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Abortion is both a tricky and a touchy subject. In the midst of fervent pro-choice and pro-life debates today, we can lose sight of the fact that abortion actually has a long medical history. We're by no means the first society to debate the rights and necessities of a mother's control over her pregnancy; evidence suggests that many civilizations in history, from the Egyptians to the ancient Romans and Greeks, had these conversations too.
The crucial difference? Those who seek an abortion in modern America can, for the most part, have a safe and successful procedure.
Women throughout most of human history were not as lucky. There's no one way in which history has regarded abortion. Greek writers all men had long arguments amongst themselves about the proceduresuggesting that it wasn't uncommon — and scholars of the Qu'ran, which doesn't mention it, have been debating Islam's position for thousands of years. It's when we start to look at medical texts, however, that we start to get a real grip on how abortion treatment must have felt through the ages — and a vision of the terror, pain, and risk that many women endured.
Today, in countries that allow abortion, pregnant women have a choice of different options depending on the law and the duration of the pregnancy, from surgery to pills.
These options are painful and not without risk, but they also don't involve, for example, putting dung up your private parts. Through historical perspective we can see just how far we've come, how lucky we are, and how utterly necessary it is to continue the fight for reproductive rights. Note that these don't even scratch the surface of all the historical abortion methods around: the ancient Chinese used mercuryand lists of supposedly miscarriage-inducing plants used in the Middle Ages could stretch on for pages.
These are just the most spectacularly awful ones. The Kahun Papyrus is one of the earliest medical texts in history. An ancient Egyptian creation now in fragments, modern interpreters think it has a specific idea for an abortifacient, or abortion-inducing medicine: crocodile dung. Made into a pessary with dough and inserted into the vagina, it was meant to operate both as birth control and as an inducement for miscarriage.
Crocodile dung does have spermicidal propertiesbut it's likely it was more effective as a contraceptive than an abortifacient. This is one of the most famous abortifacients in history: a tea made with the herb pennyroyal, or mentha pulegium. Pennyroyal is actually a type of mint, but it's a very successful abortion drug — so deeply poisonous, in fact, that just five grams of it can be toxic. It's been known for such a long time that it's mentioned in a play by Aristophanesand was probably extremely effective.
But its intense toxicity, caused by a compound called pulegone, made it a very dangerous remedy indeed. Pliny the Elder wasn't very clued in about women's bodies.
He's the one who thought menstruating women killed bees. And he had some interesting advice for women seeking abortions. Crow's eggs were also meant to induce miscarriage if you stepped over one.
Not very effective. Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician, was largely against abortion, but a text supposedly by him recommended a technique that became popular throughout the ages: " jump up and down, touching her buttocks with her heels at each leap" until the embryo became "loose" and fell out.
This later became known as the Lacedaemonian Leap. Agitating the foetus through mild physical activity is not thought to cause abortion.Skip to the articleor search this site. Pennyroyal flowers grow in kusudama-like clusters that thread a single, delicate stem. A cousin to mint, pennyroyal smells good if a bit overwhelming and can help keep fleas and mosquitoes at bay.
Ingested as a tea or an oil, pennyroyal can hurry along an annoyingly late period. And in high enough doses, the story goes, pennyroyal can allow a pregnant woman to expel the contents of her uterus, inducing an abortion. Women have used pennyroyal, or other herbal abortifacients such as rue or tansy, to exert some control over their reproductive systems for centuries. There is evidence that women in ancient Greece prepared pennyroyal concoctions as a part of religious rituals, perhaps to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
In times and places where surgical abortions were unavailable, illegal, or taboo, these herbs provided an appealing alternative to other back-alley methods. After all, pennyroyal is just a flower—a spice, a perfume, a decorative bouquet, a cup of tea: how dangerous can it be? Pennyroyal may be prettier than a coathanger, but its side effects are no less brutal. Women who ingested pennyroyal oil in doses high enough to cause an abortion have experienced liver damage, kidney damage, massive multiple organ failure, excessive bleeding, and death.
Inphysician W. Wilcox wrote in to The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal to describe a patient who became comatose after taking just a spoonful of pennyroyal oil when her period was a few days late. The patient eventually recovered. An early twentieth-century court case concerned the death of a less fortunate woman who had taken pennyroyal pills to induce a miscarriage. But lest these cases of pennyroyal poisoning be treated as misery porn in period clothing, as history lessons that allow us in the modern world to pat ourselves on our post-Germ Theory backs, it is worth noting that women have died of pennyroyal poisoning as recently as the late s.
According to a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Report fromthree women facing pregnancy scares were hospitalized for hepatoxicity caused by pennyroyal.
The third woman, however, experienced nosebleeds, hemorrhages, and an enlarged liver. She died after six days in the hospital. During the autopsy, the doctors found 4, milliliters of fluid, or roughly fluid ounces, in her peritoneal cavity. As post-Civil War America federalized, citified, and industrialized, the small shipping towns on the Maine coast found themselves in an unstoppable decline.EDU Subject: Re: pennyroyal.
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?
I use pennyroyal oil, rather than dried or fresh. 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. 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 prepartationthe 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. Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto teaspoonfuls of the dried leaves and let infuse for minutes. This should be drunk three times a day. Tincture: take ml of the tincture three times a day.
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 literaturepartially 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.Pennyroyal Tea Guitar Lesson (Unplugged) - Nirvana
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. 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.
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 agesbut the process of metabolization and elimination are very different.This entry has been updated.
Please see the new information on Pennyroyal located here. Was Kurt Cobain the poet of our generation?
Nah, probably not. But what he did do was incite an entirely new generation to google or, you know whatever teenagers did back in to get information… I think it might have been AOL chatrooms this controversial and much maligned herb.
Pennyroyal has an interesting dual history. It actually is a name for two separate plants, from two different genera, that grew on two different continents. But, oddly enough, the name AND the folk remedies are the same for both. Generally, when one speaks of Pennyroyal it is the European variety that is being discussed, Mentha pulegium. European Pennyroyal was used for a variety of purposes and was known and still is!
But of course the most recognized and noted use of Pennyroyal is the one it is still most known for: abortion. And being mingled with honey and salt, it voids phlegm out of the lungs, and purges melancholy by the stool. Sure, you would also take a tea of Pennyroyal if you had a fever or the common cold. What is interesting to me, though, is that there is not even a warning that this remedy should not be used if the woman was pregnant and intended to stay that way. This leads me to think that they knowledge was still widely known and simply not written down due to law and morality.
In this medieval image, a midwife prepares a pennyroyal mixture for a pregnant woman. Over in the new world the American Pennyroyal Hedeoma pulegioides functioned in almost the exact same way. Still belonging to the mint family the crushed leaves functioned to keep fleas, ticks, and other annoying insects at bay.
Many different Native American tribes used the tea to sooth the common cold and aid an upset stomach. But, again, it was the abortive properties that this plant was known for.
It is important to note that using either of the Pennyroyals for any sort of medicinal purpose is a terribly bad idea. Disclaimer: I am really only speaking about European Pennyroyal here for certain, but everything else about American Pennyroyal is so similar to its European counterpart I am not adverse to telling you not to use either.
It contains a pretty powerful toxin — pulegone.To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology. What is it? How effective is it? How does it work? Are there safety concerns? Are there interactions with medications? Are there interactions with herbs and supplements? Are there interactions with foods? What dose is used? Other names Methodology References.
Pennyroyal is a plant. The leaves, and the oil they contain, are used to make medicine. Despite serious safety concerns, pennyroyal is used for the common cold, pneumonia, fatigue, ending a pregnancy abortionand as an insect repellant, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.
In manufacturing, pennyroyal oil is used as a dog and cat flea repellent, and as a fragrance for detergents, perfumes, and soaps.
Ending a pregnancy abortion. Canker sores. Common cold. Indigestion dyspepsia. Gas flatulence. Gallbladder disease. Insect repellant. Liver disease. Mosquito repellant. Stomach pain. Other conditions. More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of pennyroyal for these uses. There isn't enough information available to know how pennyroyal might work. It can cause serious liver and kidney damage, as well as nervous system damage. Other side effects include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, burning of the throat, fever, confusion, restlessness, seizures, dizziness, vision and hearing problems, high blood pressure, lung failure, and death.
There isn't enough reliable information to know if pennyroyal is safe to use as a tea. There is some evidence that pennyroyal oil can cause abortions by causing the uterus to contract. But the dose needed in order to cause an abortion could kill the mother or cause life-long kidney and liver damage.
Infants have developed serious liver and nervous system injuries, or even death, after taking pennyroyal. Kidney disease : The oil in pennyroyal can damage the kidney and make existing kidney disease worse. Liver disease : The oil in pennyroyal can cause liver damage and might make existing liver disease worse.Regular readers know of my healthy fear of Mother Nature, and with a background in chemistry leading to a career in itty-bitty-Pharma and now forensic toxicology, many mistakenly believe that I am anti-natural drugs and just a shill for Big Pharma.
That thought is pretty far from the truth, and I have yet to see any shill bucks. The earliest peoples were naturopaths and used what was around them, from both plant and animal sources, for medicinal purposes.
Some of our earliest commercial drugs, of great importance even today, are natural products, like morphine and digitoxinor semi-synthetic derivatives, like aspirin from salicin. So if someone says chewing willow tree bark works for them, who am I to disagree. Why not, I can see how smells could lift a persons mood and alleviate anxiety or reduce pain. Water is good for you, stay hydrated. Where people run into trouble is thinking that natural equals safe and in using products in ways other than intended.
The later is where pennyroyal, Mentha pulegiumfits in. Pennyroyal, a flowering plant native to Europe, is a member of the Lamiaceae family, which contains many aromatic herbs such as mint, basil, oregano, and thyme.
Like its cousins, pennyroyal can be used as a culinary herb and was common throughout the Middle Ages, but in a bit of foreshadowing its use has fallen out of favor in modern times.
Today, the most common preparation of pennyroyal is as its essential oil, extracted from fresh or dried herb by steam distillation.
There are a plethora of purported uses for pennyroyal oil, mostly in aromatheraphy by aerial diffusion or topically, most with little to no scientific or medical basis: as an antipsychotic, a digestive aid, a decongestant, for gout, and for hyperhidrosis excessive sweating to name a few. Does it work? Probably not, but seeing how horrible a drug colchicine can beI understand why those afflicted with gout might give pennyroyal a whirl.
Where pennyroyal has seen the most use, however, is an emmenagogue — to stimulate menstration — and as an abortifacient — to induce the abortion of a fetus. Women taking control of their reproductive systems, via pennyroyal, dates back at least to the early Greeks and was common well into the 20th century.
But like for other indications, there is no documentation that pennyroyal induces abortions. What is well known, however, is its toxicity. Phase I metabolism of pugelone via cytochrome P enzymes in the liver into oxidative metabolites are hepatotoxic, causing liver damage 2, a nice review.
A primary metabolite, menthofuran, is also toxic, and is further metabolized into hepatotoxic species. Compounding all of this is the formation of reactive metabolites that deplete hepatic glutathione concentrations.
In poisoning cases, the administration of acetylcysteine, a biological precursor of glutathione, is appropritate, much in the same way it is used to treat acetaminophen overdoses paracetamol, for my UK friends and remove the toxic N -acetyl- p -benzoquinone imine NAPQI metabolite.Pennyroyal Mentha pulegium essential oil comes from a species in the Lamiaceae Labiatae family.
What Is Pennyroyal Tea???
This is a mint family of plants that includes peppermint Mentha piperita and catnip Nepeta catariaamong many others. Pennyroyal is also known as pulegium, pudding grass, mosquito plant, squaw mint, and European pennyroyal.
It is a perennial herb native to Europe, as well as parts of Asia. An American species, Hedeoma pulegioidesis closely related and is also used to produce oil, as well as Micromeria fruticosa from Turkey. Mentha pulegium is derived from the Latin 'puleium regium,' which comes from its ability to destroy 'pulices,' or fleas.
In France, it was called 'Pouliot. The plant features creeping roots common to the Lamiaceae family. It has a smooth, round stalk and blooms with small purple flowers. The fragrant leaves are oval-shaped, greyish-green, and smell like spearmint when rubbed. The herb can be steam distilled fresh or slightly dried to produce the oil, which is clear to pale yellow. As you might expect, it will have a very fresh, herbaceous, and minty scent. Pennyroyal oil blends well with citronella Cymbopogon nardusgeranium Pelargonium graveolensrosemary Rosmarinus officinalisand sage Salvia officinalis.
Its healing qualities date back to the first century, in the time of Pedanius Dioscorides. In his five-volume work, De Materia Medica, you can find pennyroyal mentioned for a wide variety of ailments, particularly those of women. Likewise, the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder described many virtues of the herb during that time as well, such as its ability to purify water.
This particular mint was one of many such herbs that were referred to as 'pot herbs' for their wide deployment in culinary use. One of the pennyroyal's former names, pudding grass, was from a time when it was mixed with currants, spices, and flour.
This was then stuffed into a hog's entrails. It was an old-time stuffing, which at the time was deemed pudding. Pennyroyal is said to resemble spearmint Mentha spicata in taste. It has been used throughout history to flavor wine and food, as well as to make herbal teas.
As it also smells like spearmint, it has been used to scent colognes, perfumes, detergents, and soaps. Before there were tests to determine the toxicity of a substance, pennyroyal was considered to be one of the most important medicinal herbs.
A Cup of Pennyroyal Tea
In Culpepper's The Complete Herbal, he begins the section on the herb by saying, "Pennyroyal is so well known unto all, I mean the common kind, that it needs no description. Culpepper further notes that Matthiolus, a doctor in Siena that died incame up with his own uses for the well-rounded herb:. One of the dosing instructions was an infusion of the herb, one ounce to a pint of water steeped but not boiled, that could be used without reserve.