Scientific Name:Capsella bursa-pastoris
About this Herb:Shepherd's purse has a slender, flexible, slightly hairy, white taproot, from which arises a basal rosette quite similar to that of a dandelion. The rosette generally grows to be 4" to 8" in diameter. The basal leaves are stalked, and the first leaves are usually rounded, while the later leaves are generally deeply toothed but may be rather variable. Smaller, slightly toothed, alternate leaves clasp the flower stalk, which generally reaches 6" to 18" in height.
The white flowers appear in clusters at the top of the stalk. The flowers are only about 2 mm across. Like all Brassicaceae flowers, they have 4 petals which form a cross and 6 stamens. The flowers are self fertilizing. As the first flowers are maturing, the stalk continues to grow and produce new flowers.
Shepherd's purse can be found in flower from early spring through early winter. Each flower develops 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.
Common Names: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)
Uses:Shepherd's purse is used for heart and circulatory problems including mild heart failure, low blood pressure, and nervous heart complaints. It is also used for headache, vomiting blood, blood in the urine, diarrhea, and bladder infections, as well as menstruation problems.
People have been eating this plant for thousands of years and it is presently cultivated in a number of eastern countries. Shepherd's purse is one of the earliest wild greens in the spring. In the early spring, before the flower stalks appear, the leaves are good in salads or cooked as greens. When the plant flowers, the larger basal leaves tend to die off, leaving only the smaller leaves clasping the stem. They're still edible, but they get tougher, develop a stronger taste and become labor-intensive to collect.
When harvesting the plant, you may notice a distinctive and not quite pleasant odor. Don't worry, it doesn't taste like that.
So far my favorite way to cook the greens is to put them in a skillet with a little olive oil, sliced onion, minced garlic and salt/pepper to taste. Cook on medium high until leaves are tender and onions are beginning to brown. Another way is to place the greens loosely in a 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 are also very good to mix with other greens. The young roots are also edible, but sorry, I haven’t a recipe.
The leaves are very high in thiamin (B1), choline, inositol, and fumaric acid. They are a good source of ascorbic acid (C), riboflavin (B2), calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. They also provide beta carotene (A), vitamin K, niacin, iron, and rutin.
For medicinal use, the whole plant in flower is used (except the roots) usually in the form of a tea or tincture. Either fresh or dried material may be used, but fresh is preferred as the dry material soon loses its medicinal properties. Shepherd's purse is astringent, anti-inflammatory, hemostatic, and diuretic. It constricts the blood vessels (usually), lowers blood pressure (usually), and contracts the uterus. It is used during or after childbirth and to ease difficult menstruation. This plant should not be used by pregnant people.
It also contains compounds (such as fumaric acid), which are known to have anti-cancer effects. The tea is sometimes recommended as a general tonic.
Externally, shepherd's purse has historically been used as an astringent and styptic to treat wounds. Caution is advised as human skin may blister from contact with the seeds.
Applications:Tea: Fresh leaves, flowers and stems can be torn and placed in a pot of boiling water and allowed to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest for another 5 minutes. Drink 1 cup in the morning and 1 at night. Sweetener may be added, but no milk or creamer.
Tincture: Add 12 Tbls of fresh torn flowers and leaves to 12 Tbls of brandy/whiskey cover and place in a cool dark place for 5 days. Take by mouth 3 tsp. as needed.