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Saturday, February 12, 2011


There are many varieties of pennyroyal among them the European ones and the American varieties. In Britain, pennyroyal is an endangered species, although in other parts of the world it is regarded as a pestilential weed. It is native to the Mediterranean regions and Britain is the furthest north it goes. It is rare in Ireland and probably doesn’t exist in Scotland. Apart from in Europe it is also found in North Africa and parts of Asia.
  In Britain, pennyroyal is also called Fleabane, Run-by-the-Ground and Lurk-in-the-Ditch, as it is found in such places. It is called fleabane because it was used in Roman times (according to Pliny) and afterwards (including in royal palaces) to repel fleas. Its Latin name comes from pulix meaning fleas. Pliny also said that it should be hung in bed chambers to purify the air. In Roman times physicians believed that it was better than the rose for health. It is a member of the mint family of which it is the smallest member.
  Pennyroyal has a dubious reputation as an arbortifacient, although you would have to take it in huge quantities to be effective, but it would, in such amounts, cause irreversible damage to the liver and kidneys.
  It had the reputation of being able to purify water and so sailors would take it to sea to make stagnant water potable. It was also used against sea-sickness. It is thought that it was used in witchcraft to make people have double vision. Gerard mentions that it was used to purify water, “If you have Pennyroyal in great quantities and cast it into corrupt water, it helpeth much, neither will it hurt them that drinketh thereof.” He also says that in his day (the 16th century) it was plentiful “on a common at Mile End, near London about the holes and ponds thereof, in sundrie places, from whence poore women bring plenty to sell in London markets.” He also said that “Pennyroyale taken with honey cleanseth the lungs and cleareth the breast from all gross and thick humours.” Indeed it has been thought of as a cure all in the traditional medicine of many countries.  Gerard also advocated using pennyroyal with wood betony and mead for getting rid of “putrid agues.”
   The Welsh physicians of Myddfai combined it with mugwort and southernwood as an emmenogogue and the tisane prepared from pennyroyal has been used by women for centuries to stop menstrual cramps and blockages. To make the tisane take 1 oz of pennyroyal, flowers and leaves and pour a pint of boiling water over them. Leave to steep for 15 mins and then strain. Drink a cupful and the problem should go. This tisane also has a reputation for relieving coughs, colds and bronchitis. The physicians of Myddfai also recommended this remedy for foul breath: “Take the juice of orpine, feverfew, angelica and pennyroyal, mix with honey and administer a spoonful to the patient night and morning fasting and he will recover.” They would have gathered the plant on Whit Sunday or St. John’s Eve as it was believed that it would be most effective when gathered at these times. The Welsh physicians believed that pennyroyal gathered at this time would benefit a “person who has lost consciousness in consequence of an illness.”
   In Italy pennyroyal is thought to protect against the evil eye, and in Sicily it was hung from fig trees to stop the fruit falling off the trees before it was ripe. It was also given to husbands and wives who quarreled a lot, so was the first marriage guidance herb.
  Culpeper says that taken in wine pennyroyal was good for “venomous bites” and “applied to the nostrils with vinegar revives those who faint and swoon. Dried and burnt it strengthens the gums…” He also said that it was good for gout and skin problems and mixed with vinegar could get rid of “foul ulcers” and removed bruises and black eyes. He also said that with salt it was good for the liver. Mixed with sugar-candy (presumably jaggery) he says that it was good for curing whooping cough.
   Throughout the ages pennyroyal has been added to sauces and stews and was known as Pudding Grass, although pudding here means a meat dish, perhaps made of offal rather than a dessert. It was used as an aid for the stomach, to promote sweating in cases of fever, as a stimulant and to cure headaches, when worn around the head. Its leaves yield an essential oil which is more bitter and less used than that of mint or spearmint. This is sometimes used in the cosmetic industry. If you rub the fresh bruised leaves on your skin, it should keep biting insects at bay. The juice of the leaves rubbed onto corns on the toes is said to get rid of them. Pennyroyal water which has been distilled from the leaves is supposed to be good to stop spasms of the muscles including those of the uterus, and good for hysteria and other nervous problems, as well as for coughs and colds and “affections of the joints” according to one of the old herbalists.

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