My pennyroyal is thriving again this year, although this past week’s extreme temperatures have taken a bit of a toll.

After the nice beds of pennyroyal that I had in the past didn’t return a few springs back, I’ve had a hard time finding the plant for a couple of years. But Mr. Rex at my favorite store in Auburn, Ace Hardware, came through for me this spring. So once again I am working hard to encourage the invasive herb in my yard.

Although its oil can be toxic if not used with care, I enjoy growing pennyroyal not only because its delicate leaves are pretty and it smells so good, but also because it discourages fleas, red bugs, and mosquitoes from bothering the dogs and me. A word of caution, though: Do not put pennyroyal oil on a pet to dissuade fleas, because doing so can lead to seizure -- or worse. The dried herb might be crushed, or even burned outside. The smoke from the burning leaves is said to repel insects.

Historically, pennyroyal was made into a tea as a medicine to treat quite a few maladies, but for novices the safest use would be external only – and even then preferably with guidance from an herbalist. Pregnant women should avoid it altogether because it contains an organic compound which is toxic to the liver and can also cause miscarriage by causing the uterus to contract.

In spite of the care that must be taken with pennyroyal, it is a lovely herb. Mama remembers that one of her older relatives planted it in Howard when Mama was young, and allowed it to spread through the ditches. I can only imagine how wonderful that little Georgia town must have smelled whenever someone decided to walk down the side of the road.

Marian Carcache

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