Shepherd's Purse

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Shepherd's Purse

Botanical Name: Capsella bursa-pastoris (MEDIC.)
Family: N.O. Cruciferae

Synonyms: Shepherd's Bag. Shepherd's Scrip. Shepherd's Sprout. Lady's Purse. Witches' Pouches. Rattle Pouches. Case-weed. Pick-Pocket. Pick-Purse. Blindweed. Pepper-and-Salt. Poor Man's Parmacettie. Sanguinary. Mother's Heart. Clappedepouch (Irish).
(French) Bourse de pasteur.
(German) Hirtentasche.
Part Used: Whole plant.
Habitat: All over the world, outside the tropics. It is probably of European or West Asiatic origin, and is abundant in Britain, flowering all the year round.

Shepherd's Purse is so called from the resemblance of the flat seed-pouches of the plant to an old-fashioned common leather purse. It is similarly called in France Bourse de pasteur, and in Germany Hirtentasche.

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.

It is a common weed of the Cruciferous order, said to be found all over the world and flourishing nearly the whole year round.

A native of Europe, 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 luxuriates and grows to 2 feet in height.

Description: The plant is green, but some what rough with hairs. The main leaves,2 to 6 inches long, are very variable in form, either irregularly pinnatifid or entire and toothed. When not in flower, it may be distinguished by its radiating leaves, of which the outer lie close to the earth.

The slender stem, which rises from the crown of the root, from the centre of the rosette of radical leaves, is usually sparingly branched. It is smooth, except at the lower part, and bears a few, small, oblong leaves, arrow-shaped at the base, and above them, numerous small, white, inconspicuous flowers, which are self-fertilized and followed by wedge-shaped fruit pods, divided by narrow partitions into two cells, which contain numerous oblong yellow seeds. When ripe, the pod separates into its two boat-shaped valves.

The odour of the plant is peculiar and rather unpleasant, though more cress-like than pungent.

It has an aromatic and biting taste, but is less acrid than most of the Cruciferae, and was formerly used as a pot-herb, the young radical leaves being sold in Philadelphia as greens in the spring. It causes taint of milk when freely eaten by dairy cattle.

Part Used: In modern herbal medicine the whole plant is employed, dried and administered in infusion, and in fluid extract.

A homoeopathic tincture is prepared from the fresh plant.

Constituents: During the summer, the plant has a sharp, acrid taste, due to the stimulating principle.

Several partial analyses have been made of it, but no characteristic principle has been definitely separated. The active constituent is said to be an organic acid, which Bombelon, a French chemist, termed bursinic acid. He also found a tannate and an alkaloid, Bursine, which resembles sulphocyansinapine.

A peculiar sulphuretted volatile oil, closely similar to, if not identical with oil of mustard, as well as a fixed oil, have been determined and 6 per cent of a soft resin.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Shepherd's Purse is one of the most important drugplants 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 haemorrhages of all kinds - of the stomach, the lungs, or the uterus, and more especially bleeding from the kidneys.

Its haemostyptic properties have long been known and are said to equal those of ergot and hydrastis. During the Great War, when these were no longer obtainable in German commerce, a liquid extract of Capsella bursapastoris was used as a substitute, the liquidextract being made by exhausting the drug with boiling water. Bomelon found the herb of prompt use to arrest bleedings and flooding, when given in the form of a fluid extract, in doses of 1 to 2 spoonfuls. 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 been used in English domestic practice from early times as an astringent in diarrhoea; it was much used in decoction with milk to check active purgings in calves.

It has been employed in fresh decoction in haematuria, haemorrhoids, chronic diarrhcea and dysentery, and locally as a vulnerary in nose-bleeding, which is checked by inserting the juice on cotton-wool. It is also used as an application in rheumatic affections, and has been found curative in various uterine haemorrhages, especially those with which uterine cramp and colic are associated, and also in various passive haemorrhages from mucous surfaces.

It is a remedy of the first importance in catarrhal conditions of the bladder and ureters, also in ulcerated conditions and abscess of the bladder. It increases the flow of urine. Its use is specially indicated when there is white mucous matter voided with the urine; relief in these cases following at once.

Its antiscorbutic, stimulant and diuretic action causes it to be much used in kidney complaints and dropsy; other similar stimulating diuretics such as Couch Grass may be combined with it. Dr. Ellingwood, in his valuable work on Therapeutics, says of Shepherd's Purse: 'This agent has been noted for its influence in haematuria . . . soothing irritation of the renal or vesical organs. In cases of uncomplicated chronic menorrhagia (excessive menstruation) it has accomplished permanent cures, especially if the discharge be persistent. The agent is also useful where uric acid or insoluble phosphates or carbonates produce irritation of the urinary tract. Externally, the bruised herb has been applied to bruised and strained parts, to rheumatic joints, and where there was ecchymosis, or extravasations within or beneath the skin. 'The herb is rather unpleasant to take, but it is valuable mixed with Pellitory of the Wall, and a little Spirits of Juniper much disguises the flavour. A small quantity of Nitrate of Potash will further disguise it, and not detract from its medicinal value. The infusion may be taken in wineglassful doses, four times a day.' The medicinal infusion should be made with an ounce of the plant to 12 OZ. of water, reduced by boiling to 1/2 pint, strained and taken cold.

The fluid extract is given in doses of 1/2 to 1 drachm. In the United States, the fluid extract is given for dropsy in doses of 1/2 to 1 teaspoonful in water.

Shepherd's Purse was said to be the principal herb in the blue 'Electric Fluid' used by Count Matthei to control haemorrhage.

Small birds are fond of the seeds of Shepherd's Purse: chaffinches and other wild birds may often be observed feeding on them, and they form valuable food for all caged birds.

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.