Family: Cruciferae, Brassicaceae, Cabbage.
Synonyms and Common names: Witch’s pouches, pickpocket, shepherd’s bag, shepherd’s scrip, shepherd’s sprout, shepherd’s heart, lady’s purse, rattle pouches, case-weed, bindweed, poor man’s parmacettie, pepper and salt, mother’s heart, coco wort, toy wort, and St. James’ weed,
Description and Habitat: Shepherd’s Purse is an annual or biennial herb, it grows up to 60cm tall, and is indigenous to Europe and West Africa. The herb is widespread here in Britain and can be found almost everywhere, a very distinctive herb with its small heart-shaped seed pod making it very easy to recognise.
It is considered to be a common weed in gardens and fields, it also grows on waste ground and in hedgerows.
Shepherd’s purse is a fast-growing and prolific annual herb, often considered to be a weed, and is known to many gardeners for the sheer number of seedlings produced each season and the time it can take to control.
Rosettes of variably shaped and toothed green leaves grow from a long, skinny taproot. Small, white flowers are borne on slender stems which can be1ft-16in tall, and are quickly followed by distinctive heart-shaped seedpods. The seeds are small and if dried in situ, can cause them to rattle.
Foliage and flowers may be produced year-round, but commonly it is only the rosette which overwinters, with flowers produced in spring.
Parts used: Aerial parts
Collection and preparation: The herb can be collected from late winter until mid-autumn, dried in a shady, warm place, and when dry put into a jar and keep in the dark until required.
Actions: Uterine stimulant, diuretic, astringent, styptic, and vulnerary.
Constituents: Tyramine, choline acetylcholine, tannin, essential oil, resin, saponins, flavonoids, diosmine, and potassium.
Indications and Therapeutics: This easily recognised herb may be used wherever a gentle diuretic is called for, in water retention due to kidney problems for instance.
As an astringent, it will prove effective in the treatment of diarrhoea, wounds, nose bleeds and other conditions.
It has a specific use in the stimulation of the menstrual process, whilst also being of use in the reduction of excess flow.
Shepherd’s Purse is a powerful haemostatic herb for centuries. It was used for both internal and external bleeding and was common as a vulnerary herb on First World War battlefields. It is indicated to cease bleeding of all kinds, from nosebleeds to blood in the urine, constricting blood vessels whilst encouraging the coagulation of blood through clotting factors.
The herb’s widespread appearance and the small part it seems to play in grass on verges does cause it to be overlooked, but its uses are many.
Contraindications: Shepherd’s Purse can stimulate uterine contractions, so it should be avoided during pregnancy
Preparation and dosage:
Infusion: 1-2 teaspoons of dried herb and 1 cup of boiling water, leave to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes. If this is used for menstrual conditions it should be drunk every 2-3 hours during and just before the period. Otherwise, drink it 3 times daily.
Tincture: Take 1-2ml of tincture 3 times daily.
Additional comments and Folklore:
The herb seeds are said to resemble heart-shaped satchels worn on men’s belt or a European shepherd’s purse. It was traditionally made from a goats scrotum.
Most of the folklore of this herb can be seen in the many and various folk names is has. Most are self-explanatory. Although one or two are worth clarifying.
The Irish name, Clappend-pouch came into being because the seed pods resembled the bell or clapper that lepers would ring in Ireland as they begged for alms, offering a cup attached to the end of a long pole in which to receive the alms.
The Poor Man’s Pharmacy refers to its past medicinal use and inexpensive availability.
Shepherd’s Purse was well known and used as a medicine in ancient Roman and Greek times and it retailed its popularity all over Europe and into the middle ages.
About 1615 Gervase Markham’s book. “The English Housewife.” Listed a recipe for dysentery or diahrrea that included Shepherd’s Purse as one of its ingredients. And in John Joselyn’s Herbal, there is mention that Shepherd’s Purse was considered to have been unknown in American prior to the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers, and it later was carried as far as the lands of the Native American Chippewa Indians, who used Shepherd’s Purse as an infusion for treating diahrrea, dysentery and stomach cramps. The Moghegan Indians used the seed pods for relieving stomach aches and expelling works. Hutchins mentions that the American Indians roasted Shepherd’s Purse seeds and added them to other meals to make pinole bread, which is a meal ground from plant seeds and then roasted. The leaves were also used cooked or raw, rather like spinach.
Shepard’s Purse has been used externally as a bruised plant poultice on rheumatic joints.
In the 1700s Culpepper said that, “If bound to the wrists or the soles of the feet it helps with jaundice, and that the herb, when made into poultices, helps inflammation and St. Anthony’s fire. The juice dropped into the ears, heals the pains, noise and mutterings.”
Perhaps if we considered, that putting Shepherd’s Purse on the souls of the feet would be of great benefit from a foot reflexology point of view, since nerve endings for all the parts of the whole body end in the feet, and can be greatly affected by fresh herbs being applied there.
It is worth remembering also that Shepherd’s Purse is a member of the Cruciferae or Cabbage Family of plants, and as such inherits its somewhat bad smell.