I was out in the yard one beautiful May afternoon when I made an exciting discovery. It was a tall, scraggly plant towering a good foot and a half above the other weeds scattering our overgrown yard. I crouched down to get a closer look and immediately noticed the heart shaped pods growing along the lanky stem– I’d recognize them anywhere. It was Shepherd’s Purse! I have attempted to grow it from seed in the past without luck, so I was thrilled to find it thriving wild all over our lawn. The more I looked, the more Shepherd’s Purse plants I discovered around our home.
What was so exciting about discovering this “weed” in my yard is that not only is it edible and delicious, it also has medicinal properties as well. We’ll delve into that more in a moment.
Identifying Shepherd’s Purse
Would you be able to pick out the Shepherd’s Purse from among these common weeds?
There are several hints to look for when identifying Shepherd’s Purse:
1. The plants will typically grow anywhere from 3 inches tall to 1 1/2 feet.
2. The deeply lobed rosette of leaves resemble dandelion, with symmetrical leaves spreading flat on the ground.
3. A long, slender stem grows from the middle of the rosette with heart shaped seed pods growing along the length of it. (The heart shaped pods are a dead giveaway that it’s Shepherd’s Purse.)
4. When in bloom, you will notice small, white, tightly shaped flowers at the top of the stem.
5. It’s an annual herb. Although it may self-sow, don’t expect to find it growing in the same place the following year. However, the seeds remain viable for up to 20 years, so there’s a good chance you’ll find Shepherd’s Purse growing again at some point if you allowed the plant to go to seed.
6. Shepherd’s Purse grows all across the United States and in many other countries. It can be found from Spring through Winter.
I apologize for not having more photos to help you identify this plant. Hopefully I’ll find some more Shepherd’s Purse growing this year and I can update this article with up-close shots to help you with proper identification. If you’re interested in learning more there are tons of photos you can find online. Here’s a good article to read with lots of information and a few more photos to check out.
A Useful Weed
Shepherd’s Purse has many interesting uses. It is enjoyed in culinary dishes in many cultures around the world. It’s also prized for its medicinal qualities. A few of my favorite uses include:
- Eat it- fresh or cooked. The leaves can be eaten straight off the plant or added to sandwiches, salads, and soups; fresh or cooked. The stalk can be stir-fried, or eaten raw. The flowers can be eaten raw. The seeds can be stir-fried and used as a peppery seasoning. The roots can be used fresh or dried as a substitute for ginger or candied in syrup. (Source: Linda Runyon’s Essential Wild Food Survival Guide)
Personally, I enjoy picking the flowers and seed pods off the plant and eating them fresh.
- Quickly stop bleeding. Shepherd’s Purse is high in Vit. K, vegetable protein, potassium, calcium, beta-carotene and minerals. It has been used for centuries to stop bleeding internally and externally. For a quick field application, make a poultice by crushing up fresh or dried leaves to apply to a bleeding wound. An herbal tea can also be made to ease internal bleeding. Shepherd’s Purse tincture is often used by midwives to stop excessive bleeding after giving birth. (I actually took two droppersful of an alcohol tincture of Shepherd’s Purse after giving birth to help control the bleeding, per my midwife’s instructions, and can attest to its effectiveness.) Take it orally to treat internal bleeding.
Warnings: Avoid the herb during pregnancy, except during labor because it stimulates uterine contractions.
I’ll give you a little personal story. My youngest daughter… she’s five… she has always had a problem with nose bleeds. If she gets bumped on the nose playing, or falls and hits her nose, it immediately begins to gush blood. I mean more than a steady drip. The flow of blood is constant… and it’s scary! I keep cotton nose plugs on hand (you know, the kind for sports injuries) specifically for her nose bleeds, but she usually soaks through a handful of them before the bleeding stops.
When I found Shepherd’s Purse growing wild in our yard, I took advantage of the opportunity to do an experiment to see just how well it actually works. Using all of the aerial parts, I made a tincture to try on my daughter. I used glycerin as the base instead of alcohol so that it would be safe to put in her nose.
Several weeks later, my daughter was supposed to be in bed sleeping, but instead was fooling around and fell off the bed, hitting her nose on the wall. I heard her screams from across the house, and ran to see what was wrong. She stood in her bedroom doorway, blood dripping all down her shirt and puddling in the carpet at her feet. I whisked her off to the bathroom and gathered my supplies– nose plugs, a pack of ice, and that Shepherd’s Purse tincture.
I dipped the first nose plug into the infused glycerin tincture, and stuck it into the bleeding nostril. I placed the bag of ice on the bridge of her nose, and had her lean over the bathroom sink. I waited for the blood to fill the plug as it usually does almost immediately, but the blood had stopped soaking through. I wondered if the glycerin was preventing the cotton from absorbing blood, so I pulled the plug out with a new one ready in hand to quickly replace the first. But when I pulled that first plug out we were both astonished to discover that the bleeding had completely stopped. It was amazing! Never in her life has her nose stopped bleeding so quickly. I was flooded with relief, and she was thrilled that it was over.
I’ve had more times than I can count over the past year to use this Shepherd’s Purse tincture, and the results have always been consistent and immediate. It will forever have a place in my medicine cabinet.
How To Make A Shepherd’s Purse Tincture
A tincture is a very concentrated liquid extract of herbs, and is an effective way to take herbal medicine internally. You can take a dropperful or two straight from the bottle, but if the strong flavor is offensive you may also add the drops to a warm drink and take it that way as well.
Tinctures are usually made by infusing an herb in a strong alcohol base. However, for more sensitive people, especially children, you can choose to use glycerin or apple cider vinegar instead of alcohol. The latter options won’t be as strong medicinally as the former, but they are a good alternative and still work well.
Preserving Shepherd’s Purse in a tincture is a great way to capture the medicinal properties of the plant at the peak of harvest and enables you to reap its medicinal benefits year-round. Prepared tinctures are a quick and effective way to get an application immediately– as opposed to a tea which requires time to steep and cool.
For this particular herb, fresh plants are better than dried. Dried Shepherd’s Purse loses its potency rapidly. Some herbs must be dried before using in a tincture, but not in this case.
- Fresh Shepherd’s Purse stalks, seed pods, and flowers. (The dried herb can be used if fresh isn’t an option.)
- 80-100 proof alcohol (vodka, gin, brandy, rum); vegetable glycerine, or apple cider vinegar
First, gather a bunch of fresh stalks. Instead of uprooting an entire plant, cut the stalks off a couple of inches from ground level.
Chop up all of the aerial parts (stalks, pods, flowers). Fill a glass container, such as a pint sized mason jar, with the fresh, chopped herbs.
Pour enough alcohol, glycerin, or apple cider vinegar into the jar to completely cover the herbs. Screw on an airtight lid.
Place the jar out of direct sunlight. Allow the herbs to infuse for 4-6 weeks before straining off. Store in a dark place, or in a tinted glass bottle.
The tincture will be good for one year, after which you’ll need to replace it with a fresh batch.
For more information regarding usage and dosage amounts, here is a great article to check out. It’s definitely an interesting herb, and a useful one to be able to identify in the wild.
If you found this article on Shepherd’s Purse interesting, you might also enjoy reading about another edible and medicinal plant: Lamb’s Ear. Don’t forget to check out the Herbal Medic Class Sam Coffman recently taught as well.