Scientific Name: Capsella bursa-pastoris
Capsella bursa-pastoris is known by its common name Shepherd's-purse because of its triangular, purse-like seed pods. This small (up to 40cm high) annual has a slender, flexible, slightly hairy white taproot and a rosette of lobed leaves at the base with a branched stem and smaller leaves.
It bears tiny white flowers throughout the year — each flower developing into a heart-shaped, two-celled seedpod, about 5 mm long, containing a number of tiny seeds. When the pod dries, it splits in half, releasing the mature seeds. The plant is self-fertile and is a member of the Brassicaceae or mustard family. It will grow in any well-drained soil in sun or partial shade and will tolerate poor conditions.
Shepherd’s Purse is found in both temperate and warm areas. It has been used as a food for thousands of years — seeds have been found in the stomach of Tollund man (c.500BC-AD400) and during excavation of another site which dates back to 5950BC.
Harvest and parts used
Whole plants are cut from late spring to autumn to be used fresh, or dried in bunches for infusions, decoctions or liquid extracts. Leaves and seed pods are gathered as required for culinary use. When harvesting the plant, it has a distinctive, unpleasant odor which has no effect on the taste. In dried form, the herb will quickly lose its effectiveness and should not be stored for more than a year.
Shepherd's purse is one of the first wild greens to appear in spring and it is presently cultivated in a number of eastern countries where it is stir-fried with rice cakes and other ingredients. It is included as part of the filling in wontons and is one of the ingredients of the symbolic dish consumed in the Japanese spring-time festival, Nanakusa-no-sekku. The leaves, young flowering shoots and seeds can all be eaten raw or cooked.
The leaves are a cress and cabbage substitute, becoming peppery with age. In early spring, before the flower stalks appear, the young leaves are good in salads or cooked as greens — put them in a loosely covered dish with a little water, some mushrooms, and a sprig or two of thyme, microwave it on high for 4 minutes, and serve with butter. They can also be mixed with other greens.
The leaves (dry weight) per 100g of food contain about 280 Calories,
35.6g protein, 4.2g fat, 44.1g carbohydrates, 10.2g fiber and 16.1g ash.
Calcium: 1763mg, Phosphorus: 729mg, Iron: 40.7mg and Potassium: 3939mg.
A: 21949mg, Thiamine (B1): 2.12mg, Riboflavin (B2): 1.44mg, Niacin: 3.4mg and C: 305mg.
Although the seeds and seedpods are very small and fiddly to harvest and utilize, it can be ground into a meal and used as a peppery seasoning for soups and stews.
The fresh or dried root can be used as a ginger substitute.
The leaves are very high in choline, inositol and fumaric acid.
Shepherd's purse is:
Anti-hemorrhagic — it helps to stop bleeding from the lungs, intestinal bleeding, uterine bleeding, stomach hemorrhage, passive hemorrhages from mucous membranes, bleeding hemorrhoids, bleeding from the kidneys (combined with Horsetail), nosebleeds and wounds which will not stop bleeding.
Do not use internally if you have a history of blood clots.
Externally, it has historically been used as an astringent and styptic to treat wounds.
Anti-scorbutic — Shepherd's Purse is a source of Vitamin C for curing or
It aids gastrointestinal conditions such as chronic diarrhea, colic, dysentery and promotes bowel movements through intestinal contraction.
Diuretic — it increases the volume and flow of urine which cleanses the urinary system. It can be used in the treatment of abscesses and ulcerated conditions of the bladder and ureters, irritation of the urinary tract caused by uric acid or insoluble phosphates or carbonates, urine with white mucous discharge, kidney complaints and bedwetting in children.
Stimulant — it excites or quickens the functional activity of the tissues by giving more energy and is therefore sometimes recommended as a general tonic.
Anti-cancer — Shepherd’s purse is a folk remedy for cancer. It contains fumaric acid which has markedly reduced growth and viability of Ehrlich tumor in mice.
Vasoconstrictor and cardiovascular — Shepherd's Purse is a circulation equalizing herb that normalizes circulation, regulates heart action and may help to correct high or low blood pressure.
It has proven uterine-contracting properties and is traditionally used during or after childbirth and to ease menopause and difficult menstruation.
It should not be used internally by pregnant woman.
Anti-inflammatory — externally Shepherd's Purse is applied to bruises and limbs suffering from muscular atrophy or external muscular disorders, strains and rheumatic joints.
For medicinal use, the whole plant in flower is used (except the roots) in the form of a tea or an infusion. Either fresh or dried material may be used, but fresh is preferred due to the dried herb’s short shelf life.
The seeds are bird and chicken feed.
Shepherd's purse will absorb excessive salts from the soil, and may be planted on salty or marshy land in order to reclaim it.
The seed has a gummy substance (mucilage) and when wet, traps insects. It is reported to be toxic to mosquito larvae and, when put in the water, may possibly help to control mosquitoes. It is said that 500g of seed can kill approximately 10 million larvae.