Monday, November 5, 2012
Few plants possess greater virtues than this, and yet it is
utterly disregarded." Nicholas Culpeper, 1653.
- Herbfacts: Shepherd's Purse
- Healing Benefits
- How to Use Shepherd's Purse
- Styptic After-shave Cream Recipe
HERBFACTS: SHEPHERD'S PURSE
Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) is so named because
the flat seed pods resemble leather pouches that shepherds once hung
from their belts. This annual from Europe can flourish in the poorest
ground, and farmers often plant it to absorb excess salts from soil.
One way it adapts to poor soils is that insects become stuck to the
gooey seeds, providing the seedling with food.
In rich soil the plant can grow up to 2 feet in height. At the base
of the stem, long gray-green leaves form a basal rosette, a thick
cluster of radiating leaves lying on the ground. The stem is slender
and erect with fine hairs. Small stem-leaves clasp the stem all along
its length. At the top of the stem, small white flowers appear in
clusters, blooming almost all year round. Each flower has four petals
that form a cross. The flower develops into a small, flat, heart-
shaped seedpod. When the pod ripens and dries, it splits and releases
tiny yellow seeds. The seeds are numerous; to control this plant,
pull it up before it goes to seed. The aerial (above-ground) parts of
the herb are used in medicine: they are best harvested in spring.
European herbalists used Shepherd's Purse throughout the Middle
Ages. The Pilgrims introduced it to American Indians, who drank the
tea to treat dysentery and diarrhea and as a wash for poison ivy. The
Cheyenne ate the fresh herbs to stop internal bleeding. During the
First World War, when the British could not obtain anti-bleeding
herbs from Germany, they used Shepherd's Purse extract as an
alternative. Lately the herb has enjoyed a revival in both Eastern
and Western practice. The rosette leaves are pleasant in salads or
cooked as greens. They have an aromatic and biting taste. You can
gather them fresh throughout most of the year, but they best in early
spring before the flower stalks appear.
Several components in Shepherd's Purse work together to form a
styptic astringent. An astringent controls internal secretions by
contracting tissue. More specifically, a styptic is an astringent
that controls bleeding (hemostatic) by contracting the blood vessels.
The herb contains calcium and sulfur, necessary minerals for clotting
the blood. The presence of tyramine and other amines aid the
hemostatic action, while tannins provide its astringent action. An
infusion of Shepherd's Purse can often slow internal bleeding of
the stomach, intestines, lungs, kidneys, and bleeding hemorrhoids.
Europeans have used the tea for centuries as an astringent to control
The styptic agents in the herb can aid chronic heavy menstrual flow,
known as uncomplicated menorrhagia (having no apparent cause).
Symptoms of menorrhagia include heavy bleeding, excessive clots,
bleeding for more than seven days, and a shortened menstrual cycle.
The choline, acetylcholine, oxalic and dicarboxylic acids in
Shepherd's Purse help to reduce the effects of menorrhagia.
Practitioners of Chinese medicine use only the flowers for this
purpose. The herb is rich in calcium, which promotes better use of
iron by the body, helping to control the anemic conditions that can
result from menorrhagia.
Preliminary studies suggest Shepherd's Purse can help regulate
blood pressure, though more research is needed on this topic.
Sufferers of mild high blood pressure often take this herb, though
its astringent action may constrict the blood vessels and thus
slightly raise blood pressure. However, the herb boosts the force and
speed of the heartbeat, lowering blood pressure and aiding in cases
of a weak or irregular heartbeat. The calcium and sulfur in the herb
are both necessary for muscle function, and so may help the heart
muscle. Studies have shown that the components acetylcholine, choline
and tyramine can produce a temporary decrease in blood pressure.
Shepherd's Purse is a urinary antiseptic and diuretic. The
infusion increases the volume and flow of urine, cleansing the
urinary system. The herb is beneficial for water retention, bladder
infection and urinary tract infections. It is useful in conditions
where urinary calculus causes irritation of the urinary tract. Its
stimulant and diuretic action suggests it can provide relief for
haematuria by soothing kidney irritation.
The leaves contain are rich in calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium,
and Vitamins A and C. They also provide protein, riboflavin (B2),
thiamin (B1), choline, inositol, and fumaric acid, vitamin K, niacin
and rutin. The whole plant provides arginine, fixed oil, methionine,
resin, saponins and sitosterol. The plant also contains fumaric acid,
which has significantly reduced tumor growth in non-human studies.
HOW TO USE SHEPHERD'S PURSE
Shepherd's Purse has a herby, unpleasant odor when fresh, which
is lost by drying. The dried herb should not be stored for more than
a year or it will lose its potency.
Make an Infusion (Tea): pour two cups boiling water over two tsp
fresh or three tsp dried herb and let steep for ten minutes. Sip a
half-cup, three times per day. Drink cold for stomach conditions. For
menstrual conditions, brew the infusion at twice the strength and
take just before and during the period, at a dose your doctor
Make a Tincture (Extract): Fill a clean jar with the fresh plant,
then pour in enough high-proof vodka or Everclear to cover. Keep in a
cool, dark place for a month, shaking once a day. Strain into clean,
amber dropper bottles. The dose is 20-40 drops, 2-3 times per day.
External use: the flavonoids in Shepherd's Purse have an anti-
inflammatory action. The fresh herb can be bruised and applied
directly to bruises, strains, rheumatic joints, and mild burns. The
infusion can be used as a styptic to reduce or stop mild bleeding
from skin injuries. For cuts, soak a pad in the infusion and use as a
compress. For nosebleeds, soak a cotton ball in the tincture, wring
it out slightly and insert it gently in the nostril.
Caution: seek a doctor's advice for any sudden change in
menstrual flow. Heavy periods increase the risk of anemia and can be
a sign of an underlying problem. Use this herb only as a short-term
aid for difficult cases of menorrhagia. Those with a history of blood
clots should not take this herb. Use caution when gathering this herb
as the seeds have caused rare cases of skin blisters. Women sometimes
drink Shepherd's Purse infusion during labor to stimulate uterine
contractions, or after childbirth for postpartum bleeding; do this
only under a doctor's supervision. Avoid the herb in pregnancy.
STYPTIC AFTER-SHAVE CREAM RECIPE
This rich cream blends into the skin to stop small cuts, reduce
inflammation, and soften dry skin. You will need emulsifying
ointment, a mixture of oil and wax that blends with water and is
available at pharmacies. Set a heat proof bowl over a pan of boiling
water. Place 150 g emulsifying ointment, 70 ml glycerin and 80 ml
water in the bowl to melt, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
Add 2 oz (30g) dried Shepherd's Purse and set on lowest heat for
three hours, stirring occasionally. Now you must strain the mixture
into a small bowl. You can do this by squeezing it through
cheesecloth, or by using a muslin bag fitted around the rim of a wine
press. Stir the mixture in the bowl until cold. Use a small bread
knife to fill small, airtight storage jars. Put some cream around the
edge of the jar first, then fill the middle. A small jar of homemade
styptic cream will last for several months on your bathroom shelf.
Keep the other jars fresh by storing them in the refrigerator or
adding a few drops of benzoin tincture as a preservative. Apply a
thin layer to the face after shaving. It can also be used for the
external uses described above.
Recipes for dumplings
two tea recipes