Shepherd’s PurseCapsella bursa-pastoris
This plant gets its common name from the small triangular purse like seedpods, which, when held up to the light seem to contain tiny coins (the seeds). Presumably an allusion to the fact that shepherds were usually very poor! It’s a member of the Brassicaceae family that usually grows in fields, lawns and gardens, where it is a common weed. It forms a small rosette about 100mm in diameter before throwing up a flowering spike that has a few pointed leaves. The flowers are white and typical of the family with four petals forming a cross.
Originally from Eastern Europe and Asia it is now naturalised in Britain and grows throughout the year here, flowering and seeding at anytime.
The young leaves, gathered before the plant flowers, are tasty in salads and they are rich in iron, calcium, potassium and vitamin C (make sure you have correctly identified the plant and that it has not been sprayed before using for culinary or medicinal purposes). The roots can be used as a ginger substitute and the seedpods as a peppery addition to soups and stews.
A tea made from Shepherd’s Purse leaves can be used as a gentle diuretic to help deal with water retention or urinary stones. It is also a specific for heavy periods (menorrhagia) or amenorrhoea (absence of periods in a woman of child bearing age). It’s a uterine tonic that has a normalising effect on menstruation. It must not be taken in any form during pregnancy as it is used in some cultures to bring on labour and could therefore cause a miscarriage. In China it is used as an anti-fertility herb, although this cannot be recommended as a method of contraception!
Shepherd’s Purse is also an astringent, so the tea can be drunk to help for diarrhoea. Make the tea from a teaspoonful of dried or chopped fresh leaves. Drink three times a day for diarrhoea or two or three cups a day just before a period for menstrual problems.
As always, if symptoms persist, or are unusual or severe, seek medical help. Like other members of the Brassicaceae family, this plant should not be consumed by those taking Warfarin medication. Seek advice from a qualified medical herbalist before taking herbs if you are taking medications or suffer from medical conditions or allergies.
The leaves contain a high level of tannins, so are astringent and can be chewed or boiled to form a poultice and applied to cuts or grazes to stem the bleeding. The juice is also a vulnerary so it encourages skin healing.