Thursday, May 31, 2012

Shepherd's Purse and why herbal medicines don't work

When you gather the seven herbs of spring*, your spirit becomes gentle. And when you eat bracken shoots, osmund, and shepherd's purse, you become calm. To calm restless, impatient feelings, shepherd's purse is best of all.  They say that if children eat shepherd's purse, willow buds, or insects living in trees, this will cure violent crying tantrums, and in the old days, children were often made to eat them. Daikon (Japanese Radish) has for it's ancestor the plant called Nazuna (shepherd's purse), and this word Nazuna is related to the word nagomu, which means to be softened. Daikon is the "herb that softens one's disposition."

~Masanobu Fukuoka

*The seven herbs of spring are watercress, shepherd's purse, wild turnip, cottonweed, chickweed, wild radish, and bee nettle.
Shepherd's purse leaves and flowers with violet blossoms

Here's a short essay on th' use of Shepherd's purse as food, followed by it's use as a medicine, which is really th' same thing.

Where we live this is one of, if not the, first substantial salad bases. By which i mean, you don't add this to a salad, it is your salad, and you add other things to it. It's spicy, yet not over-pungent like some of th' mustards. It grows in abundance in early spring and is a long awaited treat if you're looking for seasonal, local foods grown in a natural way. I know th' word "natural" is applied to everything from wild food to over processed candy bars in shiny foil wrapping, so for clarification sake, when i use it it means food that is grown in such a way as you would find it in it's native habitat, ie, at th' right season, and with nothing other than nature helping it along. Which is often on th' side of th' road, like this,

Shepherd's purse in ft. collins

or in some random spot, such as behind this shed with doors that never open.

large early cluster of shepherd's purse.
Th' leaves are highly nutritious, having ample amounts of vitamins A, C, calcium, manganese, zinc, iron, and even Omega-3 fatty acids, whatever those are. But lists of vitamins are rarely reason enough to convince yourself to eat something...  

"This plant is a remarkable instance of the truth of an observation which there is too frequently room to make, namely, that Providence has made the most useful things most common, and for that reason we neglect them: few plants possess greater virtues than this, and yet it is utterly disregarded." 
From Culpeper's Herbal, 17th century, speaking of Shepherd's Purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris.

     Shepherd's purse is a diuretic, increasing th' flow of urine and helping to flush out th' kidneys. Shepherd's purse is good to stop bleeding, external and internal. Use it for bleeding ulcers, blood in th' urine, hemorrhaging, heavy menstrual periods, etc. It works by constricting blood vessels, which means it may be helpful for poisonous snake bites as well, or at least bide you some more time. To use it internally, simply brew up a stout dose of th' flowers and seed pods, or make an extract to keep on hand. For external bleeding, ie, cuts scrapes insect bites, rashes, eczema, etc... make a poultice of th' leaves and leave it on the inflicted area till th' leaves are dry, then replace. I just chew th' leaves to crush them, but you can also bruise them with a rock, or any other way that works. Make a tincture to keep on hand- Dry th' whole herb, or any part of it- then soak it in alcohol for at least two weeks, four being better, then strain and bottle and keep in a cool dark place. This can be taken alone, or with the addition of fresh tea when needed.  But wait a minute!? Hemorrhaging, internal bleeding, that sounds serious.... shouldn't you better go to th' hospital? Well, sometimes you find yourself in situations where a hospital is simply not an option, or perhaps not th' best on.

     We first really fell in love with this plant while living in Chicago. We spent many long hours poring over plant books in bookstores, dreaming of sunny Colorado where plants actually grew. This plant's heart shaped seed pods made it very easy to identify, and it stuck out in our minds. Also th' fact that it's been used historically to stop bleeding, particularly internal. We've always had a healthy fear of hospitals, and have a sort of fascination with herbal medicines. In most herbal books and websites you read you'll find a disclaimer saying that even though we just spent a ridiculous amount of time and research on this stuff, if something is actually wrong forget about it and go see a doctor. Well, this always bothered us... 

     What's th' point, it either works or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then don't tell people it does, because they just might use it. Th' reason most herbal medicines don't work is that people don't know how to use them. Because of hospitals, we've lost so much knowledge of how our ancestors treated illness and injury. There's a myth that people are healthier now and live longer, but that is just a lie, and couldn't be farther from th' truth. If you live in america these days you can look forward to cancer or a car crash. I don't mean to sound morbid, but once we face th' truth there can be hope, but it must be faced head on. Th' further we move away from nature and our creator th' sicker we get. People who live close to nature usually live long full healthy lives. Part of that was knowing your environment, and what plants were good for. The other reason herbs don't work is that no one believes in  them. This may sound like circular reasoning but it's not. What i mean is that, just like those disclaimers, people learn all about herbs as medicine for education or whatever reason, then when something actually happens they go to th' doctor. Or they might treat themselves once, then say this or that didn't work. 
But that's not really a fair assessment of a plant's healing capabilities, and hospital drugs don't work that way either...

     For some people death is the worst thing that can happen to them. But it's gonna happen anyway, and it usually sneaks up on you when you least expect it. Instead of trying to avoid the unavoidable, live your life now, while you've got th' chance. I think that some folks are so afraid of dying that in anything like a serious illness or injury they forget all they've ever known in a panic and rush to th' hospital. I know, we've done it too. Twice. Once to get stitches in our four year old's head. I was grateful for that. Th' doctors actually did something that we had no experience with and would've had a really hard time doing. Another time Beth went to the emergency room, and they did nothing but send her an unrealistically high bill. 
     Beth has had some really powerful experiences with shepherd's purse, ones that guys simply can't have, so, i'll leave her to tell those stories in her own words, and leave you with this thought...  What do you treasure th' most in your life? And what can you do to nurture that. Be brave, have courage, and live... Here's Beth:

Warning: Graphic Information

     Well, i had known about the medicinal benefits of shepherd's purse for years, so i started using it after birthing my son. Anytime i felt like i was losing too much blood, i just swallowed a squirt of the extract and that kept everything at a normal level. Also, it had taken several days to birth the placenta (which is considered dangerous) but since i was taking the shepherd's purse i had no problem with hemorrhaging or infection or anything like that. I had it on hand all throughout post partum. Because of my personal experience, shepherd's purse became like a friend that i learned to trust in and rely on. What would've been a traumatic and dangerous experience in a hospital or with a midwife was only a peaceful and safe one. (The way birth was intended to be, right!?) 
     A few years later i gave my friend a bottle of the extract right after she had birthed her first child. Later, she told me from her experience that it did the same thing for her.
     A few years ago i had a miscarriage and i was afraid of bleeding to death. Whether it was a realistic fear or not, i don't know, but i was scared and it was a lot of blood. It was late at night, we had no extract and the health food store which once carried some was closed, so, nowhere to get shepherd's purse extract. After making me a few good strong brews of raspberry leaf, crampbark, clover, thistle and hops tea, Rico went out to a shepherd's purse patch we'd known of for a long time . He brought back a bunch of fresh flowering tops and made me a strong brew of those, i was beginning to feel much better, but i have to say i think the raspberry mixture must've helped me almost as much as the shepherd's purse. (Raspberry leaves are also astringent, meaning they will constrict blood vessels) And the hops did wonders calming my nerves...

I hope this information can be helpful to others out there, or at least inspire a bit more confidence in th' power of nature. Thanks for reading.


  1. Hi. I'm a professional herbalist, now retired from practice. I'm impressed by the depth of your knowledge. This is how herbal medicine should and used to be used. Really knowing your plants and experimenting with them and trusting them. Most people don't take the time to do that. Here in the UK it's possible to buy all sorts of things over the counter and often they are inappropriate combinations or single herbs for a single complaint. They rarely work. People buy them without thinking. The art of the herbalist is in the combination of herbs (as in your miscarriage mix) to help with the whole of what's going on. Shepherd's purse reduces bleeding yes, but without the hops you wouldn't have had the confidence to rely on it. And there are things you can't do and herbs can't do but in most cases you have time to try them out before going to the doctor.
    Keep experimenting, keep reading and you become expert in the plants and in yourselves (sometimes you may need some help with diagnosis but the one-word textbook stuff isn't always what you need. How did you become ill? what else is affected?). Well done.

  2. I just came across your story and found it quite interesting. Growing up in the islands we used alot of these types of what we call grandma's recipes. I recently had fibroids removed and now bleeding for three months, without any help medically because everything I have been prescribed hasn't worked. So I goggled one day. What herb is used to stop bleeding and I came across Shepard's purse. Still a little timid to try because if other underlying medical issues but after reading this and being tired of as I call it bleeding to death, I'm gonna give it a try.

    1. Hi- we hope all works for you- let us know how it goes... and keep doing your research-

  3. I want to use it but I read on the internet the interaction it could have which is stopping breathing is this true

  4. Just ran across this blog entry. I'm just finishing my herbal training, but have been using them for years. I, too, had success controlling bleeding after birthing my children using shepherd's purse, and very glad the midwife had knowledge of it, since I didn't. Some people also forget that herbs are food--powerful, helpful, but food. They aren't magical or supplements. When combined with eating a diet made of the plants growing in the ground around us, our health can be incredible. Not necessarily longer life, which I also don't care about, but vital and filled with energy and power as much as God allows us while we are living. Loved this blogpost. !

  5. Hey I want to share some of my experience with you. I don't know about others but this blog is very helpful for me. Great work that you have done. Thanks for sharing.
    Herbal Potpourri

  6. I started bleeding too much during periods.So I bought shepherd´s purse and the next period was PERFECT.Unfortunately, this new period I´m almost to finish was very heavy... my god, what can be my mistake? If can someone help me.. (I have a 1,5 cm mioma, and I´ll do anything to avoid operation. I ´ve always believed in nature and have never taken a medicine!

  7. I've been cycling for 31 years.7 days a month sometimes 2 times a month.i bought shepherd purse, but I hate teas can i sprinkle it in a salad.if so will it give me the same results.

  8. sheperd purse is such a common herb in china. Its more a veggie than a herb!! its used for dumpling filling, soup etc. Taste great and one of my favourite.

  9. Has anyone used Shepards Purse for endometriosis?

  10. I don't know but I would expect red raspberry leaf to be helpful for anything female related -b

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