Shepherd's-purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris

Life Cycle

Annual or Winter annual


Reproducing only by seed.


Stems erect 10 - 60 cm high, branched above or throughout.


First leaves in rosette at the ground surface, stalked, the blades very variable, oblong, 5 - 10 cm long, shallowly to deeply and coarsely toothed or pinnately divided; stem leaves alternate (1 per node), usually much smaller, stalkless, with a few, shallow, scattered teeth or almost lacking teeth, and with 2 narrow, pointed basal lobes which clasp the stem; stems and leaves covered and with fine star-shaped hairs or are hairless.

Flowers and Fruit

Flowers resemble Wild Mustard in form but are white and much smaller (3-8 mm across) in rounded clusters at the ends of stems and branches; seedpods on short (1-2 cm) stalks which spread out from the stem, more or less triangular to heart- or valentine-shaped, the pointed end attached to the stalk and the 2 lobes at the outer end; seed-containing section divided by a narrow septum (membranous partition) with several seeds on each side; seeds about 1 mm long, oblong, dull orange-yellow to slightly reddish. Flowers from early spring to late fall.


Shepherd's-purse occurs throughout Ontario in grainfields, waste areas, roadsides, gardens and lawns.

Distinguishing Features

It is distinguished from all other plants in the Mustard Family by its valentine-shaped seedpods, hence "purse" in its English name. In the rosette stage, it can be distinguished from other mustards with lobed basal leaves by usually being hairy, the lobes or divisions more or less uniform on each side, and its generally small size.

Medicinal uses

It is said that the seeds of this plant have vasoconstrictive and coagulant properties that may be useful to stop bleeding. Herbalists use seeds from shepherd's purse in teas or tinctures that may aid in the eliminatrion of excess uric acid from the body. However, ingestion of seeds in large enough quantities has been known to cause irritation to the lining of the stomach. Tilford, G. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West. (1997) Mountain Press Publishing Company, Montana.

Figure #1.

A. Base of plant B. Flowring and fruiting stem.

Figure #2.


Figure #3.

Star shaped hairs on the leaf surface of Shepard's-purse.

Figure #4.

Figure #5.

Mature plant.

Figure #6.

Heart shaped seedpod.

Figure #7.

Orange-yellow seeds within the seedpod.