Capsella is Latin for a “Little Box” and bursa-pastoris translates literally as “Shepherd’s Purse.” The seed pods resemble a once common leather pouch worn on the belt by working people, not a purse in the modern sense the pouch would have contained their food for the day.
Shepherd’s purse is a member of the Mustard family and the flower looks like many other little mustard flowers. Four white petals, six stamens and a single style.
This type of seed pod is typical of the Mustard family (but not this shape). It is called a siliqua and is made up of a central septum, from which the seeds grow and two outer shell cases called carpels that protect the seeds.
The septum remains on the plant when the carpels, now full of seeds, have fallen off.
(The complete siliqua with the two carpels still attached)It is common to see all stages of the development on the flower stem, with opening flowers at the top, heart shaped seed pods below and further down just the remains of the septum.
The plant grows from a basal rosette of leaves which look a bit like a Dandelion, except the lobes of a Dandelion leaf point inward toward the centre of the plant and the lobes of a Shepherd’s Purse leaf are either at right angles to the stem or point outward.
The basal rosette withers as the flower stem grows and leaves grow alternately on the lower part of the flower stem.
Shepherd’s Purse is still considered by many herbalists to be an important drug plant. It’s main use being to stop internal haemorrhaging. It was still in use during the First World War when other drugs were not available.
It is a native of Eastern Europe and Asia Minor and is naturalised in the UK, North America and many other parts of the world.
Species: Capsella bursa-pastoris