The Health Benefits of Shepherd's Purse

An herbal folk remedy is traditionally used to stop bleeding

shepherd's purse
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Shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) is a flowering plant belonging to the mustard family. Native to Asia and parts of Eastern Europe, shepherd's purse is often used for culinary purposes, especially in Asian cuisine. In the West, it is widely regarded as a weed but is often used in herbal medicine to treat circulatory problems, menstrual disorders, and other health conditions.

Shepherd's purse is recognized by its long stem, deep-toothed leaves, and cluster of tiny white blossoms. The name refers to the plant's triangular-shaped seed pod, which looks like a purse.

Also Known As

Health Benefits

Shepherd's purse contains fumaric acid and sulforaphane, substances that offer antioxidant effects, as well as phenols and flavonoids known to exert anti-inflammatory properties. Alternative practitioners believe these properties can be used in medicine to help alleviate inflammation, improve blood circulation, and restore hormonal balance.

Shepherd's purse has long been believed to stop bleeding (both external and internal) and aid in wound healing. Among the conditions shepherd's purse is believed to treat are:

While evidence supporting these claims is limited, there is some research to suggest the traditional applications of shepherd's purse and its potential use in medicine.

Heavy Menstrual Bleeding

For centuries, shepherd's bush has been used to treat heavy periods, typically when taken as a tea or decoction made from the stems and roots of the plant.

In 2018, a group of scientists tested the veracity of the claim using a formulated capsule of C. bursa-pastoris. According to the study, which as published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, a group of women with heavy menstrual bleeding was given a daily regimen of either 500 milligrams of mefenamic acid (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) with a C. bursa-pastoris supplement or 500 milligrams of mefenamic acid with a placebo.

After two menstrual cycles, the researchers concluded there were "significantly greater" decreases in the C. burse-pastoris group. Their assessment was based on a semi-objective analysis called the pictorial blood loss assessment chart (PBLAC) score.

Despite the positive findings, it is unclear whether shepherd's purse acted independently in stemming menstruation or enhanced the mechanism of action of mefenamic acid. Further research is needed.

Inflammation

Proponents of herbal therapies believe that shepherd's purse offers anti-inflammatory properties beneficial to human health. There is some early evidence of this.

In 2018, scientists in Korea were able to isolate a new sugar molecule from shepherd's purse, called capselloside, that was able to suppress inflammation in nerve cells in a series of test-tube studies.

Capselloside was only one of seven compounds in shepherd's purse that exhibited this effect; others were able to temper an inflammatory process known as nitric oxide synthesis. This was a valuable finding given that the overproduction of nitric oxide in the body is associated with diseases such as arthritis, asthma, brain ischemia, Parkinson's disease, and seizures.

Even though the investigators could offer no conclusion as to how the findings might be used, the insights suggest a potentially novel approach to future drug development.

Possible Side Effects

For the most part, shepherd's purse is considered safe with few if any side effects. Some health authorities advise people with a history of kidney stones use caution when using shepherd's purse as it contains oxalate, a naturally occurring compound that can bind to calcium and promote the formation of stones.

Whether the risk of kidney stones is greater than with other oxalate-containing plants (like rhubarb, spinach, or kale) is unknown. There has been no published evidence of any serious side effects associated with the use of shepherd's purse.

Shepherd's purse should never be used during pregnancy as it may induce contractions or menstruation, leading to miscarriage. Due to the lack of safety research, shepherd's purse should also be avoided if breastfeeding.

Shepherd's purse should also not be used to treat bloody stools, bloody urine, or bloody vomit. These could be signs of a potentially serious medical condition. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

Dosage and Preparation

Shepherd's purse is typically sold in tinctures, supplements, or dried to make teas and decoctions. Shepherd's purse seeds are also available to grow your own herbs at home.

Supplements and Tinctures

Shepherd's purse can be purchased in supplement, tincture, or dried form from online retailers and specialty health food or supplement stores.

Shepherd's purse supplements are generally the easiest form to use because the dose is controlled and standardized.

Tinctures are also easy to use but can vary in quality and strength. Dosing is controlled by the number of drops you put into a glass of water or directly into your mouth.

Some herbalists recommend making a tea by steeping two to three heaping tablespoons of dried shepherd's purse root (2.5 to 3 grams) in a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes.

There are no guidelines for the appropriate use of shepherd's purse. As a general rule, never exceed the recommended dose on the product label.

Shepherd's purse, whether in supplement, tincture, or dried, should be stored in a cool, dry room away from direct sunlight. Dispose of any product that has expired or has changed in its odor, consistency, clarity, or color.

Fresh Herb

Shepherd's purse is a hardy biennial plant that prefers cool, humid climates. Its bright green leaves are similar in appearance to dandelion, albeit with a softer texture. The flavor is often described as spicy and broccoli-like.

If used in cooking, shepherd's purse can be steamed, sauteed, or added raw to salads. It can often be found fresh in Asian grocery stores, where it is used to make traditional dishes such as Shanghai rice cakes (ning gao) and Korean shepherd's purse soup (naengi guk) or consumed as symbolic food for the Japanese spring festival, Nanakusa-no-sekku.

Fresh shepherd's purse should be stored in the refrigerator wrapped loosely in a moist paper towel and covered with a plastic bag. It is best used within a week of harvest or purchase.

What to Look For

When purchasing supplements, look for those that have been certified by an independent certifying body like U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, and NSF International. Certification does not mean the product is either safe or effective, but it does confirm the ingredients on the product label are correct and pure.

(With specialty supplements like shepherd's purse, independent certification is an uncommon practice, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require certification testing by supplements manufacturers.)

When purchasing tinctures, select high-end products in light-resistant blue or dark amber glass bottles. Check that the name Capsella bursa-pastoris is printed on the product label and includes the country of origin as well. These are signs the tincture is genuine and ethically produced.

Work with a practitioner knowledgeable in herbal medicine, such as a licensed naturopathic physician or registered herbalist, to help guide your purchase and use of herbal remedies.

To find a naturopathic practitioner in your area, use the online locator offered by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Registered herbalists can also be located through the online locator offered by the American Herbalist Guild.

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