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Home Plant Lore Shepherd's Purse

Shepherd's Purse

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APRIL 2011: SHEPHERD’S PURSE (Capsella bursa-pastoris) Order: Cruciferae

Shepherd’s Purse Description and Habitat:: Shepherd’s Purse is an annual herb growing up to 60cm (2 feet) in height, indigenous to Europe and West Africa. A common weed in gardens and fields, it can thrive in any soil and also grows on waste ground and in hedgerows. The main leaves grow first and these lie close to the earth. They are between 2 to 6 inches long and are either irregularly pinnate (leaves made of leaflets joined at the base) or toothed. The slender stem rises from the centre of the rosette of base leaves. The stem is usually sparingly branched and bears a few small, oblong leaves, arrow-shaped at the base and above them numerous small, white, inconspicuous flowers. Shepherd’s Purse flowers primarily from March to November but it is not unusual to find it in flower throughout the year. These flowers are self-fertilized and are followed by wedge-shaped fruit pods, divided by narrow partitions into two cells, which contain oblong yellow seeds. When ripe, the pod separates into its two boat-shaped valves. One plant will shed up to 64,000 seeds periodically in one season.

Synonyms and Common names: Witch’s pouches, Pickpocket, Pickpurse, Shepherd’s bag, Shepherd’s scrip, Shepherd’s sprout, Shepherd’s heart, Lady’s purse, Rattle pouches, Case-wort, Toywort, Blindweed, Poor man’s parmacettie, Bad Man’s Oatmeal, Pepper and salt, Pepper grass, Mother’s heart, Cocowort, Toywort, St. James’ weed, St Anthony’s fire.

French = bourse de pasteur, German = hirtentasche or hirtenfaschel, Spanish = Borsa de Pastor, Italian = Borsa di pastore, Irish = clappedepouch

Shepherd’s Purse

Shepherd's Purse is so called from the resemblance of the flat seed-pouches of the plant to the Medieval leather purse called a scrip. The Irish name of 'Clappedepouch' was given in allusion to the begging of lepers, who stood at cross-roads with a bell or clapper, receiving their alms in a cup at the end of a long pole.

The plant has accompanied Europeans in all their migrations and established itself wherever they have settled to till the soil. In John Josselyn's Herbal it is one of the plants named as unknown to the New World before the Pilgrim Fathers settled there. It will flourish and set seed in the poorest soil, though it may only attain the height of a few inches. In rich soil it grows to 2 feet in height.

Nutrient Content: Potassium and calcium, vitamins A, B, C.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Shepherd's Purse is one of the most important medicinal plants of the family Cruciferae. When dried and infused, it yields a tea which is still considered by herbalists one of the best specifics for stopping hemorrhages of all kinds - of the stomach, the lungs, or the uterus, and more especially bleeding from the kidneys.

It can be used for internal or external bleeding including nosebleeds, as a blood tonic and for colon trouble, bed wetting, hemorrhoids, venereal disease, malaria, typhus, lung tuberculosis, bleeding ulcers and stomach troubles. It helps relieve pain, bleeding from the lungs, piles, profuse menstruation, kidney complaints, fever, jaundice, and hemorrhage after childbirth. It is also used as a compress for cuts and wounds especially of the head. It acts to constrict the blood vessels and thus to raise blood pressure, but it has been said to regularize blood pressure and heart action whether the pressure is high or low. It is effective too for various menstrual problems, including excessive and difficult menstruation. It is sometimes used to promote uterine contractions during childbirth and can promote bowel movements with a similar effect on the intestines. The Tea is used for diarrhea, dysentery; and externally as a wash for bruises. It is used in urinary problems and to improve eyesight.

During the First World War, when the standard haemostatic herbs Hydrastis and Claviceps were unobtainable in Britain and Germany, Shepherd’s Purse was used as an alternative. It has also been used as a quinine substitute in the treatment of malaria. In Chinese medicine it is used to treat dysentery and eye problems.

Culpepper says it helps bleeding from wounds - inward or outward - and: 'if bound to the wrists, or the soles of the feet, it helps the jaundice. The herb made into poultices, helps inflammation and St. Anthony's fire. The juice dropped into ears, heals the pains, noise and matterings thereof. A good ointment may be made of it for all wounds, especially wounds in the head.'

It has mustard-flavored leaves which can be added to salads and is cultivated in China where it is widely used as a staple food either raw or cooked in the same way as spinach. When poultry have fed freely on the green plant in the early spring, it has been noticed that the egg yolks become dark in colour, a greenish brown or olive colour, and stronger in flavour. Small birds are fond of the seeds of Shepherd's Purse and chaffinches and other wild birds may often be observed feeding on them. In America, the seeds are roasted and combined with other ingredients to make pinole bread while in Philadelphia, the base leaves are sold as greens in the Spring.

The seeds when placed in water attract and kill mosquitoes and it is used to reclaim marshland by absorbing the salt and ‘sweetening’ the soil.



Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 April 2011 18:41  



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