Survival foods: Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

Posted: March 27, 2014 by Rex Trulove in Other Thoughts, Survival, survival food, wild food
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ImageThis plant gets its common name from the flat, heart-shaped seed pods that were thought to resemble the change purse used by shepherds. Shepherd’s purse is quite common where the ground has been disturbed, including fields, along roads or trails, in gardens and in waste places. It isn’t hard to identify, with lobed or toothed leaves, similar to dandelions, that seldom get more than a couple inches long. The flowers are white and have four petals, with the flower stalk arising from the middle of the plant. The stalk continues to grow with blooms at the top and seed pods lower on the stalk. The pods are actually fruits and they contain the seeds, which are also edible.

The entire plant is edible, though it is most often the young leaves that are harvested, prior to the time the plant blooms. The reason for this is that shepherd’s purse is a member of the mustard family, and like most members of the group, the peppery flavor becomes much more pronounced when the wild herb starts blooming. (This is also common of the other members of the mustard family.)

For a survivalist, this is a plant of good value. Not only is it common and easy to find in most of North America and Europe, it is also quite high in vitamin C, calcium, sulfur and iron. Additionally, it contains acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter. The plant is also balanced in regard to the amount of carbohydrates and proteins it contains. The flavor is peppery but good, reminiscent of watercress, which is also a member of the family.

The plant is eaten either as a cooked potherb, as a raw addition to green salads and to flavor other foods, especially soups and stews. It goes great with most wild game, especially venison, bear, grouse and quail. It is also good with fish.

This herb has medicinal properties, though it isn’t commonly used in the United States for that purpose. It is good for use to stop internal and external bleeding, it is reputed to lower blood pressure, it is used to treat diarrhea and it has been effectively used by women who are on menstruating, to help control flow. It can also be used as a diuretic for people who are retaining water. Some American Indian tribes also used it as a mild analgesic. For medicinal purposes, shepherd’s purse can be dried, but it doesn’t retain its medicinal properties long, so it is best to use it fresh.

This is yet another survival plant that is great to eat for hikers and campers. The peppery taste can even be used to great effect on bland foods, to make them more palatable.

Previous survival plants in the series:

The picture is by H. Zell, creative commons share alike 1.2 attribution

  1. I had forgotten about this edible common weed. Shepherd’s purse is one of those damn weeds that once it gets into your yard it is hell to get rid of. I found the taste of the older plants too bitter for my tastes, but the young plants are tasty in salads.

    I have never eaten shepherd’s purse cooked. I could see adding shepherd’s purse to venison or other wild game stew.

    A tasty different take on chicken noodle soup includes blanched shepherd’s purse. Often attributed to Chinese or Asian fare, blanched shepherd’s purse is not something that I have tried.

  2. Rex Trulove says:

    I haven’t tried blanching it, though I’ve steamed it and it is good that way. I’d think that steaming wouldn’t be much different than blanching.

    Yes, after the plant blooms, it can still be used medicinally, but the flavor can become overpowering. It would still be great as a survival food, but not the best taste treat a person could come up with.

    It can really spread like you said, with all those tiny little seeds. A couple Indian tribes made sort of a flour out of the seeds and I could see how this would be good, but I can’t imagine collecting so many that there would be enough to make into flour.

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