In the Herb Garden this week – Pennyroyal

In the Herb Garden this week no.15 (5.9.2020)

 Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)

This member of the mint family grows in a cushion close to the ground, with bright green leaves, tiny mauve flowers and a strong pungent scent. The name ‘pulegium’ is derived from the Latin ‘pulex’ meaning flea, because both the fresh plant and the smoke from burning leaves were used to exterminate the insects. It also repels ants and mosquitos and even soothes insect bites.

Dr Darwin includes ‘an infusion of penny-royal’ in his list of medicines to calm ‘hysteric disease’ and Dr Withering also wrote that ‘a simple and a spirituous water, distilled from the dried leaves, are kept in the [apothecaries] shops and are frequently prescribed in hysterical and nervous complaints. An infusion of the plant may be used to the same advantage’. Just for once, the two eminent doctors agree with each other!

Pennyroyal was also widely used as a remedy for digestive problems, headaches and catarrh but it found its way into the kitchen as well, hence its other name of ‘Pudding Grass’.

It is still used in some regional versions of black pudding to this day, such as those made in Bury in Lancashire. It was also once employed as a flavouring for other members of the pudding family, including a mixed herb dumpling, a recipe for which was included in Charlotte Mason’s The Lady’s Assistant (London: 1773).

You can find Pennyroyal growing at the back of Dr Darwin’s Medicine Chest Garden, in flower this week.