Botanical: Capsella bursa-pastoris
parts used: all, but especially aerial parts
energetics: drying, cooling
actions: antiscorbutic, astringent, diuretic, emmenagogue, hemostatic, hypotensive, oxytoxic, stimulant, vasoconstrictor, vasodilator, vulnerary
used for menstrual and urinary bleeding, labor, urinary tract infections, varicose veins
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.
Lots of small birds love to eat the seeds. Chickens will (apparently) eat the whole plant, possibly affecting the color and taste of the eggs. Dairy cattle will also eat it, and this may affect the flavor of the milk. (my chickens eat it, I can’t tell!)
The seeds, aside from sticking to insects, are also reported to be toxic to mosquito larvae, and, when put in the water, may possibly help control mosquitos. Shepherd’s purse will also absorb excessive salts from the soil, and may be planted for that purpose.
Used in soil reclamation and as an insecticide. Shepherd’s purse was called “life protect plant” in China because it was thought to drive away mosquitoes. Indeed, the seeds (when placed in water) are reported to act as a sort of “fly-paper” for mosquitoes, reputedly attracting and trapping them. They are also said to secrete a substance toxic to mosquito larvae. A kilo of Capsella seeds is said to be capable of killing 10 million mosquito larvae. 
A single plant may produce a couple thousand seeds, and the seeds may remain viable for many years. So, to control this plant, pull it up before it goes to seed, and use mulch where possible, as the seeds remain dormant in the dark.
“Widespread, common… and always hard to find when you want some.” – Michael Moore
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 more flavor, and become labor-intensive to collect. Very high in Vitamin C!
Using Shepherd’s Purse for Wellness
Shepherd’s Purse is one of the most important medicinal plants of the Cruciferous family. It is a known staple for bleeding from uterine fibroids, post-partum, and perimenopause.
To assure the best extract of Shepherd’s Purse’s active properties we hand-harvest only the flowering, above-ground parts of the plants, which are immediately extracted while still fresh and succulent. Our Shepherd’s Purse is never fumigated or irradiated.
To support wellness the whole plant in flower is used (except the roots) usually in the form of a tea or infusion. 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 said to constrict the blood vessels (usually), lowers blood pressure (usually), and contracts the uterus. It is used during or after childbirth and to ease difficult menstruation.
“When you gather the seven herbs of spring, your spirit becomes gentle. And when you eat bracken shoots, osmund, and shepherd’s purse, you become calm. To calm restless, impatient feelings, shepherd’s purse is best of all. They say that if children eat shepherd’s purse, willow buds, or insects living in trees, this will cure violent crying tantrums, and in the old days, children were often made to eat them. Daikon (Japanese Radish) has for it’s ancestor the plant called Nazuna (shepherd’s purse), and this word Nazuna is related to the word nagomu, which means to be softened. Daikon is the “herb that softens one’s disposition.”
Dose: Infusion: l-2 teaspoonfuls of the dried or fresh herb in a cup of water, 3 – 5 times a day. For menstrual problems, it should be taken beginning just before the period, every 2-3 hours. Fresh Plant, 1:2, recent Dry Plant, 1:5, 50% alcohol; 20-60 drops 3 – 5 times a day.
- Never treat bleeding without first determining its cause
- Not recommended during pregnancy, the herb can cause uterine contractions. In Western medicine, oxytocin is used to induce labor, and Capsella is an oxytocin synergist [Michael Moore].
The Festival of Seven Herbs is a long-standing Japanese custom. The seven herbs of spring are watercress, shepherd’s purse, wild turnip, cottonweed, chickweed, wild radish, and bee nettle. A dish made with seven herbs (the seven herbs of spring), which are seri (Japanese parsley), nazuna (shepherd’s purse), gogyo (cotton weed), hakobe (common chickweed), hotoke no za (lamium amplexicaule), suzuna (turnip) and suzushiro (daikon radish), that are boiled, chopped and mixed into a rice porridge.
“This plant is a remarkable instance of the truth of an observation which there is too frequently room to make, namely, that Providence has made the most useful things most common, and for that reason we neglect them: few plants possess greater virtues than this, and yet it is utterly disregarded.”
– Culpeper’s Herbal, 17th century
- Moore, Michael. 1989. Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press.
- Leonard, David Bruce. (2016) Shepherd’s Purse. Retrieved November 05, 2016, from http://www.herbrally.com/monographs/shepherds-purse
- Allardice.P. A – Z of Companion Planting. Angus & Robertson 1993. Simple language, easy to read.
- Mowrey, Daniel B. 1986. The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine. Daniel B. Mowrey.
- Ody, Penelope. 1993. The Complete Medicinal Herbal. New York: Dorling Kinnersley, Inc.
- EthnoPlants. (2016) Retrieved November 05, 2016, from https://phytochem.nal.usda.gov/phytochem/ethnoPlants/show/2288?qlookup=Capsella+bursa-pastoris&offset=0&max=20&et=E