Also Known As: Pennyroyal, Squaw Mint, Mosquito Plant, Pudding Grass
Pennyroyal refers to two plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. For the American species, see American pennyroyal. The European pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium, (also called Squaw Mint, Mosquito Plant, and Pudding Grass), is a plant in the mint genus, within the family Lamiaceae. Crushed Pennyroyal leaves exhibit a very strong fragrance similar to spearmint. Pennyroyal is a traditional culinary herb, folk remedy, and abortifacient. The essential oil of pennyroyal is used in aromatherapy, and is also high in pulegone, a highly toxic volatile organic compound affecting liver and uterine function.
Pennyroyal was commonly used as a cooking herb by the Greeks and Romans. The ancient Greeks often flavored their wine with pennyroyal. A large number of the recipes in the Roman cookbook of Apicius call for the use of pennyroyal, often along with such herbs as lovage, oregano and coriander. Althoughout was commonly used for cooking in the Middle Ages, it gradually fell out of use as a culinary herb and is seldom used so today.
Even though pennyroyal oil is extremely poisonous, people have relied on the fresh and dried herb for centuries. Early settlers in colonial Virginia used dried pennyroyal to eradicate pests. Pennyroyal was such a popular herb that the Royal Society published an article on its use against rattlesnakes in the first volume of its Philosophical Transactions in 1665.
Pennyroyal tea is the use of an infusion made from the herb. The infusion is widely reputed as safe to ingest in restricted quantities. It has been traditionally employed and reportedly successful as an emmenagogue (menstrual flow stimulant) or as an abortifacient. Pennyroyal is also used to settle an upset stomach and to relieve flatulence. The fresh or dried leaves of pennyroyal have also been used when treating colds, influenza, abdominal cramps, and to induce sweating, as well as in the treatment of diseases such as smallpox and tuberculosis, and in promoting latent menstruation. Pennyroyal leaves, both fresh and dried, are especially noted for repelling insects. However, when treating infestations such as fleas, using the plant's essential oil should be avoided due to its toxicity to both humans and animals, even at extremely low levels.
Pennyroyal essential oil also works as a bug repellent to keep away ticks, mosquitoes and other biting and stinging pests. Planting pennyroyal around your house can discourage bugs from taking up residence in the yard, and keeping a vase of fresh pennyroyal in a room can not only drive potential pests away but kill the ones already occupying the area. Again, pennyroyal is toxic and should only be used in small amounts and for external use only. Pregnant women should avoid exposure altogether.