Pennyroyal Plant – Image Courtesy: Melanie Cook
If you were young in the early nineties, you remember Nirvana’s song “Pennyroyal Tea” from the album In Utero. However, there may be a physiological reason that front man Kurt Cobain was thinking about pennyroyal: an infusion made from this extremely powerful herb can be soothing to the stomach, and it’s well known that Cobain suffered from debilitating and undiagnosed abdominal pains throughout his adult life.
Member of the Mint Family
Pennyroyal Oil is an essential oil that has many benefits. Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) is a member of the mint family and thereby related to spearmint, peppermint, and thyme. It was once widely popular for use in both culinary and medical concoctions, but has lost popularity in cooking in recent years, perhaps because of its pungent odor and taste. It was reportedly useful against gout, headache, and stomach trouble, as well as repellent to snakes and insects when worn as a garland or in a satchel around the neck.
The Roman author and naturalist Pliny also extolled its use as a flea repellent – in fact, pennyroyal’s name, “pulegium,” comes from the Latin pulex, meaning flea. Pennyroyal has been historically used as a flea repellent; however, it should not be sprinkled on the floor if pets are around, due to its unknown and possibly toxic effects on animals.
Pennyroyal has a long list of internal effects, from mild to strong; extreme caution should always be exercised when approaching this powerful herb. Let’s begin with the mildest form of the herb: an infusion. Like tea made from other members of the mint family, pennyroyal tea has a wide variety of digestive benefits. The best known and most frequent use of pennyroyal is a brewed tea as for stomach soothing. For a mild infusion, some forms of pennyroyal can be combined with yarrow and elder flower; this can also be helpful against the onset of colds or the flu.
For Menstrual Symptoms
Pennyroyal is also effective against troublesome menstrual symptoms. For this reason, the herb is considered to be an emmenagogue which means it encourages menstrual blood flow. Specifically this property makes pennyroyal useful when the normal cycle of menstruation is delayed due to dietary or stress-related reasons; pennyroyal tea can quickly bring the delayed period on.
Caution: However, this property of pennyroyal also means that the herb should NEVER be taken by pregnant women due to its power as a potential abortifacent. Pennyroyal should also not be used by those who are nursing, as there have been no studies about its potential effect on babies through breast milk.
Talk to an Herbalist Beforehand
The herb itself, fresh or dried, has the same effects as the infusion, only stronger. Because of this, even more care should be taken when administering; it is recommended that anyone who is considering taking pennyroyal as an herb should talk to an experienced herbalist beforehand. It is also very important to make sure that your source of pennyroyal is trustworthy to avoid contamination. For this reason, tinctures of pennyroyal can provide a way of measuring more accurate dosage.
The most powerful form of the herb, Pennyroyal Oil, should NEVER be taken internally as it is extremely toxic and even small amounts of it can lead to poisoning. However, it is used sometimes in aromatherapy because of its strong, minty scent. It could also be used in diluted essential oil form to surround an area where insects are troublesome. All in all, pennyroyal has many benefits but equally many risks, and those seeking to use it should read widely and consult an herbalist prior to beginning any dosage.
Maria (Niina) Pollari is a poet, editor, writer and translator. She wrote two chapbooks, Fabulous Essential (2009) and Book Four (2011). Pollari’s writing has been featured in numerous literary journals as well as the Brooklyn Rail and Jezebel.com. She has received her Master’s in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College.