Shepherd’s Purse

Capsella bursa-pastoris – Shepherd’s Purse

Shepherd’s PurseCapsella bursa-pastoris

Capsella = cap-sel-la, means little box, referring to the seed pod or the form of the fruit;

bursa-pastoris = bur-sa-pas-tor-is, meaning pastoral purse – “shepherd’s purse”, referring to the seed pod.

Identification: Shepherd’s purse is an annual herb 10 – 50 cm high. The flowers are small and white borne in terminal racemes. The basal leaves are deeply cleft, while the stem leaves are sessile, lanceolate to linear. The seed pods are triangular and flattened. The name, shepherd’s purse, comes from the triangular or heart-shaped’seed pod which looks similar to an old-fashioned European shepherd’s bag.

Distribution & Habitat: This plant is commonly found as a weed in fields, gardens, lawns and pathways.

Preparation & Uses: The young leaves are prized as a pot herb by some people, rather than being condemned as weeds. The young leaves can be used in salads but are a bit strong and I prefer them blanched.

The ripened pods can be gathered and the seeds beaten out, as the Indians did, but this takes a lot of patience. The seeds can then be soaked, roasted, ground or parched. The whole pod can be added to salads or soups or dried for winter storage. The fresh or dried root has been reported as a substitute for ginger in flavour.

Shepherd’s purse is listed as being astringent, diuretic, antiscorbutic, styptic and a vasoconstrictor. Water is a solvent. An extract of the herb or infusion of the dried leaf is an effective blood coagulant and is used internally and externally. Shepherd’s purse also acts on the circulatory system to equalize blood pressure. It s been used to combat excess menstrual flow and other menstrual problems. This herb acts as a stimulant and moderate tonic for catarrh of the urinary tract and it is also helpful for both kidney and bladder.

Shepherd’s purse has been used to promote uterine contraction during childbirth and’successfully employed in cases of hemorrhage after childbirth. It can also promote bowel movement through a similar action on the intestine.

The dose for an infusion is 1 cup a day. To make an infusion take 1 teaspoon of the fresh herb or 2 teaspoons of the dried herb and let it set in ½ cup of water. Take a teaspoon of the juice several times a day, or take 20-40 drops of the tincture two or three times a day.

The seeds of shepherd’s purse have a germicidal action on several micro-organisms. The seed has also been employed to great effect against mosquitoes. In the early spring, sprinkle the seed on water where mosquitoes breed. The mucilage of the seed will kill the larvae and greatly reduce mosquitoes in the area. One pound of seeds destroys ten million larvae, though it may cause a proliferation of shepherd’s purse!