Shepherd's Purse

The small Shepherd's Purse (Bursa Capsella Pastoris) is one of

the most common of wayside English weeds. The name Capsella

signifies a little box, in allusion to the seed pods. It is a

Cruciferous plant, made familiar by the diminutive pouches, or

flattened pods at the end of its branching stems. This herb is of

natural growth in most parts of the world, but varies in luxuriance

according to soil and situation, whilst
hickly strewn over the

whole surface of the earth, facing alike the heat of the tropics,

and the rigours of the arctic regions; even, if trodden underfoot,

it rises again and again with ever enduring vitality, as if

designed to fulfil some special purpose in the far-seeing economy

of nature. It lacks the winged valves of the Thlaspi.

Our old herbalists called it St. James's Wort, as a gift from that

Saint to the people for the cure of various diseases, St. Anthony's

Fire, and several skin eruptions. In France, too, the plant goes by

the title of Fleur de Saint Jacques. It flowers from early in

Spring until Autumn, and has, particularly in Summer, an acrid

bitter taste. Other names for the herb are, Case weed, Pick

pocket, and Mother's heart, as called so by [512] children.

If a pod is picked they raise the cry, You've plucked out

your mother's heart. Small birds are fond of the seeds.

Bombelon, a French chemist, has reported most favourably about

this herb as of prompt use to arrest bleedings and floodings, when

given in the form of a fluid extract, one or two teaspoonfuls for a

dose. He explains that our hedge-row Simple contains a tannate, an

alkaloid bursine, (which resembles sulphocyansinapine), and

bursinic acid, this last constituent being the active medicinal

principle. English chemists now prepare and dispense the fluid

extract of the herb. This is given for dropsy in the U. S. America as

a diuretic; from half to one teaspoonful in water for a dose.

Dr. Von Ehrenwall relates a recent case of female flooding, which

had defied all the ordinary remedies, and for which, at the

suggestion of a neighbour, he tried an infusion of the Shepherd's

Purse weed, with the result that the bleeding stopped after the first

teacupful of the infusion had been taken a few minutes. Since then

he has used the plant in various forms of haemorrhage with such

success that he considers it the most reliable of our medicines for

staying fluxes of blood. Shepherd's Purse stayeth bleeding in any

part of the body, whether the juice thereof be drunk, or whether it be

used poultice-like, or in bath, or any way else.

Besides the ordinary constituents of herbs, it is found to contain six

per cent. of soft resin, together with a sulphuretted volatile oil,

which is identical with that of Mustard, as obtained likewise from

the bitter Candytuft, Iberis amara.

Its medicinal infusion should be made with an ounce of the plant to

twelve ounces of water, reduced by [513] boiling to half-a-pint; then

a wineglassful may be given for a dose.

The herb and its seeds were employed in former times to promote

the regular monthly flow in women.

It bears, further, the name of Poor Man's Permacetty (or

Spermaceti), the sovereignst remedy for bruises;--perhaps, says

Dr. Prior, as a joke on the Latin name Bursa pastoris, or 'Purse,'

because to the poor man this is always his best remedy. And in

some parts of England the Shepherd's Purse is known as Clapper

Pouch, in allusion to the licensed begging of lepers at our crossways

in olden times with a bell and a clapper. They would call the

attention of passers-by with the bell, or with the clapper, and would

receive their alms in a cup, or a basin, at the end of a long pole. The

clapper was an instrument made of two or three boards, by rattling

which the wretched lepers incited people to relieve them. Thus they

obtained the name of Rattle Pouches, which appellation has been

extended to this small plant, in allusion to the little purses which it

hangs out by the wayside. Because of these miniature pockets the

herb is also named Toy Wort; and Pick Purse, through being

supposed to steal the goodness of the land from the farmer. In

Queen Elizabeth's time leper hospitals were common throughout

England; and many of the sufferers were banished to the Lizard, in


The Shepherd's Purse is now announced as the chief remedy of the

seven marvellous medicines prepared by Count Mattaei, of

Bologna, which are believed by his disciples to be curative of

diseases otherwise intractable, such as cancer, internal aneurism,

and destructive leprosy.

Count Mattaei professed to extract certain vegetable [514]

electricities found stored up in this, and some other plants, and to

utilize them for curative purposes with almost miraculous success.

His other herbs, as revealed by a colleague, Count Manzetti, are the

Knotgrass, the Water Betony, the Cabbage, the Stonecrop, the

Houseleek, the Feverfew, and the Watercress. Lady Paget, when

interviewing Count Mattaei, gathered that Shepherd's Purse is the

herb which furnishes the so-called blue electricity, of

extraordinary efficacy in controlling haemorrhages. Small birds are

fond of the seeds: and the young radical leaves are sold in

Philadelphia as greens in the Spring.