Pennyroyal

(Mentha pulegium) Pennyroyal is a corruption of Puliol Royal (Latin pulices - fleas), for this is a good plant to use against them. The "royal" part of the name, so it is said, came about because royal palaces were not immune (Genders. 1971). It was supposed to purify stagnant water, too, and that is why sailors took it to sea with them (Bardswell).

It is said that this plant was used in witchcraft to make people see double (Folkard), though why it should, and why that should be the aim, is not clear. But on the whole this is a protective plant. In Italy, it counteracts the evil eye, and in Sicily, it was hung on fig trees to prevent the figs falling before they were ripe (Bardswell). Also in Sicily, it was given to husbands and wives who were always quarrelling (Folkard). Children there put sprigs of it in their caps (and in the cribs) (Gubernatis) on Christmas Day, believing that at the exact moment that Christ was born, they would come into bloom (Folkard). In Wales, pennyroyal had to be gathered on Whit Sunday or St John's Eve, for the benefit of a "person who has lost consciousness in consequence of illness" (Physicians of Myddfai). In parts of Morocco, it is picked and put in the rafters, as a protection against evil, but it had to be gathered before Midsummer Day (Westermarck. 1926). It used to be burnt in the Moroccan fires, too, lit between the animals, the smoke presumably acting as a protection (Westermarck. 1905).

Pennyroyal tea is good for chills and coughs (Vesey-Fitzgerald), extended to include bronchitis and asthma in Scotland (Beith). In Morocco, the dried leaves are powdered and taken with porridge or milk for coughs and colds (Westermarck. 1926). In Wiltshire, it was used as an infusion for all chest and lung complaints (Wiltshire). Wesley recommended it for whooping cough: "Chin-cough or Hooping-cough ... give a spoonful of Juice of Pennyroyal mixt with Sugar-candy, twice a day", and Buchan prescribed it for croup. It is used in folk medicine "with much confidence in obstruction of the courses, or when these are attended with pain of hysteria" (Thornton). In other words, it is a known emmenagogue; it is an abortifacient, too (V G Hatfield. 1994). Gypsies used to peddle it in remote country districts for just this purpose (Wiltshire). But this is a very old concept. The Anglo-Saxon version of Apuleius has, for instance, a leechdom for use "if a dead-born child be in a wife's inwards, take three sprouts [of pennyroyal], and let them be new, so of the strongest scent, pound in old wine; give her to drink" (Cockayne). That scent, and nothing more, was supposed at one time to help patients recover from fever, while the aroma of the seeds was recommended in cases of speech loss (Classen, Howes & Synnott).

The juice rubbed on the skin prevents insect bites (Vesey-Fitzgerald). It was used for itch, too (Cockayne), and a plaster is good for a burn (Moore, Morrison, and Goodwin). The leaves applied to corns will get rid of them (H M Hyatt). It was applied externally to wounds, in Morocco (Westermarck. 1905), and they say in parts of America that pennyroyal tea will bring out the measles (R B Browne; Beck), and it is taken in Alabama as a cure for diarrhoea (R B Browne).

The older herbalists used pennyroyal for many more conditions. No wonder they used to say in Opwa that a lotion made from it is good for any ailment (Stout). The Anglo-Saxon Apuleius had remedies for "sore of bladder, and in case that stones therein wax", cramp, sea sickness, "for sore of inwards", tertian fever, coughs, and loss of voice. Gerard repeated a lot of these, and added a few of his own, such as "a garland of Pennie Royal made and worne about the head is of great force against the swimming of the head, and the paines ... thereto". No wonder that Brazilian curanderos used it in their healing ceremonies, as a fumigant, and as an ingredient in the ritual baths that always form part of their healing ritual (P V A Williams).

Turner called this plant Pudding-grass, and Puddingherb is recorded from Yorkshire (F K Robinson). They refer to the practice of using pennyroyal to make stuffings for meat, formerly called puddings (Prior).

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