Country Diary: Nutritional value of pesky garden weed

Shepherd's Purse
Shepherd's Purse

At the closing of January, several ‘spring’ flowers were in bloom – even a couple of hyacinths in the border. Beside garden walls were short stalks of the well-known ‘weed’, shepherd’s purse’. At the tips bloomed tiny, four-petalled white flowers. Down the stem were many heart-shaped seed cases. These remind one of the purses, or pouches hung from belts in the olden days, and especially worn by shepherds. At ground level is a rosette of pale green leaves. They contain vitamin C and are rich in calcium, sodium and sulphur, and make a rather spicy vegetable. Their aromatic flavour resembles cress, and if chopped may be placed in sandwiches and salads. Dried leaves make a peppery flavouring for soups and stews. So – if it’s a garden pest and you can’t beat it – eat it!

Now look at the heart-shaped seed pods along the stem. Within these ‘purses’ are 12-24 tiny golden brown seeds suggestive of coins, hence its alternative names of money bags, lady’s purse and pickpocket! Seeds may be shed over several weeks, and remain viable for 35 years or more, so keep weeding! Thankfully many seeds are eaten by birds and also horses, cattle and goats. However, this disperses them by internal and external conveyance. Human beings inadvertently transport seeds on their muddy boots, tools and machinery, so you can’t win.

Our pal Martin is a talented cabinet-maker, and very artistic and pains-taking. Whether for indoors, or outdoor furnishings, a variety of woods are selected, and each piece is 

He recently borrowed Michael’s small saw to recover honeysuckle branches from the hedgerows during his country rambles. These will decorate arms and legs of chairs with their entwining patterns. Daily, he visits Raincliffe Woods, and over the last year or two has voluntarily collected and disposed of rubbish left by thoughtless people. Mainly cans and bottles but even a few unwanted tents!

Wandering along South Bay, there have been days when rough high tides have flung heaps of algae along the strand-line. The most conspicuous are the brown seaweeds such as oar weed, knotted wrack and bladder wrack, saw wracks, sugar wrack and spiral wrack. All have their uses. Oar weed is full of minerals, and contains far more iodine than bladder wrack. One important medicinal property attributed to seaweed, is the prevention of goitre.

Seaweed left high and dry, provides a useful addition to garden soil. It helps retain water, and acts as a fertiliser too.

It has been a difficult week owing to Michael’s respiratory/heart problems. Consequently I haven’t been far afield, and even Tigga’s daily walks have had to be a little restricted. The birds at the feeding stations haven’t had supplies topped up, and I have yet to prune a few garden plants, but I’ll get there! The days are getting lighter, and bird song noted in the evenings.