Name: Pennyroyal (Mentha Pulegium)
Otherwise known as: Lurk in the Ditch, Pudding Grass
Habitat: A perennial member of the Labiataea family growing up to 20cm in moist soil throughout Europe. It has purple coloured, square stems with hairy, opposed, oval leaves and smells strongly of mint.
What does it do: Pennyroyal is a species of mint and is the Pulegium of the Romans. It was so-called by Pliny the Elder because it was reputed to repel fleas (pulex is Latin for flea). The common name Pudding Grass refers to its popularity as a stuffing for hogs puddings: the preparation consisted of Pennyroyal, pepper and honey.
Medicinally, the plant is carminative, diaphoretic, stimulent and a purifier. Pliny regarded it as something of a cure-all and specially recommended it for hanging in bedrooms; it being efficacious in cases of insomnia and disturbed sleep, particularly for children experiencing ‘the night terrors’. Gerrard claimed that the plant could purify tainted water stating: ‘If you have great quantities of Pennyroyal dry and cast it into corrupt water, it helpeth it much, neither will it hurt them that drink thereof’. He also claimed: ‘Penny-royale taken with honey cleanseth the lungs and cleareth the breast from all gross and thick humours’.
Garlands of Pennyroyal were worn around the head as an antidote to spasmodic nervous and hysterical afflictions.
Culpepper states: ‘Drank with wine it is good for venomous bites, and applied to the nostrils with vinegar is good for the maidens that are inclined to feint and swoon. The green herb, bruised and put into vinegar, cleanses foul ulcers and takes away the marks of bruising around the eyes and burns in the face, and the leprosy, if drank and applied outwardly…’.
Victorian herbalists would extract the juice from the leaf and stem, add sugar, and use it as a treatment for whooping cough.
The oil, extracted by steam distillation, is regarded as a treatment for rheumatic joints and a cure for mosquito and midge bites.