Shepherd's Purse (Capsella rubella)
by David Bruce Leonard
PLANT NAME: Capsella rubella Reut.
SIMILARLY USED SPECIES: Bursa bursa-pastoris; Bursa gracilis; Bursa rubella; Capsella bursa pastoris; Capsella rubella; Thlaspi bursa-pastoris; Sanguinaria
COMMON NAMES: Shepherds purse [USA]; di mi cai, ji cai, hu sheng cao ("life-protecting grass") [China]; borsa de pastor [Spanish]; borsa di pastore [Italy]; bourse de pasteur [France]; clappedepouch [Ireland]; hirtentasche, hirtenfaschel [Germany]; mother's heart [Scotland]; pastushya sumka [Russia].
NOMENCLATURE: Brassica, the root of the family name, is the Latin name for "cabbage." Capsella means, "little box" in Latin, a reference to the fruit. The common name "shepherd's purse" derives from the appearance of its flat seed pouch, which resembles a leather purse once carried by shepherds.
The Irish name "clappedepouch" is a reference to the begging habits of Irish victims of Hansen's disease (leprosy). The seedpods are said to resemble the bags that they would hang at the end of a long begging pole. They could be seen begging along the road while ringing their bell or "clapper."
FAMILY: Brassicaceae (mustard family).
CATEGORY: Stop bleeding~.
PROPERTIES: Sweet bland neutral.
PLANT PART USED: All of it, but especially aerial parts.
CAUTIONS AND CONTRAINDICATIONS:
§ Never treat bleeding without first determining its cause
§ Not in thromboembolism, history of stroke, phlebitis.
§ Not for children under 2 years old.
§ Not in pregnancy or while nursing. In Western medicine, oxytocin is used to induce labor, and Capsella is an oxytocin synergist [Michael Moore].
§ Use under supervision with acute kidney inflammation or high blood pressure.
§ Topical use of seeds can cause skin blistering.
§ May cause heart palpitations in large doses.
PREPARATION OF MEDICINE: It is better to be prepared fresh, but can be frozen or tinctured for later use. While most tinctures have a shelf life lasting (possibly) decades, some practitioners tincture Capsella fresh every year.
DOSAGE: Infusion: l-2 teaspoonfuls of the dried or fresh herb in a cup of water, 3 - 5 times a day. (Or, if you are Chinese, 1-2 ounces decocted). For menstrual problems, it should be taken beginning just before the period, every 2-3 hours. Tincture: 1 / 2 teaspoon 3 - 5 times a day.
Tincture: (Whole plant fresh plant, 1:2, recently dried plant, 1:5, 50% alcohol). Juiced: 1:1 in 25% alcohol (enough to keep it stable).
STATUS IN HAWAI'I: Alien. Low pest factor.
WESTERN FUNCTIONS REPORTED: Abortifacient; analgesic; anthelmintic (seed pods infused); antidiarrheal (infused or decocted); anti-hemorrhagic; antihypertensive; anti-inflammatory; antineoplastic; antipyretic; antiscorbutic; antiseptic; astringent; blood cleanser; bradycardic; cardiotonic; central nervous system-depressant; coagulant; contraceptive; dermatological aid; detergent; diuretic; emmenagogue; expectorant; eye problems; febrifuge; flux; gastrointestinal aid; hemostatic; hypotensive; improves the vision; insect repellant; kidney; laxative; liver; oxytocic; parasiticide; pile; post-partum; reduces swellings; refrigerant; rubefacient (seeds); sedative; smooth-muscle stimulant; stimulant; stops vomiting; styptic; tonic; urinary antiseptic; uterine stimulant; vasoconstrictor & vasodilator (regulates blood presssure); vermifuge; vesicant (seeds); vulnerary… and it washes your car….
TRADITIONAL CHINESE ENERGETIC FUNCTIONS (~ = extrapolated):
1) Cools the blood, stop bleeding.
2) Clears damp heat.
3) Harmonizes the spleen.
4) Drains damp.
5) Brightens the eyes.
Shepherds Purse Common Medicinal Uses
§ Menstrual and urinary bleeding
§ Urinary tract infections
Shepherds Purse Cross-Cultural Medicinal Uses
§ Varicose veins [USA].
§ General bleeding, (including passive bleeding from mucous membranes) [China, Iraq, Scotland, Scotland, USA]; any bloody diarrhea or dysentery [China, Chippewa, Costanoan, Eclectic, Russia].
§ General digestive problems or stomach pain (infused or decocted) [China, Chippewa (decocted), Mohegan (seed pods infused), Russia]; weak digestion with discomfort [Eclectic].
§ Gastritis, gastric or duodenal inflammation [China, Russia]; bleeding ulcers [Russia (with vodka)]; vomiting blood [China].
§ Small intestine inflammation [China].
§ Hemorrhoids, bleeding hemorrhoids [Eclectics, USA (decocted fresh)].
§ Scurvy [Turkey].
HEAD AND THROAT
"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." - - Nicholas Culpepper
§ Eye problems [China]; ophthalmia or sore eyes [China].
§ Ear ache; ringing in the ears.
§ The juice can be put on cotton and applied topically for nose bleeds or the plant can be brewed and taken as a tea [Eclectic].
§ Headache [Cheyenne (cold infusion), Chippewa (leaves and stems infused)].
" … being bound to the wrists of the hands, and the soles of the feet, it helps the yellow jaundice."
- - Nicholas Culpepper
§ Liver problems [China].
§ Jaundice [Scotland].
§ Fevers, including malarial fever [China, Russia]; infections; sores [China].
MUSCULOSKELETAL / TRAUMA
§ Gout (for uric acid elevation); arthritis or rheumatic joint pain (topical) [Eclectic];
§ Bruises and strains (topically) [Eclectic]; swelling [Asia]; wounds and burns
§ Cancer [Italy, Poland].
§ Worms (seed pods or flowers infused) [Mohegan, China].
§ Shepherds Purse been used as a quinine substitute for malaria.
§ Bedwetting [Native American].
"It is under the dominion of Saturn, and of a cold, dry, and binding nature, like to him." - - Nicholas Culpepper
"It helps all fluxes (discharges) of blood, either caused by inward or outward wounds; as also flux of the belly, and bloody flux, spitting blood, and bloody urine, stops the terms in women." - - Nicholas Culpepper
§ As a menstrual regulator, it calms excessive menstrual flow and brings on suppressed menstruation.
§ Traditionally used before birth (after the cervix is dilated). It promotes uterine contractions and can address bleeding after childbirth [China, Europe, USA]. Spotting during pregnancy.
§ PMS; menstrual pain [China, Eclectic, Spain]; inflamed uterus [China].
§ Abnormal uterine bleeding, excess menstrual bleeding (too frequent or too long) [China, Eclectic]; uterine hemorrhage; spotting [China].
§ Constant, clear discharge [Eclectic]; venereal disease [Russia]... although probably not your first choice in treatment options.
§ Vicarious menses (a discharge of blood from a place other than the uterus, usually caused by endometriosis)
§ Used as a contraceptive (not recommended).
§ Common cold [China].
§ Chest congestion
§ Coughing blood (including tuberculosis) [China, Russia, USA].
" In urinary derangements of renal or cystic origin, and in hematuria, an infusion,
and especially a tincture of the herb, will be found very efficient." - - Kings Dispensatory
§ Acute bladder infections (with or without blood in urine), painful urination (decocted fresh) [China, Eclectic, Scotland, USA]; urinary tract infections with bladder abscess or phosphates in the urine [Eclectic]; "sandy sediment" or fat in the urine [China]; "honeymoon cystitis."
§ Shepherd's Purse is used as a specific for blood in urine due to kidney tuberculosis [China].
§ Edema, water retention due to kidney problems, kidney inflammation [China, Eclectics, Russia].
§ Decocted with milk to stop diarrhea in calves [England].
§ Shepherd's purse reportedly can be tasted in the milk of cows that eat it. When hens eat the herb freely their eggs develop a stronger flavor and the yolks take on an olive green hue.
§ The seeds are used as bird food.
OTHER MEDICINAL USES
§ Typhus (in vodka) [Russia].
§ Scurvy [Scotland].
USE AS FOOD:
§ Humans have used Shepherds Purse as a food for at least 8000 years. Seeds have been recovered from "Catal Huyuk" in Turkey (ca. 5950 B.C.E.) and from the stomach of the "Tollund Man" (ca. 500 B.C.E.–400 C.E.).
§ The young leaves, with their peppery flavor, can be used in salads or cooked like spinach. The leaves should be gathered before the plant flowers. They get spicier with age. Native American tribes used Shepherd's Purse as a potherb or cooked it with meat. The Apache and Mescalero ground the seeds into flour and made them into bread, or just used the ground seeds as a condiment. The seedpods add a nice touch when used in soups.
§ Poor people of ancient China and Russia ate the seeds as food. The roots can be used as a "ginger substitute" (fresh or dried).
§ 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.
§ Shepherds Purse may one day be used as a "canary" to monitor heavy metal pollution in urban areas, as it absorbs pollution. Because of this it is important not to wild-craft plants that may be contaminated.
ESSENTIAL OIL: An edible oil similar to mustard oil can be extracted. The seed is 35% oil.
CONSTITUENTS: Acetylcholine, amines, bursic acid, calcium, camphor, choline, citric acid, fumaric & bursic acids, glucosinolates (sinigrin), histamine, iron, luteolin 7-galactoside, luteolin-7-rutinoside & quercitin-3-rutinoside, mustard oil, niacin, phosphorus, polypeptides, potassium salts, proline, quercetin 7-rutinosides, riboflavin, saponins, tannin, thiamine, tyramine, vitamin A, vitamin C, volatile oils (including camphor).
§ A peptide (proline) may be responsible for Shepherds Purse's use in bleeding.
§ Acetylcholine, tyramine, and choline have also been shown to stop bleeding and lower blood pressure.
§ The flavonoids have an anti-inflammatory action and the tannins are astringent.
§ The polypeptides may stimulate uterine contractions.
POSSIBLE DRUG INTERACTIONS: May antagonize anti-coagulants such as Coumadin or Dicoumarol. (Speculative).
Shepherds Purse Local Combinations
Varicose veins: Add Centella asiatica (pohe kula).
Gout: Add Bidens pilosa (kïnehi).
For bleeding: With agrimony or cranesbill.
For painful menses or spotting: With Hydrastis (goldenseal).
For abnormal uterine bleeding: With Geranium maculatum (astringent) and Senecio aureus (uterine tonic) [David Hoffman].
During labor: With Gossypium spp. (cotton root bark tincture) during labor (taken after the cervix is mostly dialated. 1 part Capsella to 2 parts Gossypium) [USA].
For kidney tuberculosis: Decocted with egg [China].
For urinary infections and edema: With couch grass [Eclectics].
For bedwetting: With agrimony [Native American].
RANGE: Native to Europe. Globally pandemic. The Pilgrims introduced Shepherd's Purse to the New World.
GATHERING: Gather when seedpods are visible.
PROPAGATION & CULTIVATION: Sometimes cultivated in India. Please do not cultivate in Hawai'i, help us restore our native ecosystems. Flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs). When cultivating, the leaves can be harvested repeatedly and the plants will go to seed rapidly.
§ Contains: vitamin K [HerbMed].
§ Contains fumaric acid that reduces cancerous tumors in mice [Kuroda 1976].
§ Oxytocin synergist [Michael Moore] and causes uterine contractions [Shipochliev 1981]. In China, Shepherd's purse has been ranked 7th amongst 250 potential birth control plants [Duke 1985].
§ Liver protective in rats with chemically induced hepatocarcinoma [Kuroda 1975; Kuroda 1976].
§ Extracts of Capsella are antibacterial and antifungal [El-Abyad1990].
§ Clinical trials have been inconclusive. It has been theorized that a white fungus that sometimes grows on the plant is perhaps a medically active ingredient.
NOTES 'N QUOTES
And again, from old "Saint Nick" (Nicholas Culpepper):
"Few plants possess greater virtues than this, and yet it is utterly disregarded."
"Widespread, common... and always hard to find when you want some."- - Michael Moore
§ Grown on salt marshes to reclaim the soil.
§ In Japan Capsella is included in a ceremonial rice and barley dish that is eaten on January 7th.
§ Shepherd's purse is reputed to be the main herb in a mysterious blue "Electric Fluid" used by "Count Matthei" for bleeding.
§ Capsella bursa-pastoris has been found to be a useful bio-monitor of heavy metal pollution in urban areas.
§ Do not store the dried herb for longer than one year, as it loses its' potency. Because it warrants wild crafting and ideally should be dropped fresh into combination with other herbs, I don't use it as much as I might like.
David Bruce Leonard is the founder of the Earth Medicine Institute and practitioner of all five branches of traditional Chinese medicine: acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, food medicine, martial arts.
David has studied traditional medicines with healers in Asia, North and South America, and Hawai’i. With a Master’s Degree in traditional Chinese medicine, he has a working knowledge of more than 400 traditional Hawaiian, Chinese, and Western plants. A deep ecologist and Hawaiian plant specialist, he has been a student of Hawaiian medicine under Kahu Kawika Ka’alakea, Kaipo Kaneakua and Na Kupuna ‘O Hawai’i since 1992.
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