. (G30)" [HerbalMed3]

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. [????]

"Fresh weight basis: Moisture contents 94.25 %, dry matter contents 5.750 %. Dry weight basis: Carbohydrates 24.86 %, crude proteins 40.36 %, crude fats 3.160 %, crude fibers 10.30 %, ash content 21.32 %, Energy 289.3 Kcal/100 g." [Abbasi WEVLH]

[Abbasi WEVLH]


Amines Acetylcholine, choline, amino acids 2.33% (major component proline), histamine, tyramine and unidentified crystal- line alkaloids. (1)[HerbalMed3]

Flavonoids Quercetin, diosmetin, luteolin, hesperetin and their glycosides (e.g. rutin, diosmin, hesperidin). (2)[HerbalMed3] "including rutin, luteolin-7-rutinoside" [PDR]

Volatile oils 0.02%. Camphor (major); at least 74 components identified. (3, 4)[HerbalMed3]

Other constituents Carotenoids, fumaric acid, sinigrin (mustard oil glucoside), ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and vitamin K. (4, 5, G2)[HerbalMed3]

"Cardioactive steroids: presumably only in the seeds" [PDR]

"Glucosinolates, sinigrin: 9-methyl sulfinyl nonyl glucosinolate, 9-methyl sulfinyl decyl glucosinolate" [PDR]

"Caffeic acid derivatives: including chlorogenic acid." [PDR]

"Phytochemical assessment of C. bursa-pastoris is given in Fig. 7.14, which indi- cates that water extract showed higher concentration of total phenolics (mg GAE/ 100 g, FW) as compared to acetone extract. Flavonoids and flavonol contents (mg Rt/100 g, FW) were recorded higher in acetone extract than water extract, while water extract showed slightly higher value of ascorbic acid contents (mg AA/100 g, FW) than acetone extract." [Abbasi WEVLH]

[Abbasi WEVLH]

"Measured levels of antioxidant properties in the leaves of C. bursa-pastoris are mentioned in Fig. 8.14, which indicates that water extracts show elevated levels in DPPH and OH- radical scavenging and Fe 2+ chelating activities than corresponding acetone extracts. However, in the case of H2O2 radical scavenging activity, FRAP assay, and PM complex assay measured levels were high in acetone extracts than corresponding water extracts on fresh weight basis." [Abbasi WEVLH]

[Abbasi WEVLH]


"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]

Light Requirements "Fogelfors (1973) studied the response of weeds to light intensity. Chenopodium album, Galeopsis tetrahit and Stellaria media were among species flowering at very low light intensities, whereas species such as Capsella bursa-pastoris, C. cyanus and Avena fatua exhibited a more restrained flowering. [Hakansson WWM]

Fungal Parasites "The plant very often acts as a host to endophytic fungi (Albugo Candida, Peronospora parasitica), so the presence of mytotoxins is a possibility." [PDR] "Peronospora parasitica (Fig. 3.18) may be taken as a common example of this order. It is an obligate parasite of wallflower (Chetranthus) and shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa-pastons), an abundant garden weed. In a dIseased wallflower a group of termmal leaves and the associated sappy stem appear somewhat reduced and distorted, and have a white, mildewed appearance. This is due to a covering of sporangiophores. The young leaves of a healthy plant are infected by airborne spores. The spore germinates in a drop of dew or rain on the leaf surface, and puts out a germ tube which grows into the leaf by way of a stoma. Once inside, the fungus forms a branched, non-septate mycelium in the intercellular spaces of the host obtaining nourishment through relatively large forked haustoria developed within the living cells. The parasitized cells are not killed; the success of the parasite depends on the continued life of the penetrated host cells. After a few days of vegetative activity within the host, reproductive structures are formed. These are branched sporangiophores. Each emerges through a stoma and has an unbranched lower region and a branched upper one with fine ends each bearing an oval spore, which is regarded as a modified sporangium. The spores in Peronospora are very finely attached. Just how they are liberated is not quite clear. In some species of the genus they appear to be violently discharged as the result of twirling of the sporangiophore axis during sudden drying. It has also been suggested that static electric charges playa part in their liberation." [BOF Ingold]


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, January 3, 2024