The Health Benefits of Shepherd's Purse

This 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, in the East, shepherd's purse 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.

Despite its purported benefits, shepherd's purse may cause significant side effects and interact with certain drugs, including thyroid medications.

Also Known As

Health Benefits

Shepherd's purse contains fumaric acid and sulforaphane, the substances of which that offer antioxidant effects, as well as phenols and flavonoids known to exert anti-inflammatory properties. Alternative practitioners believe that 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:

The evidence supporting these claims is generally poor. This is not to say that shepherd's purse is without its benefits, but rather that the claims are often exaggerated, unsupported, or passed down through generations as fact without any scientific bearing.

With that being said, a number of recent studies have provided compelling glimpses into the potential uses of shepherd's purse in medicine.

Heavy Menstrual Bleeding

For centuries, shepherd's bush has been used to treat heavy periods in women, typically as a tea or decoction made from the stems and roots of the plant. In 2018, a group of scientists decided to test the veracity of the remedy using a formulated capsule of C. bursa-pastoris.

According to the study, 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, which was able to suppress inflammation in nerve cells in a series of test-tube studies.

Capselloside was, in fact, only one of seven compounds in shepherd's purse that exhibited this effect, some of which 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 the application of their findings, the insights suggest a potentially novel approach to future drug development.

Possible Side Effects

Shepherd's purse is known to cause a number of significant side effects. Its influence on the cardiovascular symptom, in particular, may cause heart palpitations and a sudden drop in blood pressure, manifesting with fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, clamminess, blurred vision, and fainting.

Shepherd's purse affects the central nervous system and may cause drowsiness if taken in excess. Avoid shepherd's purse if using sedatives or over-the-counter sleep aids as it may intensify their effects.

For this same reason, shepherd's purse should be stopped two weeks prior to a scheduled surgery to avoid amplifying the effects of anesthesia.

Shepherd's purse contains chemicals known as oxalates which can contribute to the formation of kidney stones. If you have a history of kidney stones, you would be well-served to avoid using shepherd's purse.

Shepherd's purse can also affect thyroid function, decreasing the amount of hormone produced by the gland. Avoid shepherd's purse if you are taking thyroid medications, as it may reduce their efficacy and undermine therapy.

Shepherd's purse should never be used during pregnancy as it may trigger contractions or induce menstruation, leading to miscarriage. The same applies to breastfeeding since so little research exists on its effects on babies and developing children.

Warnings

Shepherd's purse should never be used to treat bloody stools, bloody urine, or bloody vomit. These could be signs of potentially serious medical conditions, including cancer or internal hemorrhaging. Call your doctor as a matter of urgency if you experience any of these symptoms.

Shepherd's purse should not be used as a form of first aid to stop bleeding. Only use appropriate first aid measures to treat wounds or seek care at your nearest urgent care or emergency room facility.

On rare occasion, an overdose of shepherd's purse has been known to cause paralysis, respiratory failure, and even death.

Call 911 or seek emergency care if you experience shortness of breath, wheezing, rapid or irregular heartbeats, bluish skin or fingernails, confusion, fainting, difficulty speaking, or the loss of immobility of the limbs, hands, or other body parts.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

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

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 for culinary purposes, 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.

Supplements and Tinctures

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

Shepherd's purse supplements are by far the easiest form to dose but can vary in quality from one brand to the next. To better ensure quality and safety, only buy well-known brands from manufacturers you trust.

Tinctures are easy to use but can also vary in quality and strength. To guide your buying choices, only select high-end tinctures 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.

Dried shepherd's purse is the most difficult form to use, as there is no way to control the dose. Some herbalists recommend making a tea by steeping two to three heaping tablespoons of dried shepherd's root (roughly 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 rule of thumb, never exceed the recommended dose on the product label.

This doesn't mean that the dose is either safe or effective but will a least reduce your risk of overdosing.

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 smell, consistency, clarity, or color.

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Article Sources

  1. Cha JM, Suh WS, Lee TH, et al. Phenolic Glycosides from Capsella bursa-pastoris (L.) Medik and Their Anti-Inflammatory Activity. Molecules. 2017 Jun;22(6):1023. doi:10.3390/molecules22061023.

  2. Ferreira EI, Serafim AM. (2017) Nitric Oxide Synthase Inhibitors. Nitric Oxide Synthase: Simple Enzyme-Complex Roles. London, England: InTech Publishers. doi:10.5772/67027.

  3. European Medicines Agency. Assessment report on Capsella bursa pastoris (L.) Medikus, herbal. London, England; July 12, 2011.

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