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Pungent Pennyroyal

December 9, 2016 Back to Picks >

Most of the herbs we grow do best in a spot with lots of sun. But every herb garden has at least one or two shady spots and they need filling. That�s where you can grow pennyroyal.

Pennyroyal can be planted wherever you need a ground cover in a shady spot. It will grow under a tree where even grass will fail to grow. Plant it between flagstones as it stays low and will spread between the cracks. The only time pennyroyal gets tall is when it blooms in spring. Flower stalks grow a foot high with tiny whorls of dusky purple flowers.

Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) is a low growing mint that generally reaches only 3-4 inches high. The small glossy penny-sized leaves have a minty medicinal scent. Like most members of the mint family it needs regular water and protection from the sun to flourish. Make sure the soil is well drained as it will die in soggy conditions.

Pennyroyal can be grown from seed or allowed to propagate on its own. Like other mints it spreads by stems that grow horizontally along the surface of the soil and can root at every leaf node. If left untended it will seek out distant parts of the garden. Clip the stems twice a year to keep it under control.

The leaves and juice of pennyroyal have been used to deter fleas and ants. In fact, the scientific name �pulegium� derives from the Latin word for flea. It is said if that the crushed leaves are rubbed on the skin it will deter mosquitoes. In times past it has been used to induce abortion and has been implicated in miscarriages (human and animal). So be careful when using this herb. The concentrated oil of pennyroyal is toxic and can lead to kidney damage.