In this series we review the plants that are known as crucifers. They are so named because the petals of the flowers are arranged in the form of a cross. They belong to the Brassica family which includes some of our well known vegetables such as cabbage and radish. Here we look at one of the wild relatives,- the Shepherd's purse.

Crucifer plants -2 . Shepherd's purse  Capsella bursa -pastoris

Courtesy of Eike Wulfmeyer CC BY-SA 2.5 License.Capsella bursa-pastoris.JPG

Description . Below the components of Shepherd's purse.

Public domain Wikipedia.

Description continued.

The plant is so named after the flat fruit capsules which resemble the kind of purse or script that shepherds used to carry their lunch in as they worked in the fields. It is native to Europe and Asia minor. However, it has been introduced and become naturalized in many countries of the world.

Unlike many other annuals this  species may be found in flower for most of the year. It relies on seeds alone but they are quick to germinate and many generations may be produced during a year.

The plant itself is a rosette of leaves low to the ground from which arises a flowering stem from 0.2 -0.5 m high. The stems bear a few pointed leaves that partly grasp the stem. The basal leaves are lobed. The flowers are white and small 2.5 mm in diameter consisting of four petals and six stamens. These are succeeded by small flat almost heart-shaped pods each of which contains several seeds.

They are commonly found cultivated ground, waysides and waste places on disturbed land and road workings.

Flowers of Shepherd's purse.

Courtesy of Mellissa McMasters {USA} CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Uses of Shepherd's purse

This common plant has been used in herbal medicine and as a food. Below is a recipe for Shepherd's purse tea.

A strong tea can be made by adding two large cups of boiling water  {about 1 litre} then add 3-4 heaped tsps. of Shepherds purse dried herb Cover and allow the tea to steep for twenty minutes. Strain and allow to cool before drinking. Honey may be added to sweeten the taste.

In days gone by the plant was used to staunch bleeding. The method was to scrunch up the leaves into a type of wad and applied to the injury.

All of the above ground parts are/can be used in herbal medicine. It is collected whilst in bloom and dried for future use.

The plant contains flavonoids, glycosides, various amines, volatile oil, carotenoids, fumaric, sinigrin and Vitamins  A,B,C and K.  Herbalists believe that it is a combination of all these components that make the plant beneficial to human health.  The plant has a slightly unpleasant smell and a bitter taste.

Its main uses today in various forms of preparations include external and internal bleeding. Urinary tract infections and especially in the relief of menstrual periods.

The leaves may be used in salads as can the seeds which are said to have a peppery taste.

This herb should not be taken during pregnancy or by mothers breast feeding.

If you eat or use a herb In medicine for the first time take just a little to see how your body tolerance reacts.

Full plant with flowers and heart-shaped seed pods

Courtesy of Horticulturalists RJ  CC BY-SA 4.0 license

Historical uses and folklore.

Shepherds purse has long been associated with the folklore in the UK and other parts of the world. It was once given to the more elderly among us to lower their blood pressure. However, it wasn't just humans the plant benefited health wise but also pets and its seems rabbits in particular were given the plant to help with various disorders such as upset stomachs.

In human medicinal uses the whole of the plant was used dried and then administered as an infusion. A homoeopathic  tincture was prepared from the fresh plant. It was once regarded as one of the most important Crucifer plant as regards herbal medicine. When dried and infused it produced a tea which herbalist believed was one of the best specifics for stopping haemorrages of all types   in the stomach,lungs or the uterus and especially employed against bleeding in the kidneys.

In the 1600s' Culpeper wrote of this species --" 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 the ears , heals the pains , noise and matterings thereof. A good ointment may be made of it for all wounds ,especially wounds in the head".

The seeds have long been fed to cage birds along with the fresh leaves.

The odour of the plant is somewhat unpleasant though more like cress than being pungent. The taste is a little aromatic and biting it was once utilized as a potherb. 

The information above is for historical interest only and should not be taken as medical advise.