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Pennyroyal: Folklore, Household & Magickal Uses

Updated on:

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Written by: Dawn Black (Witchipedia)

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Reviewed by: Tina Caro

A member of the mint family, pennyroyal (Botanical Name Mentha pulegium) has the characteristic angled stem of its cousins.

It has a prostrate, creeping habit with opposite, hairy, oval-shaped leaves. The purplish flowers rise in clusters in mid to late summer and attract butterflies and bees.

Other Names Pudding grass, Mosquito Plant, Tick Weed, Lurk in the Ditch, Organ Broth, Organ Tea, Pilioerian, Squaw Mint

Growing zones: 6-11

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Pennyroyal has a rich history steeped in folklore, with its use dating back to ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and Romans for its medicinal properties.

This herb comes in various varieties, including American pennyroyal and European pennyroyal, each with its unique characteristics and uses.

Cultivating pennyroyal requires well-drained soil and plenty of sunlight, making it an ideal addition to your herb garden.

When harvesting and storing pennyroyal, it’s essential to gather the leaves and stems at the right time to preserve its potent aromatic oils.

History and Folklore

The name “Pennyroyal” for a plant was first used by Gaius Pliny Secundus, Roman writer, admiral and naturalist, and (according to one of the many mythologies about this name) derives from the Greek name “Μίνθη” (Pennyroyalhe or Myntha) of an unfortunate river nymph, daughter of the god Cocytus, who was transformed into grass by Persephone because she was a lover of Dis.

Mentha pulegium in Bielinek on Odra river, W Poland

According to another version, the nymph was loved by the god of the Underworld Hades and was transformed into a plant by Persephone, Hades’ wife.

For this reason, Pennyroyal became strongly associated with Hades and was used in funerary rites, partly to cover body odor and partly to connect with the Underworld as an ingredient in an entheogenic drink made from Pennyroyal and fermented barley.

This, however, also associated Pennyroyal with love and lust as Pennyroyalha longed for Hades.

When Hades was unable to reverse the spell cast by Persephone, Hades made her smell sweet and fresh so that whenever a man stepped on her, the air was filled with her sweet aroma. As such, Pennyroyal is often used in love spells.

Folklore or LegendDescription
Repelling Insects and FleasPennyroyal has a long history of folklore as a natural insect repellent, used to ward off insects and fleas from homes and animals.
Protection and WardingIn various traditions, pennyroyal is believed to possess protective properties and is used in rituals and charms to ward off negative energies.
Folk Medicinal UsesPennyroyal has been used traditionally for its medicinal properties, such as relieving digestive discomfort and promoting menstruation.
Table 1: Folklore and Legends

In Greece, soldiers were warned not to wear Pennyroyal crowns so as not to increase lust while those not serving often wore it as a good luck charm for their relationship. Culpepper also noted Pennyroyal’s powerful ability to increase “body lust.”

In Rome, however, Pliny claimed that Pennyroyal was “against procreation” and therefore should not be used by those looking for children.

However, Pliny suggested that Pennyroyal, with its strong aroma, was perfect for improving memory and refreshing the body. Pennyroyal crowns were used to enhance memory, soothe headaches, whiten teeth and in baths to wash away impurities.

pliny the elder
Pliny the Elder

Throughout Europe and the Middle East, Pennyroyal was used to remove negative energies, ward off parasites and plagues, and mixed with marjoram and rosemary to sprinkle sacred space.

Magical Uses

Pennyroyal is of feminine nature and ruled by Venus and the element earth. Alternatively (that is, depending on who you ask), it’s masculine and ruled by fire and mars.

Because of its association with midwifery, pennyroyal is also associated with Hecate, Eileithyia and other Goddesses associated with the art.

Magickal PurposeDescription
Purification and CleansingPennyroyal is associated with purification and cleansing rituals, used to clear negative energies and promote a harmonious and balanced environment.
Protection and BanishingIncorporating pennyroyal in spells or rituals can aid in banishing unwanted energies or protecting against malevolent forces or influences.
Enhancing Psychic AbilitiesPennyroyal is believed to enhance psychic abilities and intuitive powers, making it useful in divination, meditation, or dream work practices.
Table 2: Magickal and Spiritual Uses

Use pennyroyal in healing spells and sachets.

It is said that pennyroyal in your shoes will protect you from tired feet. Include pennyroyal in blessings before traveling and spells designed to protect a traveler.

It helps relieve blockages of the throat chakra and helps heal an aura damaged by addiction. Use in spells to protect your psychic energy from the negativity of others and to strengthen, cleanse and repair the aura.

Use also to protect against the evil eye and for spells for removing the evil eye.

Culinary Use

Pennyroyal was once used for stuffing pork in combination with pepper and honey. Its flavor is not as pleasant as that of other mints and it is not commonly used for culinary purposes today.

Household Use

Pennyroyal has been used since Roman times to keep away fleas. The tincture can be sprayed into the pet’s bedding or added to wash water or a sachet can be placed in the dryer. Do not let your pet eat it.

Infusing olive oil with Pennyroyal and other insect repelling herbs will create an herbal insect repellent to smooth onto your skin, as long as you’re not allergic or pregnant.

Medical Use

Pennyroyal tea is used for stomach complaints and to bring on delayed menstruation. It is still occasionally used in herbal combinations intended to end early pregnancies.

Pennyroyal may lower blood sugar levels; however, it should not be used for an extended period of time and is therefore not useful for those who need to regulate their blood sugar levels.

Also, if you take any medication to regulate your blood sugar levels, you should not use pennyroyal.

Varieties

Much commercial pennyroyal oil comes from this plant, though it is only distantly related to the above described plant.

However, they do have the same active constituents and can be used the same. American Pennyroyal may be stronger than European Pennyroyal and doses should be adjusted accordingly. American Pennyroyal is an annual that does well in dry soil in full sun.

Cultivation

Pennyroyal is a perennial, hardy to zone five. It prefers moist, rich soil in full sun to part shade.

Pennyroyal roots at growth nodes, meaning that stems touching the ground can form a new plant. It’s a very aggressive grower and should be kept in a pot to prevent it taking over the world!

Harvesting and Storage

Cut the stems when the plant is just about ready to flower and hang to dry in bunches, then strip off the leaves for use in tea.

Cautions

You should never ingest pennyroyal oil (or any other essential oil). Pennyroyal is generally used in tincture or tea form, 1 teaspoon of dried leaves steeped in water and strained.

Heavy concentrations of pennyroyal or prolonged use can cause severe damage to the liver and other organs and internal bleeding, convulsions, hallucinations and several other unpleasantries. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can cause liver damage, and the addition of Pennyroyal into the mix can strengthen this possibility.

Some people have allergies to Pennyroyal. If you experience any irritation of the mucus membranes, itching, difficulty breathing, stomach cramps or vomiting, stop using Pennyroyal immediately and go to the emergency room if your symptoms are severe.

Use of Pennyroyal should always be carefully supervised because of the dangers associated with overdose. Pennyroyal should never be used for more than a week at a time. Pennyroyal should never be used in combination with other drugs or herbs that act on the liver.

Herbal abortion should never be attempted past the 8th week of pregnancy. Herbal abortion should never be attempted in any but the most normal of pregnancies. If any unusual cramping, especially in the side, should occur, discontinue use immediately and consult a medical doctor.

And though it may not need to be said after this discussion – Pennyroyal should not be used during pregnancy due to an increased risk of miscarriage.

About Morningbird (Witchipedia's Founder)

I am a homesteading hearth witch who grew up along the shores of the Hudson River and has lived among the Great Lakes for the past 20 years. Together with my musical husband and youngest child, I steward a one-acre mini homestead with herb, vegetable and flower gardens, chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits, and areas reserved for native plants and wildlife. 

I have three children; two are grown, and I have been practicing magick alone and with family and friends for over 30 years.

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