Monday, July 11, 2011

Mentha pulegium - Pennyroyal

Mentha pulegium - Pennyroyal also known as Pulegium, American Pennyroyal, Run-By-The-Ground, Lurk-In-The-Ditch, Pudding Grass, Mosquito Plant, Squaw Balm, Squawmint, Brotherwort, Churchwort, Fleabane, Flea Mint, Stinking Balm, and Tickweed.  It is a native of most parts of Europe and parts of Asia. 

Known as Pulegium to the Romans, it was so named by Pliny from its reputed power of driving away fleas - pulex being the Latin for flea.  The name Pennyroyal is a corruption of the old herbalists' name 'Pulioll-royall', and in the Middle Ages it was called 'Piliole-rial'. 

Pennyroyal is a member of the mint family and has a strong odor resembling spearmint, but not as agreeable.  It is a perennial that ranges from a low-growing, spreading plant up to 1ft 4in, to a lanky, upright sub-shrub with small, gray-green leaves and tiny clusters of lavender flowers.  The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by bees and butterflies. 

Pennyroyal has been used for centuries in herbal medicine. It was used in Egypt as an abortifacient since 421 BC and was used in ancient Rome and Greece up to the 17th century as a cure for digestion problems and other maladies including digestive disorders, liver and gallbladder disorders, gout, colds, increased urination, to induce menstruation, as a topical for skin diseases and as an insect repellant.  In 1994, the rock group Nirvana's song "Pennyroyal Tea," made the herb a household symbol as an alternative to clinical abortion.

Pennyroyal was used as an emmenagogue (menstrual flow stimulant) or as an abortifacient. The most popular current use of the tea is to settle the stomach.  Other reported medicinal uses through history include treatment for fainting, flatulence, and Hepatitis A, and as a lung cleanser, a gum strengthener and, when ground with vinegar, a tumor remedy. 

CAUTIONS:  Pennyroyal Essential Oil is Extremely Toxic to humans and animals, and should never be taken internallyDeath from untreatable organ failure can result if the essential oil is used, even in small doses.  The use of Pennyroyal oil has been associated with serious, even fatal, liver and kidney damage, herefore oral or topical use of Pennyroyal Oil is not recommended.

In large portions, the herb can cause abortion, irreversible renal damage, severe liver damage and death. A small amount of oil can produce delirium, unconsciousness, shock, seizures and auditory and visual hallucinations and death.   Pennyroyal can cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, lethargy, increased blood pressure and increased pulse rate, and dermatitis. In tea form, small amounts have been used without reported side effects.  Pennyroyal should not be used by anyone with kidney disease, kidney damage or a history of kidney stones. 

Complications have been reported from attempts to use Pennyroyal's oil for self-induced abortion.  In 1978 an 18 year-old pregnant woman died within one week after consuming two tablespoons of concentrated Pennyroyal oil in an attempt to self induce abortion, [1].  In 1994, a 24 year-old pregnant woman used Pennyroyal tea to induse an abortion and died a painful death after ingesting the tea for well over two weeks, [2].   

For first time readers of this website, you should know my motto:  Don't.  Be.  Stupid.   If you need an abortion, contact Planned Parenthood for help in finding one.  And stay safe.  It's not the end of the world. 

Pennyroyal tea involves the use of an infusion made from the herb. The infusion is reputed as safe to ingest in restricted quantities and should never be taken longer than five days.  Prolonged use of Pennyroyal can damage the central nervous system, kidneys, liver, and can very possibly cause death.  Drinking Pennyroyal tea can be taxing on the body as it encourages the body to purge. Users should take care of their bodies afterwards by drinking nourishing teas and eating a balanced diet.

Pennyroyal has not been evaluated by the FDA for safety, effectiveness, or purity. All potential risks and/or advantages may not be known. There are no regulated manufacturing standards in place for it and there have been instances where herbal/health supplements have been sold which were contaminated with toxic metals or other drugs. Herbal/health supplements should be purchased from a reliable source to minimize the risk of contamination.

The fresh or dried plant will repel fleas, ants, moths, and rodents. The plant was used in homes as a strewing herb and has also been spread in granaries to keep the rodents off the grain. A strong infusion applied to the face will keep gnats away in the summer. The aromatic leaves are used as an ingredient of pot-pourri.  The leaves have been eaten raw or cooked and were once used as a flavouring in salads. It has a spearmint-like flavour, though rather coarser. An herb tea is made from the fresh or dried leaves.

Pennyroyal was commonly used as a cooking herb by the Greeks and Romans. The ancient Greeks often used it to flavor their wine. A large number of the recipes in the Roman cookbook of Apicius call for the use of Pennyroyal. Cooks used Pennyroyal to create stuffing for pork dishes, putting it into hog's puddings, which were made of flour, currants, and spice, and stuffing it into the entrails of a hog. One of its popular names is 'Pudding Grass'. 'Grass' being, like 'wort,' a word meaning 'herb'. Although commonly used for cooking in the Middle Ages, it gradually fell out of use as a culinary herb and is seldom used today.

Pennyroyal has been recorded in history as far back as the first century AD, when it was mentioned by Roman naturalist Pliny and Greek physician Dioscorides. In the 17th century, English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote about some uses for the plant including its role in women's ailments, venomous bites, and digestion. European settlers used the plant for respiratory ailments, mouth sores, and female disorders. 

The Royal Society of London published an article on its use against rattlesnakes in the first volume of its Philosophical Transactions in 1665. Early settlers in colonial Virginia used dried Pennyroyal to eradicate pests. In the 1800s, many counties in Ohio produced the oil in primitive distilleries. 

Tradition has it that this was one of the herbs used to line the manger in which the baby Jesus slept, perhaps due to its ability to repel vermin.  As a preparation for inititation into the Eleusinian mysteries of ancient Greece, people drank Pennyroyal in barley water.  In the Homeric Hymn of Demeter, the goddess searches for her abducted daughter, Persephone, and refuses to drink red wine but instead drinks kykeon, which is made from barley, water and Pennyroyal.
The ancient Celts associated this herb with the Great Mother.  As part of a ritual for a "silver tongue charm," an infusion of pennyroyal can be touched to the lips.  During the Renaissance, sailors purified their drinking water with it, and it helped prevent sea-sickness. Some sailors tossed it overboard to calm the violent ocean waves.  In the Middle Ages, people believed that drowned bees could be revived by placing them on a bed of pennyroyal ashes. Some Old English sources say that this plant protects against dwarves, possibly it was used as a charm by miners.

The plant will grow in all moist soil types, and will even grow in heavy clay soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic alkaline soils and can grow in partial or heavy shade. Pennyroyal has a low spreading habit and can be used as a ground cover, though it is somewhat sparse in the winter and can be invaded by the more aggressive weeds. It is a good companion plant for cabbages and tomatoes, helping to repel cabbage root fly and other burrowing insects. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer.

Sow the seeds in a cold frame and prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and plant them out in the summer. It is best to propagate them by division. Division can be easily carried out at almost any time of the year, though it is probably best done in the spring or autumn to allow the plant to establish more quickly. Virtually any part of the root is capable of growing into a new plant. For drying, the plant should be harvested as it comes into flower.

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