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Revision as of 02:48, 3 February 2013

This mint species, once known as bleehon or

glechon, was apparently an ingredient of kykeon, the potion drunk by initiates to the Eleusinian mysteries (Ruck 1995, 142*). Aristophanes, in Pax, mentions a drink containing pennyroyal that was named kykeon and which Hermes, the messenger of the gods, recommended as a protection against disease. Pennyroyal was also used to produce love drinks and was considered an obscene metaphor for a woman's pubic hair and a symbol of illicit sexuality. The herbalist Bodin (1591) identified it with Homer's nepenthes. Pennyroyal was one of the most renowned abortifacients of antiquity and was used medicinally to treat cramps in the lower abdomen (Ratsch 1995a, 237 f.*). In ancient times, it was also burned as an incense. In South America, the dried plant is still used as a ritual incense and is offered to the earth goddess Pachamama (Ott 1993,412*). A medicinal use of pennyroyal can still be found in the folk medicine of Cyprus, where fresh leaves are eaten in salad to treat male impotency. They are also consumed as a tea for stimulant and tonic purposes. Pennyroyal has medicinal and ritual significance for the pagan Berber peoples of the Atlas Mountains (Morocco) that may have its roots in ancient ideas. A tea made from the herbage is drunk to treat abdominal pains, colic, rheumatism, and flatulence and as a tonic and digestive. During the summer solstice, the plant is burned as a ritual incense to protect humans and animals against misfortune. The feast consumed on the night of the summer solstice consists of snails that have been cooked in salt, pepper (Piper nigrum; cf. Piper spp.), pennyroyal, and thyme (Thymus spp.). Eating this preparation ensures good health throughout the coming year. The medicinal properties of the plant are said to be best when the plant is collected shortly before the solstice. It is used externally to treat wounds and is taken internally to treat coughs and colds (Venzlaff 1977*). Hildegard von Bingen had the following to say about the psychoactive effects of pennyroyal: "He who has pains in the brain so that he is ill should add pennyroyal to wine and boil it, and he should lay it on his head while still warm, and he should tie a cloth over this, so that the brain is warm and suppresses the madness in him" (Physica 1.126). Pennyroyal contains 1 to 20/0 essential oil, 80 to 94% of which is pulegone, a substance that can induce abortions in animals and humans (Boyd 1992). Piperitone and (- )-limonene also occur (Roth et al. 1994, 493*). Use of the plant as an abortifacient can be dangerous (Gunby 1979, Vallance 1955), and deaths have been reported (cf. Focus [1994] 32:95). Higher dosages of oleum pulegii can produce delirium and an anesthesialike paralysis. Apart from the essential oil, no psychoactive compounds have been isolated (Ott


Boyd, E. 1. 1992. Hedeoma pulegioides and Mentha pulegium. In Adverse effects ofherbal drugs, ed. P. A. G. M. de Smet, K. Keller, R. Hansel, and R. F. Chandler, 151-56. Berlin: Springer. Gunby, P. 1997. Plant known for centuries still causes problems today. Journal ofthe American Medical Association 241 (21): 2246-47. Vallance, W. B. 1955. Pennyroyal poisoning, a fatal

case. Lancet (1955): 850-851.

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