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Shepherd’s Purse

Shepherd’s purse is a springtime weed that grows worldwide. It’s a plant we’ve all seen but may not know the proper name of it.

But why does it have the name shepherd’s purse? In the early days, European shepherds would carry bags of leather to carry supplies while leading their flocks, and the weed’s flowers and seeds strongly resemble these bags.

So why is the shepherd’s purse important? Are they harmful to lawns and gardens? Are they easy to get rid of?

Keep reading to get the answers to these questions.

Closeup of the flowers of a shepherd's purse plant.

History of the Shepherd’s Purse

Shepherd’s purse originates from Europe and Asia Minor, and today it’s found worldwide. Culturally this weed is as ancient as it gets, so there is no exact information on how it became an invasive weed here in the United States.

How to Identify Shepherd’s Purse

Shepherd’s purse is an easily identifiable weed many of us have already plucked from our lawns and flower beds.

The first to notice is this weed has a collection of leaves at the base of the plant, very similar in shape and size to the common dandelion leaves. Many will pull this weed thinking they are dandelions because it takes time for the plant to mature and grow stems.

The main stem is long and thin, 1 ½ feet tall, with smaller branching stems sprouting from the upper portion of the main stem. These tend to have a soft hair-like fiber coating, one significant identifier for the shepherd’s purse.

Shepherd's purse seed pods.

Heart-shaped seed pods form from these smaller stems, surrounded by tiny petaled white flowers.

So although they are weeds, they have a pretty look that may entice you to keep them around!

Why is Shepherd’s Purse Considered a Weed?

Shepherd’s purse is one hardy annual. This weed variety from the mustard family appears on vacant lots, cracks in your driveways, rock gardens, and pretty much anywhere there is the tiniest bit of soil and sun.

The tiny seeds that make up the purse part of its name can find their way into the smallest of spaces, where they germinate and continue to spread.

How Does it Spread?

Closeup of shepherd's purse seed pods.

The small seeds of the shepherd’s purse easily loosen and blow and roll in the wind, getting caught up in tiny cracks or crevices where it grows into the glorious weed it is.

Of course, we don’t need this weed sprouting up anywhere it may feel like, so the easiest way to help stop its spreading is planting crops and flowers in closer proximity to limit the areas the shepherd’s purse can grow or adding a layer of organic mulch.

The mulch acts as a barrier to the soil, so even if the seed reaches the ground, there’s not enough light for the weed to germinate.

But, be careful when trying to get rid of shepherd’s purse if your goal is to stop it from spreading. The tiniest tug can launch the seeds onto any soil nearby.

How to Get Rid of Shepherd’s Purse

A group of shepherd's purse plants.

We can try to prevent weeds from popping up in our gardens and lawns, but what can you do if shepherd’s purse starts to creep in?

Natural Remedies

If you find this weed growing in organic gardens, the best way to eradicate it is by taking your hands, a small trowel, or a hoe and lifting the weed with the root right from the soil.

It’s easiest to accomplish this when the soil is moist. Pulling the shepherd’s purse before the seeds mature enough to fall from the plant is best. Otherwise, you are just creating more work for yourself in the future.

Another great option is a mixture of vinegar, salt, and dish soap. Mix this solution in a clean spray bottle and spray at the base of the weed.

Chemical Remedies

You may want to use a chemical option when looking for an easy way to rid the shepherd’s purse from sidewalk cracks, driveways, and patios.

There are many on the market today at your local home improvement stores that you can pick up and spray.

When choosing chemical weed killers, ensure they are safe for your surroundings. If you have pets or small children, ensure these chemicals do not come in contact with them, as many are very harsh.

Harmful Weed or Helpful Plant?

The good news is that if this plant has made its way into your garden, there are some things it’s useful for. While it may be unsightly growing in your carefully laid out flower beds, it won’t do any harm by being there.

Beneficial Uses of Shepherd’s Purse

Shepherd's purse growing wild.

Medicinal Usage

Even though considered a weed, there are some extraordinary medicinal purposes that the shepherd’s purse carries.

These plants are thought to hold hemorrhage-healing properties, mainly used as a folk medicine for nose bleeds and menstrual problems.

In World War II, German soldiers used shepherd’s purse to treat their battlefield wounds.

Herbal tinctures and teas containing shepherd’s purse are still used today. These have been beneficial for menstruating women and women who are experiencing postpartum bleeding.

As always, speak with your doctor before starting any new herbal remedies, as they can have serious side effects.

Food Uses

Closeup of the leaves of shepherd's purse.

The rosette of leaves at the base of the shepherd’s purse is edible and used in many different cooking applications.

Shepherd’s purse has been used in traditional Chinese cooking for centuries. Mainly used in stir fry and soups, these leaves offer just the right flavor for this type of cuisine.

These leaves are similar to dandelion leaves and can be used in the same applications. They have a peppery taste similar to arugula and make a nice touch in fresh summer salads.

So, having this weed appear in your lettuce garden may not be the worst thing ever. After a good washing, try these in your go-to salads or even on your favorite sandwich for a new and unique flavor!

Remember, only the bottom leaves of the shepherd’s purse are edible. Never eat the flowers or seeds, as these can lead to severe stomach upset.

Shepherd’s Purse FAQs

A group of shepherd's purse growing wild.

Will shepherd’s purse harm the plants in my landscaping?

The good news is shepherd’s purse is not harmful to any other plants or flowers in your landscaping.

How easily does this weed spread?

Unfortunately, shepherd’s purse spreads very quickly, especially once the seeds are ready to drop. You will know this once the flowers are nice and wide and the stems have reached a height of at least 1 foot.

Close of green, heart-shaped seed pods of shepherd's purse.

What if my pet ingested shepherd’s purse? Is it dangerous?

While the bottom base leaves of the plant are edible, the seeds are not. Although they shouldn’t be life-threatening, they may come with some GI upset in both animals and humans.

Always call your veterinarian if your pet has ingested something unknown.

Wrapping Up Shepherds Purse

Closeup of the tiny white flowers of shepherd's purse.

So don’t worry when you see a shepherd’s purse pop up in your lawn. There’s no real risk to your landscaping, and they can be used for medicinal and food purposes! Although they may be unsightly for your landscaping taste, they are easy to get rid of naturally and won’t spread if pulled at the right time.

If you feel like you need to learn more about these pesky garden tenants, check out our weeds page to learn all about different weed varieties, treatment options, and surprising information.