Margery’s Turret Talk

My apologies in advance for beginning this weeks blog with a grisly family story.

I was watching Call The Midwife recently. The episode was about an illegal abortion that went very wrong. I was reminded of a similar tale from my own family.

Way back in the 20s I had a Great Auntie Lizzie. She passed away from a knitting needle abortion. Over the years her story was masked by a more gentle one of how she passed. A gentle story of a young girl of 17 who washed her hair during many days of rain. She didn’t properly dry her hair, went out into the rain, caught pneumonia, and died days later. It was only as a teenager some 50 years later that I overheard a conversation between two of my other great aunties, her sisters of what really transpired.

This is the basis for this weeks’ blog.


Mentha pulegium, commonly (European) pennyroyal, is a species of flowering plant, or mint family, native to Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Crushed pennyroyal leaves emit a very strong fragrance similar to spearmint. Pennyroyal is a traditional folk remedy and culinary herb. But is toxic to the liver and has caused some deaths.

Documented use of pennyroyal dates back to the Medieval period. Its name – although of uncertain etymology – is associated with Latin pulex (flea), alluding to the manner it was used to drive away fleas when smeared on the body. Pennyroyal was commonly incorporated as a cooking herb by the Greeks & Romans. Although it was commonly used for cooking also in the Middle Ages, it gradually fell out of use as a culinary herb and is seldom used as such today.

Pennyroyal has historically also been used as a mint flavoring in herbal teas and foods. Pennyroyal tea has been used for cold relief, fevers, coughs, indigestion, liver and kidney problems and headaches. The fresh or dried leaves of pennyroyal have also been used when treating influenza, abdominal cramps, to induce sweating, as well as in the treatment of diseases such as smallpox and tuberculosis. To make the tea, the leaves of the plant are boiled in hot water. The lower concentration of toxic chemicals in these teas are less harmful than pennyroyal oil. It is recommended that people only drink pennyroyal tea periodically, as it is taxing on the body and should not be drunk on a regular basis. Consumption of pennyroyal tea can be fatal to infants and children.

The pennyroyal plant has also been used as an emmenagogue or perhaps most famously as an abortifacient. Chemicals in the pennyroyal plant cause the uterine lining to contract, causing a woman’s uterine lining to shed. Women who struggle with regulating their menstrual cycle or suffer from a cystic ovary syndrome may choose to drink pennyroyal tea. Pennyroyal tea is subtle enough to induce menstrual flow with minimal risk of negative health effects. More concentrated versions of the plant, such as the oil, are much more toxic and will likely force a miscarriage if ingested by a pregnant woman.

Respectfully submitted with continued service to the crown,

Margery Draper

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