As we wander out to our gardens and barbecues, languid evenings also tend to remind us of just how much life is stirring... Slap! Mosquitos! Don't reach for the insecticide, just grab the Pennyroyal!
Pennyroyal Mentha pulegium (Mock or American Pennyroyal is Hedeoma pulegioides)
Lurk in the ditch, Mosquito plant, Organ Broth, Organs, Organ Tea, Piliolerian, Squaw Balm, Pudding Grass, Squaw Mint, Tickweed, Run-by-the-Ground, Piliolerial
PENNYROYAL IN HISTORY
Pennyroyal was indeed a Royal Herb, or at least a favorite of the early English royal families. We know that it was accredited with medicinal properties as early as Pliny, who also remarked on it's effectiveness against fleas. In fact, its Latin name of Pulegium is derived from pulex mean "flea". Native American Indians were well aware of its benefits, and taught the settlers to rub the leaves over the skin to repel insects. In fact, tribal uses were many...the Chickasaw would soak the entire plant in water and place it on the forehead to relieve headache and watery eyes. Other tribes used it for stomach aid, still others to relieve cold and flu. This appears to contradict records indicating that Pennyroyal was one of the plants introduced by the Pilgrim settlers.
CAUTIONS: While it can be effective in small amounts, it is no longer recommended that anyone take Pennyroyal internally. Pennyroyal can have a toxic effect on the liver, and overdose can cause vomiting, high blood pressure, paralysis, respiratory failure, acute poisoning or even death. The primary use of Pennyroyal today is in oil form and only for external use.
Pennyroyal should not be used long term under any conditions. It is abortive and should not be used in any form if pregnancy is apparent or suspected. Do not use in any form while breastfeeding. Use medicinally only under the supervision of your doctor or homeopathic professional.
The New Age Herbalist echoes my sentiments when they say "The plant world offers a perfectly effective range of natural insect repellents and yet the chemical companies continue to produce products whose effects on animal and bird life are lethal and on human health uncalculated." I couldn't agree more, especially when Nature offers us such an effective alternative to chemicals and sprays.
While Pennyroyal has a rich history of medicinal uses, we now know the cautions of using it internally. Today, the best use of Pennyroyal is externally, as a natural insect repellant. Simply grab a handful of the fresh herb, and rub it on the skin to repel flies, mosquitos, gnats, ticks, chiggers, and fleas. The slightly rosey-minty smell is much more pleasant than smelling like a chemical insecticide.
You can hang dried bunches to repel flies, gnats or other winged creatures in the house. Put it in vases around the home to repel pestiferous pests. Be sure to keep them in places where children and pets won't be tempted to nibble!! Wear a dab of infusion or oil to keep fleas and mosquitoes at bay, and dab some on your pet's collar to do the same. Scatter some leaves among (preferably under) your pet's bedding to combat fleas.
Pennyroyal's past value as a medicinal herb, however, can best be inferred from the sheer quantity which M. Grieve, in A Modern Herbal refers to growing, considering it a "crop" plant rather than just a few in the garden. She relates to us that "Pennyroyal grows abundantly, but being required by the hundredweight it has been cultivated...on account of the difficulty of obtaining sufficient quantities..."
Pennyroyal Tea was once used as a remedy for everything from headaches to colds to menstrual problems. Grieve tells us that "Pliny gives a long list of disorders for which Pennyroyal was a supposed remedy..." A distilled mixture of Pennyroyal and water was reputed to act as a blood purifier, aid respiration, dizziness, act as an anti-spasmodic, and to right arthritis and joint pain.
Some homeopaths still use the Oil for treatment of severe cramps. See above precautions.
Pennyroyal's same insect repelling properties work well in the garden. Some references say Pennyroyal has a light scent slightly reminiscent of roses, although I don't notice it in mine. Interestingly, it is a wonderful companion plant for them, though. Pennyroyal doesn't spread as wildly as others in the mint family, but it is weedy enough to make a good insect-repelling border plant for a vegetable garden. It takes average, dry soil and full sun. European varieties can take part shade, but prefer a richer soil. Look for the variety erecta which is more leggy and can be bundled most easily for harvest.
Harvesting: The best time to gather Pennyroyal is when the plants are in full bloom, usually in early to mid summer. Cut the stems several inches from the base, and hang in bunches to dry. Rub the leaves off when dry and store them in dark, airtight containers.
Like most mints, pinch off the top shoots for bushiness and increased growth.
PLANET: Mars, Venus
- "Pennyroyal placed in the shoe prevents weariness during travel and strengthens the body in general" according to Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs.
- As an 'Herb of Peace', Pennyroyal aids in all types of tense situations, from business to personal negotiations. Pennyroyal kept in a bowl can bring peace to the household, or cease fighting between couples.
- Folklore tells tales of seamen scattering Pennyroyal on rough seas to calm them. You can carry Pennyroyal on board ships to prevent seasickness.
- Pennyroyal offers protection when worn or carried.
- Pennyroyal was used to bathe the body of dead to ensure peaceful transition to the next journey.
Beyerl says in a compendium of Herbal Magick
that "Pennyroyal is most useful in penetrating the mysteries of death and rebirth." For students seeking greater awareness of the Wheel or work with reincarnation or rebirthing, Pennyroyal can be a great asset. It has a history of association with Initiations, and understanding of the Mysteries.
So go ahead, pinch those Pennyroyals and enjoy a pest-free environment, naturally!
About the Author
Greetings! My name is Sherry Eldridge, I'm in my mid-thirties, happily married, and currently owned by three cats. The study of herbalism runs in my family on the maternal side, at least as far back as my Grandmother, and I'm pleased to be able to continue in the study and use of herbs, and to share what knowledge we have with, well, anyone who'll listen!
My passions are herbalism, organic gardening, holistic therapies (I'm a Reiki Master as well as an herbal practitioner), comparative spiritualities, travel (mostly England), literature, and all sorts of bits of esoteric wisdom. You can usually find me in sites relevant to researching any of those topics, or surfing for information on whatever has sparked my interest.