Pennyroyal: the herb vs. the EO; the menstrual cycle; wild yam.

Date: Fri, 11 Nov 1994 21:31:25 -0800
Sender: Medicinal and Aromatic Plants discussion list <HERB.TREARN.BITNET>
Subject: Re: pennyroyal

>> To bring on menstruation I often rub pennyroyal on my abdomen, concentrating on my uterus and ovaries. I am wondering if this is safe. It is quite effective I usually start my peroid within an hour after this topical application. Does anyone have any ideas about this?
>> Kirsten
>> P.s. I use pennyroyal oil, rather than dried or fresh.

To which "food for thought" replied:
> bad very bad. pennyroyal oil is a poison that has killed when taken by mouth and sufficient lethal quantities can be absorbed thru the pores to do likewise.
> don't do this anymore. ever.

Hi, "food for thought":
I think that your scolding attitude and subsequent command is uncalled for. Perhaps an alternative suggestion may have been in order.

Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium or Hedeoma pulegioides) can relax spasmodic pain and ease anxiety in some people. However, its main use is as an emmenagogue to stimulate the menstrual process and to strengthen uterine contractions. As it has been used in large doses as an abortifacient, it should be avoided during pregnancy. Yes, the oil can act far too strongly and "should" be avoided (the oil is a hundredfold more toxic than an infusion; drinking large quantities of the tea can cause light-headedness and nausea--Michael Moore, MEDICINAL PLANTS OF THE PACIFIC WEST, 1993), but there are perfectly safe ways to use pennyroyal as an emmenagogue. I also suggest that essential oils not be taken by mouth in general, as their high concentrations are difficult for the liver to handle. Major considerations when using herbs include: bioavailability (and prepartation), the route the herb will take depending on administration, and how the herb will be metabolised and eliminated. Some of these factors may differ, person to person.

Preparation and Dosage are as follows:

Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 1-2 teaspoonfuls of the dried leaves and let infuse for 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day. Tincture: take 1-2 ml of the tincture three times a day.

Michael Moore, in the same (above) reference, also has this to say:

Pennyroyal has been a much maligned herb in recent years, partially because the essential oil has been used as a potential abortifacient (highly dangerous, with several deaths reported in the literature), partially because of the poor quality of the commercial herb. The tea or tincture has two basic uses. It is a safe and effective diaphoretic to induce sweating with fevers and sick headaches with nausea and red eyes. Further, in suppressed menses from sickness, infection, stress, or exhaustion, either in the current month or the previous month, the tea, taken on the first, second, or third day of normal menses, will stimulatie uterine secretions and, in effect, stimulate uterine sweating. In my opinion, it is not an abortifacient. P. 130.

As to the last sentence, I agree. I once, in my youth, tried to abort with a strong dosage of pennyroyal. I neither aborted, nor passed into death.

Women...make sure that we keep access to these uterine herbs!

In Viriditas,

Date: Sat, 12 Nov 1994 14:14:01 -0800
Sender: Medicinal and Aromatic Plants discussion list <HERB.TREARN.BITNET>
Subject: Re: pennyroyal

On 11/12/94, food-for-thought wrote:
> i know of six ladies who have destroyed their livers and died from using pennyroayal as an abortifacient.
> ya don't know it's goina kill ya till three days later and then its too late.
> its too late the second after ya swallow.

This is a perfect example of an inability to make a distinction between therapeutic uses of herbs and herbs used as a quick fix under crisis. What type of preparation did these women take? How much? Did they take the oil internally?

Also keep in mind that rubbing pennyroyal oil on the skin is not the same as taking the oil internally. Yes, the skin is rather absorptive (less so as one ages), but the process of metabolization and elimination are very different. For example, it has been shown that the consumption of rancid oils has a negative (oxidizing) effect on the body. But, when rancid oils are rubbed onto the skin, with the exception of allergic reactions, such negative effects do not occur. This is a simple example of how the body deals differently with different applications.

Drugs that are absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream go first to the liver via the portal vein. From here, they may go either to the systemic circulation (bloodstream) or into the bile duct and on to the intestine where they may be reabsorbed and returned to the liver. Drugs absorbed through the oral mucosa go directly to the bloodstream, as do drugs absorbed through the rectal mucosa.

The extent of drug action depends on the ability of the organism to exert metabolic alterations on drugs, often termed biotransformation. Biotransformation of most substances occurs in the liver and in the majority of cases results in pharmacologically inactive metabolites (detox). Toxicity may occur for a number of reasons, one being the inability of the liver to render lipid-soluble substances water soluble, and thus more readily excretable (i.e. pennyroyal oil vs. infusion).

There is also much variation among people in their reactions to particular substances. Factors include, for example: body weight, age, gender, temperament, race, environment, diurnal cycles, disease, temperature, pregnancy, menstruation, hypersensitivity of the person to this or other substances. Even different healthy people may show large variation in their ability to absorb and metabolize drugs. Enormous differences in drug effectiveness and drug toxicity may be seen in different individuals.

Oral ingestion of almost any essential oil could lead to soft tissue irritation and adverse effects on various organs of the body. People that advocate the oral administration of essential oils (not myself) suggest that the oils should be diluted with water.

In small children, because their skin is so absorptive, herbs can be readily absorbed through bathing (adults, too, but not nearly as readily). As adults, external applications are most effective for topical complaints or sites close to the skin. This suggests that the sites of absorption, metabolism, and elimination are different in topical vs. oral applications, does it not?

In actuality, Mentha pulegium is classified as an "effective" emmenagogue in a structure that includes mild, effective, and strong. Mild emmenagogues, to name only a few, include Calendula officinalis (Calendula), Mentha piperita (Peppermint), Rosemarinus officinalis (Rosemary), Salvia officinalis (Sage), Valeriana officinalis (Valerian). Strong emmenagogues include Hydrastis canadensis(Goldenseal), Ruta graveolens (Rue-careful with this one), Artemisia absinthium (Wormwood), and others.

The stress of the modern world does not always allow for nature to flow smoothly throughout our bodies. Pennyroyal relaxes spasmodic pain and eases anxiety, in addition to its effects on the uterus. Some women, for a number of reasons, painfully retain their menses and gentle stimulation with herbs is not "un-natural."

Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) is a valuable uterine herb when taken at therapeutic dosages--again-- 1-2 ml of tincture three times a day or an infusion of 1-2 teaspoonfuls of the dried leaves three times a day.

Date: Sat, 12 Nov 1994 22:02:30 MST
Sender: Medicinal and Aromatic Plants discussion list <HERB.TREARN.BITNET>
From: Michael Moore <hrbmoore.RT66.COM>
Subject: Re: pennyroyal

Jaye Baker wrote:
>My question is, why would someone have to "bring on" their menses? Reminds me a little of physicians "bringing on" labour and delivery by induction. I guess I firmly believe in allowing nature to do the job. I am interested in the reasoning behind the use of pennyroyal for this particular purpose.

Lots of reasons. Ovarian estrogen, secreted by several and finally one follicle, stimulates the rapid growth of one type of uterine lining tissue. When the remaining follicle is large enough and estrogen levels (stimulated largely by the pituitary) in the blood are high enough, the ovary and pituitary undergo a positive feedback (much like stepping too close to the amp when the guitar is plugged in)...usually between days 12-13 or 14 in a 28 day cycle. When the dust settles, the follicle has ruptured, the contained egg is released to try and find its way down the fallopian tube, and the follicular shell is transformed (also helped by the pituitary) into the corpus luteum...usually day 14 or 15. This temporary, age-dated gland begins the secretion of progesterone.

The new steroid hormone stimulates the ORGANIZATION of the estrogen-thickened uterine lining, expanding out the blood supply with specialized arterioles, and building secretory glands throughout the endometrium (lining). These glands (fed by the improved blood supply) secrete the heparin (anticoagulant), lysozymes (antimicrobial enzymes) and mucus that, without subsequent pregnancy, anable the thickened lining to liquify and be excreted as menses. The corpus luteum starts to disintegrate by day 25-26. At ovulation, a number (dozens) of protofollicles attempt to mature (only one will survive to act as next month's follicle). They secrete estrogen en mass (small amount initially), but this is suppressed by progesterone. When the corpus luteum disintegrates and blood progesterone drops there is a short window within which circulating estrogen from the competing follicles rises (usually the cause of some PMS symptoms), followed shortly by the cessation of pituitary stimulus...and menses starts.

Why use an emmenagogue? Most of the widely-used menstrual stimulants are actually diaphoretics that stimulate secretions from both skin and mucosa...Pennyroyal, Wild Ginger, Chamomile, etc., and are merely helping as synergists to increase uterine secretions in menses when they may be deficient, scant or clotty.

Others are stimulants to membrane blood supply, and may help increase the function of the secretory glands by supplying more "raw material", while others may help PMS symptoms that are induced by elevated prolactin, dopamine and prostaglandins or increased water retention and elevated cerebral-spinal flui pressure.

All these conditions are closely related to the main cause of slow-onset, crampy periods (as well as lengthy periods that are extended by membrane bleeding)... a premature drop in progesterone and the premature rise in premenstrual estrogens...not all follicles are created equal. The brain controls the pituitary with rhythmical pulse of GTRH...frequent pulses relate to estrogen, slow pulses relate to progesterone. Stress, both emotional and metabolic, can speed up the pulses...and, in a bad month, contribute to this condition.

Remember, estrogen stimulates tissue growth (Proliferative Phase), progesterone stimulate the organization and stability of the same tissues (Secretory Phase): estrogen stimulates the formation of progesterone binding sites in some tissues, progesterone does the same for estrogen. Too many days during the month in an estrogen dominance and you have a thick, less organized uterine lining. To many days in a shorter, progesterone dominated cycle (what I refer to as reproductive excess) and you have thinner membranes, organized to the teeth, resulting in a two day period.

If a stubborn, slow-onset period is something a women has once and awhile, it makes absolute sense to help the onset along with a safe emmenagogue. If it happens every month then she has deeper causes she needs to be deal with.

It seems to me ( as a male trying very hard to understand without presumption) that these types of cycles are very common at both edges of a woman's "reproductive years"...adolescence and menopause. (As Above, So Below)

My companion, a Macha Yang-Woman, is just finding that, at 43, a very stressful month can extend her cycle from a life-long 26 days to 32 or 33 days. For the first time ever she has resorted to some menstrual stimulants.

One of the things that always pisses me off is the practice of ethnobotanists (usually male) to gather cultural information ( unless the culture has well-defined female and male societies, in which he aint going to get shit from the women), relabel the uses into general medical/pharmaceutical catagories (fine so far) and, when finding a plant is used as an emmenagogue, immediately throws it into the catagory "abortifacient". This is grossly misleading, creates generations of books that parrot the same damn misrepresentation (you would be surprised at how many times this still happens). Didn't these guys learn ANYTHING from the women they lived with?

By the way (I never miss the chance to throw this in), Wild Yam has NOTHING TO DO with progesterone. It is a reliable prostaglandin inhibitor, and can be expected to help premenstrual cramps, especially when progesterone (prostaglandin inhibiting) dips early, and the uterus becomes more irritable.

That's all, folks. Once upon a time (the 1950s) the first manufacturers of steroid drugs needed a cheap source of plant saponins. A Dr. Marker had developed a chemical sequence that could take saponins (plant soaps) and, after running them through some bacteria, end up with natural progestorone 7 steps later. They tried Yucca, Agave, Sarsaparilla...even potatoes. They ended up using several species of Mexican Yams for the, easy to grow, and could be cultivated right there in Mexico where the company was. The Marker Degradation Method bears as much resemblence to the human synthesis (from low density cholesterols in blood) as synthetic vanillin does to the Vanilla Orchid.

Besides, this process is rarely used anymore, and the common precursors are stigmasterol and sitosterol...lipids found universally in plants, but cheapest to obtain from the world's soybean market. ALL of the topical creams on the market that are use for progesterone enhancement contain REAL progesterone, along with Wild Yam (not even Mexican Yam)...look at the label. You can get drunk on fruit juice...if you add enough brandy.

Saturday, Food-For-Thought wrote:
> i know of six ladies who have destroyed their livers and died from using pennyroayal as an abortifacient.

I only know of two women who died (Center for Diesase control reports)...which is two to many, of course. It is important to understand that an herb is COMPLETELY different from the essential oil that may be extracted from it. Most essential oils (particularly volatile oils) are derived from destructive distillation (and other types of distillation and solvent extraction). Vast quantities of the herb are subjected to superheated water vapor, the vapor is cooled (usually in coils), and the essential oil is dripped off from the place along the coils where the temperature is cooled enough for the oil to form a liquid...further in, water is piped off, since it will precipitate at a higher temperature than the aromatics.

The aromatics, many and complex, that are PART of the plant's constituents, are reduced to the major several volatile compounds, larger ones broken down by heat, more etheric ones not solidifying at the same temperature as the precipitant is drawn...and you have CREATED a distinct, lovely artifact that may be emmensely useful (like pectin from apples) may, in fact, represent the primary effects of the plant, like Eucalyptus, but usually having only vague similarities. Lemon Grass is, besides delicious, a source of substantial amounts of Vitamin least for a tea. The oil is not. Garlic has many therapeutic virtues...distilled Garlic Oil will only repel vampires. Cinnamon Bark as a tea is a remarkably effective hemostatic and astringent for slow, ulcerative bleeding from mucus membranes...Cinnamon Oil can eat holes in formica countertops. Etc.

Good, recent, aromatic Pennyroyal Tea, made from either Mentha pulegeum or Hedeoma pulegioides, H. oblongafolia and others (American Pennyroyal) will induce sweating, increased secretions from the bronchial membranes...and help "loosen" up late and dry menses...a uterine sweater, if you will. If you drink enough in a short period of time it begins to cause some lightheadedness, then overt dizziness, finally a wierd, lethargic takes a lot, the herb must be recent and pungent...but it has no adverse effect on the liver...the aromatics in the tea are, like most aromatic teas, absorbed primarily in the upper intestinal tract and largely into general circulation...which is where it needs to be if it is going to make you sweat or secrete.

The essential oil, on the other hand, is PURE oil, represents the sum total of those aromatics that fit the fixed temperature window for precipitation, and are taken from hundred or thousands of times as much fresh plant. It is mostly absorbed into the liver from the portal blood that drains the intestinal tract membranes, and usually in a short period of time. The liver is spared most dietary fats, since they are taken into the lymph system and released into general circulation very slowly...not so with aromatics, which quickly end up in the portal blood...and damage the liver.

A few essential oils are completely or mostly safe, usually in small amounts (3-10 drops), and held in some type of binder so they wont irritate the stomach, or wont be absorbed too quickly and never reach the target tissues (like Peppermint Oil for Irritable Bowel Syndome). You can count on one hand the essential oils that are safe in this fashion. The rest will damage the liver, mesenteric arteries, pancreas...even ulcerate the intestinal lining...not the sort of thing I would want to do. In fact, what, besides being pregnant, in conflict and turmoil...even desperate, would induce ANYONE to drink ANY essential oil in quantities of one-half to one ounce? Perhaps a society with that shouts mixed messages...fuck a lot (see? everyone else is doing it. To young? don't worry...look at all the near-nakid little desired chickie-things in the music video)...stay a virgin, and if you don't, feel shamed and burn in hell. Neither extreme seems to fit most folks very will, so no wonder a few women or girls will do ANYTHING. And besides, some folks, irregardless of race, creed or gender, are DUMB.

As far as Pennyroyal oil topically, it seems least in moderation. The skin can still absorb enough aromatics to cause problems. I have personally observed two people that used Wintergreen Oil and White Flower Oil in such excess that it almost shut down colon peristalsis...untill they stopped.

Don't mind me...I haven't taught in almost a week...I am sitting around, waiting to see the Carbajal fight and having teacher-withdrawal.



I think the thing that is driving me crazy most about this pennyroyal discussion is that when a woman is unable to have her period naturally each month, I would suspect that there is something wrong - not just with her reproductive system - but with the balance of her whole system. By using pennyroyal each month, you are destroying the very warning sign of a possible larger problem - a highly stressful life, bulemia, anorexia or other serious problems. And several of you are suggesting that she now take a potentially poisonous substance every month to have her period...that will make things even worse!


>I think the thing that is driving me crazy most about this pennyroyal discussion is

Please, in all due respect, many herbs that are taken at therapeutic dosages are "potentially poisonous" at much higher dosages. Some of the pennyroyal discussion revolved around the question of absorption and bio-availability, something that is so often ignored by people who use herbs medicinally. Is the herb actually getting to where one wants it to go? Is one taking enough? I am studying therapeutic herbalism with someone who I consider quite masterful. He, being from Britain where herbalists are licensed and have been legally practicing clinically for centuries, has mentioned that he is shocked at how frequently Americans take dosages that are so far below the therapeutic amounts as to render them very low in effectiveness. (I am not talking about homeopathy here, OK?)

There are perfectly safe ways to take pennyroyal and they have been discussed. While I totally agree with you about the need to consider the whole person and underlying causes, I acknowledge that we live in a stressful world. Much of this stress is difficult to assimilate and I both respect and question those of us who can live this modern life without some kind of cognitive dissonance. Pennyroyal gives relief to many women who have painful retention of menses for whatever reason. The transitions that women experience (i.e. menopause) are often difficult and painful, too often because of the ways that we, as a society view older women (i.e. calling menopause ovarian failure). I have personally taken pennyroyal a few times in my life. It has helped me greatly, for I am not a perfectly balanced, perfectly in control person all the time. The health of the environment affects me. Republicans taking over the congress affects me. If pennyroyal gives gentle relief (which, at therapeutic dosages it does) to any woman having difficulty, how dare we frighten her and potentially take away the herb that helps her heal? Herbs can be, and in many cases are, gentle medicine. Often, their effect is not direct, but systematically supportive, allowing the body to do what it needs to do to attain flexibility and balance.

That flexibility and balance are much more threatened by our world's insistence on using petroleum based energy sources and pesticide based food production than a woman rubbing pennyroyal on her abdomen once a month.

In peace-


Peggy -
I understand your viewpoint, although I am a stronger proponent of homeopathy than other approaches to herbal treatments because of its exactness, but I happen to know the woman who wrote into the bulletin board. She is not even near the age of menopause and she has struggled with this problem for over 3 years. I would not state that pennyroyal is "curing" her problem if she has been applying the treatment for three years, month after month. I would also state that jumpstarting your system each month is a poor way of "balancing" and creates more stress on a body than is necessary. Once again, homeopathy would be a better approach to this problem because it looks at the overall picture of a clearly chronic condition, not just one small part.