Queen of Hearts: The meat-eating mustard

The wild mustard commonly known as Shepherd’s Purse deserves a new name: Queen of Hearts. Not only does it have distinct heart-shaped seed pods, but just like the character from Alice in Wonderland, it’s got a murderous side!


Shepherd’s Purse, a.k.a. Capsella bursa-pastoris

Believe it or not, this plant is carnivorous! The seed pods attract tiny bugs and, when moistened, become sticky and trap them until they die. I’ve read two explanations of how the plant then eats them: Either the seeds secrete an enzyme which can break down the bodies so the nutrients can be taken up during germination, or the bugs rot and fall off and enrich the soil, where the roots absorb their protein-rich nutrients. Here’s a short article about meat-eating plants.

Another neat factoid: Each pod has 40,000 seeds!

Capsella-bursa is high in Vitamin K and a tea of the plant can stop internal bleeding. In “Just Weeds,” author Pamela Jones writes that you can actually stop a nosebleed with it if you squeeze its juice onto a cotton ball and stick it up your nostril.

I like eating the seed pods right off the stem. They can also be used in cooking. The young basal leaves make a spicy salad green too. Look for Capsella in disturbed waste places and roadsides. Besides the distinct heart-shaped seed pods, look for clusters of four-petaled white flowers.

Explore many more wild plants on the Search Plants! page.

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