Pennyroyal Mint (Mentha pulegium)

If you need a sturdy ground cover for a moist, semi-shady spot, Pennyroyal Mint may fill the bill. This small-leaved member of the mint genus, with small shiny deep green leaves and a wonderful scent, helps solve many landscaping problems. Virtually trouble free, it’s beautiful in many settings, including containers and hanging baskets, where it can provide a graceful trailing edge.

Pennyroyal’s roundish leaves have a strong mint flavor and aroma excellent for cooking. This mint was long-used in Europe to flavor children’s medicines, but for us, it can surely be considered for a fragrant cup of tea. Its botanical name pulegium means flea, according to Southern Herb Growing, “referring to its perhaps overstated reputation as a flea repellant.”

Pennyroyal can be planted among your bulbs, where it helps control cool season weeds, yet it doesn’t prevent the bulbs from emerging. Where the bed has the sun exposure necessary for bulbs to bloom, providing adequate moisture will keep the Pennyroyal fresh and green.

And although like the other mints, Pennyroyal spreads by underground stolons, it is a more delicate plant and very easy to control by trimming the edges of the patch or pulling up some of the above-ground stems and leaves occasionally. Although I’m skeptical about Pennyroyal’s ability to repel insects, experience tells me that when I tread upon it while working in the garden, the mosquitos stand off and prefer not to land and bite!

NOTE: During 2013, my monthly Arbor Gate Herb Picks will emphasize herb choices as great landscape additions. Many of them also have culinary uses, of course, but our focus will be on their visual, scent, and textural qualities.