Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Foraging Shepherd's Purse and Homemade Shepherd's Purse Tincture Recipe

I think I'd heard of shepherd's purse for the first time on a pregnancy forum, discussing ways to shorten postpartum bleeding. It was touted as a terrific cure for that as well as problematic menstrual cycles,and that you could buy it at any pharmacy that carried natural medicines. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this "miracle herb" actually is a plant that grows locally and around the globe, and is very easy to find, and on top of that, it's also used as an edible green?

I wanted to make some shepherd's purse tincture to take during my postpartum period so that I wouldn't bleed for months on end like I did after Ike's birth, and I found one lone plant growing about 2 blocks from my house, which I immediately took home and researched how to turn it into a tincture, which I then did.

When I wanted to make more tincture, I looked for more plants but couldn't find any... until I hit the jackpot when I discovered about 6 plants growing near the curb in front of my house, and then... another million more in the empty dirt filled expanse in front of my house...

So, how do you identify shepherd's purse?

Shepherd's purse is in the mustard family, and has some similarities to its cousin, wild mustard

Shepherd's purse starts off its life as a rosette flat on the ground. (A rosette is when a bunch of leaves radiate  outward from one central point, as in the above picture.

Its leaves are long and thin, with many lobes along the sides. To be honest, at this point I'm never 100% sure that it is actually shepherd's purse. It actually looks pretty similarly to dandelion leaves (also edible, for the record)... The big difference between the two is that the points on dandelion leaves face backwards, toward the center of the rosette, while the points on shepherd's purse leaves face outward. Another difference is that dandelion leaves, when ripped, release a milky white sap, whereas no such thing happens with shepherd's purse.

The big distinctive feature that would make it 100% obvious that you're looking at shepherd's purse is its namesake. Shepherd's purse sends up a flower stem with tiny white four petaled flowers.

All along the stem are a bunch of flat little heart shaped seed pods. These supposedly look like the shape of the bag that shepherds would use to carry their lunch, and are the namesake for this plant. In fact, in nearly every language, the name of this plant means shepherd's bag, whether its scientific name in Latin, capsella bursa pastoris, in English, or in my local language.
If you see these heart shaped seed pods along a stem, you can be sure you've found shepherd's purse.

So, how can you use shepherd's purse?
Shepherd's purse has a slight bite when you eat it, somewhat like a radish. (I've read in books that shepherd's purse can be used in place of pepper to spice a dish but I don't buy that- at least the ones that I've tasted aren't nearly that peppery.)
You can put shepherd's purse raw into salads, or you can saute it with butter, or put it in soups or stews, just as you would any other green. My local foraging book talks about chopping it to add to tabouli salad, but I haven't tried that out yet. Shepherd's purse is also traditionally put in Chinese dumplings. Unlike some foraged greens, shepherd's purse doesn't have a bitter taste, from my experience, just a pleasant taste.

What are the benefits of shepherd's purse? Why eat it?
Shepherd's purse, as a foraged food, is naturally organic, and free. It is also a rich source of vitamins and minerals, among them calcium, iron, vitamin a, vitamin c, and vitamin k, potassium, and sulfur.

Medicinally, shepherd's purse is used to help with bleeding, both internal and external. This includes gastrointestinal bleeding, internal hemorrhaging, postpartum bleeding, bleeding post IUD insertion, heavy menstrual cycles, irregular menstrual cycles or spotting, excessive external bleeding, nosebleeds, etc... It is also used against diarrhea and hemorrhoids and lowers fevers.
Use of shepherd's purse should be avoided during pregnancy as it can cause uterine contractions.

To get shepherd's purse's medicinal benefit, take all the above ground parts of the plants and make them into a strong tea or tincture. To make a tincture, chop up the plant, put in a jar, cover with vodka, and let sit for 6 weeks, and then strain out the greens. The medicinal properties will have been transferred into the vodka- take that for the benefits. If, like me, you don't want to have to wait a full six weeks to get the benefit of this tincture, you can use it after one week, just increase the amount of tincture you're taking.

Happy foraging!

Have you ever seen this plant growing before? Do you think the explanation is clear enough and you'd be able to identify shepherd's purse if you came across it?
Have you ever heard of shepherd's purse before? Have you ever used it medicinally? Did it work? If you bought it, how much did you end up paying for it? Do you think you'd try to find your own so you don't have to pay that amount next time?
Have you ever eaten shepherd's purse before? Did it taste spicy?

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  1. We just found a HUGE collection of shepards purse in our yard, thanks for helping us ID it and how to use it.

  2. My life literally depends upon this plant! I have a condition that causes hemmorraging completely at random. The docs give me blood transfusions and surgeries, but can never figure out how to stop it. This plant is the only thing I have found that stops it!
    I always buy it, but have wanted to grow it. Thank you for helping me to identify it! :)

  3. My life literally depends upon this plant! I have a condition that causes hemmorraging completely at random. The docs give me blood transfusions and surgeries, but can never figure out how to stop it. This plant is the only thing I have found that stops it!
    I always buy it, but have wanted to grow it. Thank you for helping me to identify it! :)

  4. Dosage is generally 1-2 droppers every 15 minutes for excessive bleeding, with pressure on wound if possible, till bleeding stops. Otherwise 1-2 droppers 3-4 times per day.

  5. I have also used this for my really heavy peri-menopausal bleeds. It's so much more effective than the pharmacuticals. I tend to take about 4 doses a day during the bleed with about 15 drops per dose. It's a miracle and I love that I can gather it. Thanks for the inspiration to make my own.

  6. i have alot of really healthy shepherds purse in my garden and they are really spicy, like wasabi spicy

  7. Great post, great information, and very clearly presented. Thanks!

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