Tuesday, February 11, 2014




[Nyerges is the author of “Guide to Wild Foods,” and the soon-to-be-released “Foraging California.” He has led wild food outings since 1974.  He can be reached via the School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or at www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]

There’s a low-growing little plant that grows in most people’s yards and in nearby wild areas, whose little pod is remarkable.  Look at the picture!  The seed pod is heart-shaped, making it the ideal posey to give to your loved one on Valentine’s Day.

The plant is Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), which came to this country from Europe a long time ago.  It was probably brought here as a medicine, since it was used  by the ancient Greeks and Romans and was popular all over Europe into the Middle Ages. The entire plant was used as astringent (the poultice can be used to stop bleeding), diuretic, and antiscorbutic.  When the plant became naturalized in North America, even the desert Indians began to use it in their medicine. The Cahuilla  (whose territory is around the Palm Springs area) used the leaves as a tea to treat dysentery.
In fact, the small leaves of this little plant are very nutritious, and can be added to salads and soups. As a member of the Mustard Family, the leaves are both tasty and nutritious. An analysis of 100 grams (about ½ cup) of the leaves shows 208 milligrams of calcium, 86 milligrams of phosphorus, 40 milligrams of sodium, 394 milligrams of potassium, 36 milligrams of vitamin C, and 1,554 international units of vitamin A.
Some years this plant is very abundant in lawns, fields, along trails. This little annual is already growing in lawn areas all over town, but it’s not nearly as abundant this year because of the lower rainfall levels.
A friend of mine told me that he once gave his wife a bunch of the seeding stalks as a Valentine’s day gift, and suggested that it might not be the ideal gift.  He explained that he nearly had to spend the night on the couch.
Still, it’s always a good idea to learn about the wild useful plants which grow all around us.  But never eat any wild food unless you have positively identified it as an edible species.

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