Some of the first herbs I ever grew
I had planted in a strawberry pot
that I bought at the old Williamsburg Pottery in Lightfoot, Virginia.
The little strawberry pot ( I still have it) held thyme,
a sprig of rosemary, some basil, oregano,
and an unusual little herb called pennyroyal.
Pennyroyal, mentha pulegium, is a kind of mint,
but one whose essential oils are toxic to humans and animals.
M. G. Kains, in the article
published in the 1912 American Agriculturist,
says that pennyroyal was a common ingredient in "puddings,"
but was not an herb favored by American and English cooks.
In part because of its pungency.
But I would guess also because of its potential for toxicity.
There have been a number of documented cases in the US
of deaths caused by taking too much pennyroyal tea or its oil.
Therefore, I was never much interested in even tasting it.
Pennyroyal blossoms arrange themselves artfully on the stalk.
Photo from The Deepest Well blog:
However, decades ago I did rub it on my arms one time as an experiment.
Pennyroyal is supposed to be a good natural mosquito repellant.
Once streaked with pennyroyal juice,
I don't recall being bothered by any insects
but the mint aroma was a bit too strong and pungent for me.
I don't know about the mosquitoes,
but I did repel myself so I washed it off.
Regardless of its strong odor and questionable safety,
the ancient Romans weren't so cautious with pennyroyal.
The cookbook the Apicius included recipes
that required a touch of this herb,
including a pennyroyal wine.
I wonder if, given its toxicity, the amounts of pennyroyal were very small,
or if the Romans always served it
with other foods or drinks that neutralized pennyroyal's toxins.
It's a bit of a mystery.
I would suggest that pennyroyal remain
one of those herbs best used as an ornamental.
It makes a lovely groundcover, looking almost like baby tears:
The flower is pretty too:
Which just goes to show,
even bad herbs can be good.