Shepherd’s purse: growing, uses & lookalikes


My fascination with the world of plants led me to study horticulture. Whether they are crops or ornamental plants, whether they are found in the tropics or are native to our region, each plant has its own special characteristics.
I love to be inspired by the incredible variety in botanical gardens and try to bring as much nature as possible into my flat and onto my balcony.

Favourite fruit: mango, banana
Favourite vegetables: garlic, aubergine

The inconspicuous shepherd’s purse not only enriches every garden with its pretty seeds, but also possesses healing properties that have almost been forgotten.

Shepherd's purse plants with flowers
The filigree shepherd’s purse beautifies every garden [Photo: IvanaStevanoski/]

Shepherd’s purse is a low-maintenance plant that is easy to grow and care for, making it an excellent choice for new gardeners. Read on to find out how to plant and care for shepherd’s purse, as well as how it can be processed and used.

Shepherd’s purse: origin and properties

Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), also known as case weed, hen pepper and lady’s purse, belongs to the cruciferous family (Brassicaceae). It owes its botanical name to the appearance of the heart-shaped little pods – Capsella means “little capsule” and bursa-pastoris means “the shepherd’s little purse”.

Heart-shaped pods of sheperd's purse
The little heart-shaped pods give the shepherd’s purse its name [Photo: YueStock/]

The origin of shepherd’s purse is unknown. However, it is thought to have originated in southern Europe and western Asia. Since a single plant can produce up to 60,000 seeds, it spreads rapidly. Nowadays, it can be found almost anywhere, including fields, waste grounds, gardens and fallow land. Shepherd’s purse grows to a height of 60cm in ideal conditions.

Shepherd’s purse has elongated, toothed leaves that form a basal rosette, similar to those of the dandelion. An upright stem grows from the centre of the leaf rosette and bears tiny white flowers. As is typical for the cruciferous family, the four petals are arranged opposite each other. This wildflower can be an annual or a biennial, and it is self-fertile. Small bees and hoverflies, among others pollinate the plants. Despite its small flowers, the wildflower is an important food source for insects. Shepherd’s purse flowers from May to October.

White shepherd's purse flowers
Shepherd’s purse has tiny white flowers [Photo: tasnenad/]

Shepherd’s purse lookalikes

Field pennycress (Thlaspi arvense) has similar florets, although these are somewhat rounder. Overall, field pennycress is larger and its leaves are more serrated. However, there is no danger here, as field pennycress is edible and therefore harmless. Rock cress (Arabis) also belongs to the Brassicaceae and can sometimes be confused with shepherd’s purse. However, is it easy to tell them apart as rock cress has a mat-forming to mounding growth habit.

Overgrown rock cress weed
Rock cress grows in mounds that look a bit like a cushion [Photo: va Vagnerova/]

Shepherd’s purse as an indicator plant

Indicator plants provide insight into specific conditions. This is also true for shepherd’s purse, which indicates that the soil has a moderate to good nitrogen supply due to its abundance. It can also be assumed that the soil is rich in humus. Shepherd’s purse also serves as an indicator of pasture overgrazing. Overgrazing is defined as stress on a pasture that is greater than plant regeneration, which can result in a total loss of soil functionality.

How to control shepherd’s purse?

Shepherd’s purse is considered a weed, particularly in rape and cereal cultivation, where it can act as an intermediate host for plant diseases. Take care to remove all of the plant when trying to control shepherd’s purse as it can be difficult to eradicate. Cut off, uproot, or dig up the taproot weed before it produces seeds. However, the seeds can survive in the soil for decades, necessitating regular weeding. Burning the weed or steaming the soil are two other options, but they require more effort and special equipment. Shepherd’s purse does not compete with other garden plants and can thus be ignored in the garden.

Several shepherd's purse plants in garden
The pretty wildflower can be left in the garden without hesitation [Photo: Kateryna Pavliuk/]

Planting and care

Shepherd’s purse likes a sunny to semi-shady location with soil that is rich in nitrogen and humus. If it has not already spread in the garden, it can be sown without any problems. Scatter the shepherd’s purse seeds over a wide area in the open from March to April, lightly press into the soil, and they will then germinate within a week. This easy-care wildflower does not need any extra watering or pruning. Additional fertiliser is not necessary, as long as the soil is at least moderately fertile. Otherwise, you can improve the soil with our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food, which provides nitrogen for vital and lush green foliage as well as healthy plant growth.

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Note: due to shepherd’s purse’s deep taproots, which can grow several metres long, it is not recommended to grow it in a pot, as this usually does not provide the necessary space.

Shepherd’s purse is an annual plant that reproduces easily because the seeds fall to the ground and remain viable for several years. You can collect shepherd’s purse seeds from April to December if you want to propagate it yourself. Then sow the seeds in the same autumn or in the following spring. When storing the seeds, keep them in a cool, dry place at a temperature of around 10°C. Furthermore, the seeds should be stored in an airtight container to keep harmful fungi at bay.

Health benefits and uses of shepherd’s purse

In folk medicine, shepherd’s purse is said to have healing properties. It contains flavonoids, potassium, some tannins and is therefore said to have a diuretic, blood-cleansing, haemostatic and blood pressure regulating properties. Even Hildegard von Bingen wrote about the healing properties of the herb. In homoeopathy, shepherd’s purse is used in the form of globules or capsules, among other things. While the healing properties of shepherd’s purse herb is little researched, a 2018 study found that shepherd’s purse can relieve heavy menstrual bleeding. Shepherd’s purse has been included in the EU’s HMPC monograph since 2011. They suggest using it as a tea or tincture to relieve heavy periods. However, shepherd’s purse is not recommended in pregnancy because it may cause premature labour.

Harvested shepherd's purse
One pod contains up to 12 seeds [Photo: ElenVik/]

Is shepherd’s purse edible?

Yes, the medicinal herb is edible both raw and cooked, and it is especially popular in Asian cuisine. Shepherd’s purse root is harvested while it is still in bloom. It is dried upside down and then used as a spice. The leaves and seeds of shepherd’s purse taste delicious steamed or raw in salads. The dried plant parts should be processed within three months, as they lose their active ingredients if stored for longer. In terms of flavour, the herb can be compared to cress. Shepherd’s purse is slightly poisonous to humans and animals but only in very large quantities, as it contains essential oils and tannins.

Spoonful of drying shepherd's purse
Harvest with roots and dry in the shade [Photo: Lipatova Maryna/]

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