Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Mentha
Species: M. pulegium
Binomial name
Mentha pulegium

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,[1] and Pudding Grass[2]), 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.


Culinary and medicinal uses

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. Although still 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.[3]

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[4] and to relieve flatulence.[5] The fresh or dried leaves of pennyroyal have also been used when treating colds, influenza, abdominal cramps, and to induce sweating,[4] as well as in the treatment of diseases such as smallpox and tuberculosis, and in promoting latent menstruation.[5] Pennyroyal leaves, both fresh and dried, are especially noted for repelling insects.[4] 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.[6]



Pennyroyal essential oil is extremely concentrated. It should never be taken internally because it is highly toxic; even in small doses, consumption of the oil can result in death.[7] The metabolite menthofuran is thought to be the major toxic agent. Complications have been reported from attempts to use the oil for self-induced abortion. For example, in 1978 an eighteen year-old pregnant woman from Denver, Colorado died within one week after consuming one ounce of concentrated Pennyroyal oil in an attempt to self-induce abortion.[8] There are numerous studies that show the toxicity of pennyroyal oil to both humans and animals.[9][10][11][12]

Since the U.S. Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in October 1994, all manufactured forms of pennyroyal in the United States have carried a warning label against its use by pregnant women. This substance is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.[13]

Attributed and possible contributions to death

  • 1897- A twenty-three year old British woman died eight days after swallowing a tablespoon of pennyroyal in order to induce menstruation.[7]
  • circa 1909- The Supreme Court of Indiana convicted a Mr. Carter of prescribing and administering pennyroyal pills to a pregnant woman who died two months after her miscarriage.[14]
  • August 1912- A sixteen year-old girl from Maryland consumed thirty-six pennyroyal pills to induce abortion.[7] An autopsy revealed that the herbal abortion was only partially successful, and was later, "...completed by mechanical means..." before the girl's death.[7]
  • November 1978- An eighteen year-old pregnant woman from Denver, Colorado died after ingesting one ounce of concentrated pennyroyal oil in an effort to abort her fetus.[8] Prior to her death, the victim had reported using the dried leaves of the plant to induce menstruation with no ill effects.[8]
  • July 1994- Kris Humphrey, a twenty-four year-old woman, died in California.[15] At the time of her death, Humphrey unknowingly had an ectopic pregnancy, and drank a tea made with pennyroyal extract.[15] According to one news report, there is disagreement over whether Humphrey died as a result of the ectopic pregnancy or from pennyroyal poisoning.[15]

Historical and literary mentions


In the Homeric Hymn of Demeter, Demeter in the guise of an old woman as she searches for the abducted Persephone refuses red wine but accepts a drink of barley, water and pennyroyal called kykeon.

Aristophanes made reference to pennyroyal as abortifacient in Lysistrata and Peace. Mari Sandoz writes in her book, Slogum House, "She was the fifth of twelve children in the river-bottom family, with a mother who laid the cards and brewed tansy, pennyroyal and like concoctions for luckless girls who were in need."

The grunge band Nirvana recorded a song named "Pennyroyal Tea."

In the book Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, pennyroyal is used by Kudra to keep from becoming pregnant.

William Carlos Williams opens his "Kora in Hell: improvisations" city lights books with "Fools have big wombs. For the rest? - here is pennyroyal if one knows to use it. But time is only another liar so go along the wall a little further......"

In the Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, Professor Pennyroyal is a bogus historian who leads the protagonists of the story to near death.

In the Science Fiction book "The Technician" by Neal Asher, Penny Royal is the name of rogue black AI.

The musician Jesca Hoop mentions "Pennyroyal wine" in her 2008 song, Enemy.

See also


  1. ^ Gunby, Phil. (1979). "Medical News: Plant Known for Centuries Still Causes Problems Today." Journal of the American Medical Association 241(21): 2246-2247.
  2. ^ Keville, Kathi. (1994). Herbs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. New York, New York: Friedman/Fairfax Publishers. Pp. 128.
  3. ^ "Of a Way of Killing Ratle-Snakes". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 1: 43. 1665. doi:10.1098/rstl.1665.0022. 
  4. ^ a b c Kowalchik, Claire, and William H. Hylton, eds. (1998). Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press. Pp. 412-414.
  5. ^ a b Ritchason, Jack. (1995). The Little Herb Encyclopedia: The Handbook of Natures Remedies for a Healthier Life. 3d ed. Pleasant Grove, Utah: Woodland Health Books. Pp. 171.
  6. ^ "Warnings about Essential Oils". Bits and Brew. Archived from the original on 2008-04-23. Retrieved 2008-06-25. 
  7. ^ a b c d Macht, David I. (1913). "The Action of So-Called Emmenagogue Oils on the Isolated Uterus with a Report of a Case of Pennyroyal Poisoning." Journal of the American Medical Association LXI(2):105-107.
  8. ^ a b c Sullivan, John B., Jr., Barry H. Rumack, Harold Thomas, Jr., Robert G. Peterson, and Peter Bryson. (1978). "Pennyroyal Poisoning and Hepatotoxicity." Journal of the American Medical Association 242(26): 2873-2874.
  9. ^ Carmichael PG (February 1997). "Pennyroyal metabolites in human poisoning". Annals of Internal Medicine 126 (3): 250–1. PMID 9027280. 
  10. ^ Anderson IB, Mullen WH, Meeker JE, et al. (April 1996). "Pennyroyal toxicity: measurement of toxic metabolite levels in two cases and review of the literature". Annals of Internal Medicine 124 (8): 726–34. PMID 8633832. 
  11. ^ Bakerink JA, Gospe SM, Dimand RJ, Eldridge MW (November 1996). "Multiple organ failure after ingestion of pennyroyal oil from herbal tea in two infants". Pediatrics 98 (5): 944–7. PMID 8909490. 
  12. ^ Sudekum M, Poppenga RH, Raju N, Braselton WE (March 1992). "Pennyroyal oil toxicosis in a dog". Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 200 (6): 817–8. PMID 1568929. 
  13. ^ Natural Standard Research Collaboration (2008-02-01). "American pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides L.), European pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium L.)". Natural Standard. Retrieved 2008-06-25. 
  14. ^ Editorial. (1909). "Medicolegal: Pyemia, "Pennyroyal Pills" and Evidence in Abortion Case. Journal of the American Medical Association LIII(11): 891.
  15. ^ a b c Young, Gordon. (1995). "Lifestyle on Trial." Metro: Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

External links

 Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Pennyroyal". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Pennyroyal — Pen ny*roy al, n. [A corruption of OE. puliall royal. OE. puliall is ultimately derived fr. L. puleium, or pulegium regium (so called as being good against fleas), fr. pulex a flea; and royal is a translation of L. regium, in puleium regium.]… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • pennyroyal — herb, 1520s, alteration by folk etymology of Anglo Fr. puliol real; for second element see ROYAL (Cf. royal); first element ultimately from L. puleglum thyme …   Etymology dictionary

  • pennyroyal — [pen′ē roi΄əl, pen΄ē roi′əl] n. [altered < earlier pulyol ryal < Anglo Fr puliol real < OFr poliol, pouliol (< L puleium: infl. by assoc. with pulegium, fleabane < ?) + real,ROYAL] 1. a strongly scented, perennial European mint… …   English World dictionary

  • pennyroyal — /pɛniˈrɔɪəl/ (say penee royuhl) noun any of several herbaceous plants, as the Eurasian pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium, or the American mock pennyroyal, Hedeoma pulegioides, used medicinally and yielding a pungent aromatic oil. {penny (? alteration… …   Australian English dictionary

  • Pennyroyal — Menthe pouliot Menthe pouliot …   Wikipédia en Français

  • pennyroyal — /pen ee roy euhl/, n. 1. an aromatic Old World plant, Mentha pulegium, of the mint family, having clusters of small purple flowers and yielding a pungent essential oil used medicinally and as an insect repellent. 2. Also called mock pennyroyal. a …   Universalium

  • pennyroyal — taškuotoji mėta statusas T sritis vardynas apibrėžtis Notrelinių šeimos dekoratyvinis, vaistinis augalas (Mentha pulegium), paplitęs šiaurės Afrikoje ir pietų Europoje. Iš jo gaunamas eterinis aliejus. atitikmenys: lot. Mentha pulegium; Pulegium… …   Lithuanian dictionary (lietuvių žodynas)

  • pennyroyal — noun Etymology: probably alteration of Anglo French puliol real, from puliol pennyroyal (ultimately from Latin puleium) + real royal Date: 1530 1. a European perennial mint (Mentha pulegium) with small aromatic leaves 2. an aromatic North… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • pennyroyal — A name in folk medicine given to Mentha pulegium (an aromatic p.), or to Hedeoma pulegeoides (American p.) (family Labiatae); an aromatic stimulant formerly used as an emmenagogue. * * * pen·ny·roy·al .pen ē rȯi( ə)l, pen i .rīl n any of several …   Medical dictionary

  • pennyroyal — noun A plant of the mint family. The oil is used as a natural flea repellent for pets …   Wiktionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.