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Capsella bursa-pastoris, Shepherd's Purse

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Capsella bursa-pastoris, Shepherd's Purse is extensively cultivated in some areas of the world as a cabbage-flavoured spring greens.

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, in Japan it is one of the essential ingredients of a ceremonial rice and barley gruel that is eaten on January 7th. 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. They do run to seed fairly rapidly, however, especially in hot dry weather or when in poor soils.

The seed, when placed in water, attracts mosquitoes. It has a gummy substance that binds the insects mouth to the seed. The seed also releases a substance toxic to the larvae. ½ kilo of seed is said to be able to kill 10 million larvae. Plants can be grown on salty or marshy land in order to reclaim it by absorbing the salt and 'sweetening' the soil.

Birds are very fond of the seeds of shepherd's purse.

Plants flourish in most soils. 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. In rich soils plants will take longer to go to seed and will grow up to 60cm tall.

Sow in situ February to May. Seed can also be sown as late as mid autumn. A common weed of disturbed ground, the plant does not normally need any help to maintain itself.

Edible uses:

Leaves - raw or cooked. The young leaves, used before the plant comes into flower, make a fine addition to salads. The leaves are a cress and cabbage substitute, becoming peppery with age. Leaves are usually available all year round, though they can also be dried for later use. The leaves are rich in iron, calcium and vitamin C. 

The young flowering shoots can be eaten raw or cooked. They are rather thin and fiddly but the taste is quite acceptable. They can be available at most times of the year.

Seed - raw or cooked. It can be ground into a meal and used in soups etc. It is very fiddly to harvest and utilize, the seed is very small. The seed contains 35% of a fatty oil. This oil can be extracted and is edible. The seedpods can be used as a peppery seasoning for soups and stews.

The fresh or dried root is a ginger substitute.


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