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Shepherd’s Purse

This hardy and vigorous annual or biennial plant flowers throughout the year except in the coldest of winters, and is found all over Scotland in cultivated land, roadsides, waste ground and sand dunes, or in corners between pavement and wall.

The leaves form a neat rosette on the ground or clasp the base of the stem, and are spear-shaped, but vary from deeply lobed or divided to almost undivided. The multiple stems grow more or less straight and turn from green to brown.

The tiny white flowers are 2-3mm in diameter and don’t always fully open. 4 white rounded and un-notched petals are slightly splayed apart with 6 stamens carrying creamy-coloured pollen on their anthers, surrounding a white style.

Later the pistil develops into a flattish or bulging triangular or heart-shaped seed pod with a ridge down the middle. In olden days the seed pod resembled a style of purses carried by shepherds, whence the origin of the name.   Seeds pods stand out from the plant on stalks almost at right angles. They are greenish brown at first, turning chocolate brown when ripe. As the seed pods develop the plant stem grows on to produce more flower heads on a lengthening raceme.

The seeds are edible and have been used traditionally in Chinese cuisine. The plant has had a variety of traditional medicinal applications.

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