Pennyroyal refers to two plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae
The mints, taxonomically known as Lamiaceae or Labiatae, are a family of flowering plants. They have traditionally been considered closely related to Verbenaceae, but in the 1990s, phylogenetic studies suggested that many genera classified in Verbenaceae belong instead in 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
Plants are living organisms belonging to the kingdom Plantae. Precise definitions of the kingdom vary, but as the term is used here, plants include familiar organisms such as trees, flowers, herbs, bushes, grasses, vines, ferns, mosses, and green algae. The group is also called green plants or...

 in the mint
Mentha is a genus of flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae . The species are not clearly distinct and estimates of the number of species varies from 13 to 18. Hybridization between some of the species occurs naturally...

In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

, within the family Lamiaceae
The mints, taxonomically known as Lamiaceae or Labiatae, are a family of flowering plants. They have traditionally been considered closely related to Verbenaceae, but in the 1990s, phylogenetic studies suggested that many genera classified in Verbenaceae belong instead in Lamiaceae...

. Crushed Pennyroyal leaves exhibit a very strong fragrance similar to spearmint
Mentha spicata syn. M. cordifolia is a species of mint native to much of Europe and southwest Asia, though its exact natural range is uncertain due to extensive early cultivation. It grows in wet soils...

. Pennyroyal is a traditional culinary herb, folk remedy, and abortifacient
An abortifacient is a substance that induces abortion. Abortifacients for animals that have mated undesirably are known as mismating shots....

. The essential oil of pennyroyal is used in aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses volatile plant materials, known as essential oils, and other aromatic compounds for the purpose of altering a person's mind, mood, cognitive function or health....

, and is also high in pulegone
Pulegone is a naturally occurring organic compound obtained from the essential oils of a variety of plants such as Nepeta cataria , Mentha piperita, and pennyroyal. It is classified as a monoterpene....

, a highly toxic volatile organic compound
Volatile organic compound
Volatile organic compounds are organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at ordinary, room-temperature conditions. Their high vapor pressure results from a low boiling point, which causes large numbers of molecules to evaporate or sublimate from the liquid or solid form of the compound and...

 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
Apicius is the title of a collection of Roman cookery recipes, usually thought to have been compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century AD and written in a language that is in many ways closer to Vulgar than to Classical Latin....

 call for the use of pennyroyal, often along with such herbs as lovage
Lovage is a tall perennial plant, the sole species in the genus Levisticum, in the family Apiaceae, subfamily Apioideae, tribe Apieae.-Distribution:...

, oregano
Oregano – scientifically named Origanum vulgare by Carolus Linnaeus – is a common species of Origanum, a genus of the mint family . It is native to warm-temperate western and southwestern Eurasia and the Mediterranean region.Oregano is a perennial herb, growing from 20–80 cm tall,...

 and coriander
Coriander is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. Coriander is native to southern Europe and North Africa to southwestern Asia. It is a soft, hairless plant growing to tall. The leaves are variable in shape, broadly lobed at the base of the plant, and slender and feathery higher on the...

. 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.

Pennyroyal tea
A herbal tea, tisane, or ptisan is a herbal or plant infusion and usually not made from the leaves of the tea bush . Typically, herbal tea is simply the combination of boiling water and dried fruits, flowers or herbs. Herbal tea has been imbibed for nearly as long as written history extends...

 is the use of an infusion
An infusion is the outcome of steeping plants with desired chemical compounds or flavors in water or oil.-History:The first recorded use of essential oils was in the 10th or 11th century by the Persian polymath Avicenna, possibly in The Canon of Medicine.-Preparation techniques:An infusion is very...

 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
Emmenagogues are herbs which stimulate blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus; some stimulate menstruation. Women have used plants such as mugwort, parsley and ginger to prevent or terminate early pregnancy...

 (menstrual flow stimulant) or as an abortifacient
An abortifacient is a substance that induces abortion. Abortifacients for animals that have mated undesirably are known as mismating shots....

. 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
Essential oil
An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. Essential oils are also known as volatile oils, ethereal oils or aetherolea, or simply as the "oil of" the plant from which they were extracted, such as oil of clove...

 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.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. 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
Self-induced abortion
A self-induced abortion is an abortion performed by the pregnant woman herself outside the recognized medical system. Although the term can include abortions induced through legal, over-the-counter medication, it also refers to efforts to terminate a pregnancy through alternative, often more...

. 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. There are numerous studies that show the toxicity of pennyroyal oil to both humans and animals.

Since the U.S. Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in October 1994, all manufactured forms of pennyroyal in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 have carried a warning label against its use by pregnant women. This substance is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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.
  • 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.
  • August 1912- A sixteen year-old girl from Maryland consumed thirty-six pennyroyal pills to induce abortion. An autopsy revealed that the herbal abortion was only partially successful, and was later, "...completed by mechanical means..." before the girl's death.
  • 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. Prior to her death, the victim had reported using the dried leaves of the plant to induce menstruation with no ill effects.
  • July 1994- Kris Humphrey, a twenty-four year-old woman, died in California. At the time of her death, Humphrey unknowingly had an ectopic pregnancy, and drank a tea made with pennyroyal extract. According to one news report, there is disagreement over whether Humphrey died as a result of the ectopic pregnancy or from pennyroyal poisoning.

Historical and literary mentions

In the Homeric Hymn of Demeter
In Greek mythology, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains, the fertility of the earth, and the seasons . Her common surnames are Sito as the giver of food or corn/grain and Thesmophoros as a mark of the civilized existence of agricultural society...

, Demeter in the guise of an old woman as she searches for the abducted Persephone
In Greek mythology, Persephone , also called Kore , is the daughter of Zeus and the harvest-goddess Demeter, and queen of the underworld; she was abducted by Hades, the god-king of the underworld....

 refuses red wine but accepts a drink of barley, water and pennyroyal called kykeon
Kykeon was an Ancient Greek drink made mainly of water, barley and naturally occurring substances. It was used at the climax of the Eleusinian Mysteries to break a sacred fast, but it was also a favourite drink of Greek peasants.Kykeon is mentioned in Homeric texts: the Iliad describes it as...


Aristophanes , son of Philippus, of the deme Cydathenaus, was a comic playwright of ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete...

 made reference to pennyroyal as abortifacient
An abortifacient is a substance that induces abortion. Abortifacients for animals that have mated undesirably are known as mismating shots....

 in Lysistrata
Lysistrata is one of eleven surviving plays written by Aristophanes. Originally performed in classical Athens in 411 BC, it is a comic account of one woman's extraordinary mission to end The Peloponnesian War...

and Peace
Peace (play)
Peace is an Athenian Old Comedy written and produced by the Greek playwright Aristophanes. It won second prize at the City Dionysia where it was staged just a few days before the ratification of the Peace of Nicias , which promised to end the ten year old Peloponnesian War...

. Mari Sandoz
Mari Sandoz
Mari Susette Sandoz was a novelist, biographer, lecturer, and teacher. She was one of Nebraska's foremost writers, and wrote extensively about pioneer life and the Plains Indians, and has been occasionally referred to as Mari S...

 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
Grunge is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged during the mid-1980s in the American state of Washington, particularly in the Seattle area. Inspired by hardcore punk, heavy metal, and indie rock, grunge is generally characterized by heavily distorted electric guitars, contrasting song...

 band Nirvana
Nirvana (band)
Nirvana was an American rock band that was formed by singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic in Aberdeen, Washington in 1987...

 recorded a song named "Pennyroyal Tea."
Pennyroyal Tea
"Pennyroyal Tea" is a song by the American grunge band Nirvana. Featured on the band's third and final studio album, In Utero , it was initially scheduled to be released as the third single in April 1994...

In the book Jitterbug Perfume
Jitterbug Perfume
Jitterbug Perfume is Tom Robbins' fourth novel, published in 1984. The major themes of the book include the striving for immortality, the meaning behind the sense of smell, individual expression, self-reliance, sex, love, and religion. Beets and the god Pan figure prominently...

by Tom Robbins
Tom Robbins
Thomas Eugene "Tom" Robbins Thomas Eugene "Tom" Robbins Thomas Eugene "Tom" Robbins (born July 22, 1936 is an American author. His best-selling novels are serio-comic, often wildly poetic stories with a strong social and philosophical undercurrent, an irreverent bent, and scenes extrapolated from...

, pennyroyal is used by Kudra to keep from becoming pregnant.

William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams was an American poet closely associated with modernism and Imagism. He was also a pediatrician and general practitioner of medicine, having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania...

 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
Mortal Engines
Mortal Engines is the first of four novels in Philip Reeve's quartet of the same name, which is also known as the Hungry City Chronicles in the United States...

by Philip Reeve
Philip Reeve
Philip Reeve is a British author and illustrator. He presently lives on Dartmoor with his wife Sarah and their son Samuel.-Biography:...

, 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.

External links

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