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Pennyroyal Tea

by

Nirvana



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This song is about making a tough decision, the difficult choices around it, and the guilt following it.
Pennyroyal Tea can induce an abortion when drunk in large quantities. Due to its toxicity, however, drinking a lot of it is very dangerous.
Nirvana played this on their MTV Unplugged special, which was recorded shortly before Kurt Cobain killed himself. The album was released about 6 months after his death, and went to #1 in both the UK and US. (thanks, William - Indiana, IN, for all above)
This was the only song during the MTV Unplugged performance that Kurt Cobain played solo, a decision which might have been made at the last minute given the dialogue by Cobain right before he starts playing. (thanks, Adrian - Brookings, SD)
The reference to laxatives and cherry-flavored antacids implies the song is about heroin addiction. Many junkies have laxatives around to combat the chronic constipation that opiates bring. (thanks, Mark - Gainesville, GA)
A remix of this was scheduled for release as a single, but it was pulled when Cobain died. The few copies that leaked out are now rare collector's items.
The lyrics could be Kurt thinking he's a lazy, weak figurehead who is depressed and sad and wants a new life. Some lyric analysis:
"I'm on my time with everyone" - He was usually late for interviews.
"I have very bad posture" - Childhood Scoliosis made him appear hunched over.
"Sit and drink pennyroyal tea" - This could be a drug he took to calm his stomach pains, but it is also a play on words with penny royalty, meaning a cheap figure head.
"Distill the life that's inside of me" - He wants to cleanse his life and start fresh. (thanks, lucy - ottawa, Canada)
The line, "I'm on warm milk and laxatives." could be about Cobain's dependence on DXM, scientifically known as dextromethorphan, which is available in most drug stores. As a result of consuming so much DXM (in the form of Robotussin), he developed stomach pains. One of the long term affects from this is the deterioration of the kidney and liver. The pain that you get from this physically addicting drug is unimaginable. It drove him to do heroine, which didn't last long so he used other remedies to cure his stomach pain. (thanks, Chris - Libertyville, IL)
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Comments (69):

okay the part about the tea is not because he had stomach pains as he said himself it was something he threw in there because he has a lot of friends who have tried to use it as an herbal abortive and it never worked. a quote from Kurt himself. I think the anemic royalty is his self image issues. He thought he was too skinny which is why he wore a lot of layers. The song itself according to Cobain is about a depressed person who is basically on his death bed because of it.
- Adrianna, harrisburg, PA
Jew from Gayville KY is awesome!!
- Erin, Santa Cruz, CA
The Live and Loud version is a drum tour de force, IMO, for Grohl. This song is also, IMO, the most obvious example of Kurt's mastery of lyrical duality.
- mark, worcester, MI
this song has many metaphors, just like any good song, but "i'm anemic royalty" could mean that drinking and doing drugs could thin the blood, leaving one anemic.
- Joel2point0, Nashville, TN
During Unplugged's rehearsals, Pat suggested a change in chords (which made it better actually) and he was to sing second voice (which was also a screwup). Luckily, Kurt did it alone during the live performance!
- Darkdread, magallanes, Chile
I feel this song is about more than one thing, rather than something specific, like most of Kurt's lyrics are. The main part, pennyroyal tea, is a metaphor. It IS literally a substance that could be used for abortion. But I think he is focusing the abortion more on himself, rather than through the eyes of an unborn fetus. Especially since high doses can cause death. It definitely has a lot to do with his heroin use. And about depression. Also, all of his lyrics are based upon his own life experience, so the bad posture part...well all of the song can be directly related to Kurt. Leonard Cohen is a poet/musician who wrote very deep and thoughtful lyrics, that also consisted on topics of isolation, and some other pretty depressing stuff. He wrote "Hallelujah"! Possibly, "Pennyroyal Tea" was written because Kurt didn't want to pass his seed into another life to fall in his steps. Or...it's about abortion...
- DUSTIN, WEST MONROE, LA
Laura, from weymouth, MA sorry but you must not know anything about kurt, he was a avid supporter of the pro-choice movement. The fact that you think this song was written from the perspective of the fetus being killed proves you are a retard and should not be posting comments on songs you know nothing about. he believed that the fetus came alive when it began to breath, just like it says in the bible. "then God breathed the breath of life into man"
- jew, gayville, KY
Well, you know from the song 'Drain You,' and the album title, 'In Utero' that Kurt always had a fascination with the unborn. I know pennyroyal is a way to induce abortions. I always thought he was singing from the point of view of the unborn fetus to the pregnant mother who is trying to kill him, not just with pennyroyal, but laxatives and whatever Leonard Cohen 'Afterworlds' are also. From this perspective, the rest of the lyrics don't make much sense, but the sound and the mood of the song fits.
- Laura, weymouth, MA
I have always had a connection to this song.

Cobain had recurring themes in his songs (poetry) -- self esteem, escapism, dealing with success, intense relationships, vicious circles, to name a few.

Pennyroyal Tea is a purgative which when taken to excess can cause an abortion. He probably wrote this in response to a girlfriend getting pregnant (maybe Courtney Love) and either getting or considering an abortion. He probably also considered suicide many times, a "self abortion". This kind of circular reference was typical to his songs. Just as he could juxtapose himself with other people he was both on the giving and receiving end of his emotions.

Pennyroyal Tea also cleanses and purifies, another theme, I think he often wished he could be purified, either by kicking his drug habits, or by dying, the ultimate purification.

He had chronic pain and drug conditions and probably knew at some level that they all fed into each other causing a self-reinforcing cycle -- he took drugs which caused stomach problems which caused him to take drugs that caused him pain that caused him to take drugs... and his lyrics are often circular as a result.

He had low self esteem and often countered any positive images with self-detrimental comments, "anemic royalty" perhaps relating the fact that while he was royalty in terms of being a rock and roll star, he was anemic, as in weak and insecure.

The song is very autobiographical and metaphorical. RIP Cobain, I'm still kind of pissed that you snuffed yourself just as you were getting really good.
- Randy, McLean, VA
there is no difference in the "In Utero" and "Nirvana" versions. I think this song is greatly depressing but great it is about killing yourself and knowing it ugly but beautiful.
- Chris, Ontario, Canada
It's "Still the life that's inside of me". Not "Steal". Not "Distill". Pennyroyal Tea is an abortifacient. The image of a foetus appears throughout the album's imagery and packaging e.g. in the original artwork back cover (a collage he made himself) and in Anton Corbijn's directors-cut video for "Heart Shaped Box".

And this commercial:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVekHQ3WI-8
- Noneofyerbusiness, Seattle, WA
Kurt had severe stomach ulcers, and it's well known that he turned to heroin when no other pain relievers worked for him. (A friend of mine has the same medical condition, though I can't remember what it's called, and all through college, his doctor was prescribing vicodin, which he would generally take 2 a day just to cope with the pain).

Thus the line, "I'm on warm milk and laxitives, cherry-flavored antacids" -- warm milk and antacids are common home remedies to relieving ulcer pain. The "laxitives" are referenced because, when someone is trying to give up heroin (which Kurt was, as evidenced by the fact that he checked himself into rehab shortly before his death), they get very constipated.
- Ryan, Eaton, IN
"Distill the life that's inside of me" - He wants to cleanse his life and start fresh. (thanks, lucy - ottawa, Canada)

Pennyroyal Tea can induce an abortion... why dosnt that make sense to 'Lucy'?
- george, no city, Australia
i think the word "tired" here implies Kurt's boredom of his trouble. so he can't sleep soundly...
- defri, samarinda, Indonesia
Anemia is low iron levels. Anemics shouldn't drink tea because it dissolves these levels. Low iron makes you tired."I'm so tired i cant sleep."
You can also have black or bloody stools depending on how severe it is and medications can cause severe constipation. This song is about Anemia.
- Patrick, Toronto, Canada
This song always reminded me about anorexia.
Anemic, laxitives, drinking lots of tea, bad posture.
- Nadia, New York, NY
"Distil the life inside of me"- Could this be about Kurt's stomach condition? He said the pain was so bad he wanted to kill himself. Distil means to water down, the pain got so bad he didn't want to feel human or real any more, painkillers, heroin, opium.
:( poor kurt...
- Aleah, New Kensington, SC
this song is brilliant for me it sums up feelings of boredom depression loneliness and the need for absolution
- joe, perth, Australia
hey, just listen to me if you want to know why Kurt had stomach problems. once again, go make a stop by wal-mart and buy the dvd from Classic Albums Nirvana: Nevermind. that will answer your questions about how he had stomach problems. it had nothing to do with his nerves or DXM. and to Chris from Libertyville, you need to do a bit more (no scratch that) a whole lot more looking into Nirvana before just blurtin' out crap before you think.
- pyro017, BFE, TN
jeez...don't get all scientific over such an incredible beautiful song--with an equally beautiful solo
- Echo, Normalville, MA
I'm pretty sure i read that his stomach thing was diagnosed officially after his death as a nerve problem. With all the money he had and all the doctors he saw, you'd think they would have known if it was something to do with dxm. so i highly doubt that was the cause for it. everyone acts as if he was on the road and addicted to heroin for such a long time, in reality the band was only big for like 3 years(while he was alive that is) and he claimed he never started using heroin before. its peanuts compared to Kurts battle with bipolar, witch is what basically killed him(directly or indirectly depending on your opinion).
- Rory, Winnipeg, Canada
to all you who think kurt had stoach problems from DXM (which you say is from robutussium), you are way off base dude. he had stomach problems for the simple fact that he did't sing from his diaphram he sung from his stomach. so do yourself a favor and go buy yourself their documentary from classic albums. it tells you about how and why he "kills" his voice if i'm not mistaken. the dvd can be found at just about any wal-mart. it has the nevermind album cover on it.
- Jeffrey, Mcewen, TN
somebody said he sang leonard nimoy afterworld????? was it not leonard choen afterworld, in his song bird on a wire, he sang ...
'like a baby still born like a beast with its horn i have torn everyone who reached out for me' i.e, a child miscarriaged or abortion....
- ray, co.wicklow, Ireland
Whats with this crap about DXM addiction on Nirvana song pages? I call into serious question what Chris from Libertyville says.
- Arm, Somewher, United States
Well, pennyroyal is a plant that when digested can act as a natural abortion. When i heard this i looked into the dates of the first recordings of this song....and they were when Courtney Love was pregnant. Which explains alot of the lyrics. For instance, the bad posture referance is to a pregnant womans posture. And, the anemic royalty lyric pretty much reflects pregnant woman who are many times anemic. Im guessing the my time with everyone may have to do with being "late".
Not to mention the lyrics that say Sit and drink pennyroyal tea(Natural abortion drug).Distill (or seporate)the life thats inside of me. WEll im sure i could write more but not now.
- Alex, sebastian, FL
I think the song is an attack on abortion in some ways. The "anemic royalty" line seems to mean that Cobain thinks women who try to abort pregnancies through poison feel that they can do whatever they want, like royalty. The line "I'm on my time with everyone" also supports the perceived superiority of the person Cobain speaks about. Also, anemia is a side effect of high doses of pennyroyal tea, which explains why he calls them "anemic royalty." To me, "Pennyoryal Tea" is about a woman who doesn't care about anything but herself, and will do anything to make sure her selfish needs are fulfilled.
- Robert, San Jose, CA
A remixed version of Pennyroyal Tea was supposed to be the third single from the album In Utero. However it was taken off the shelves early because Kurt Cobain had just died. Exactly why the record company did this is unkown, one theory is because the b-side was 'I Hate Myself and Want to Die'.
Anyway only a few hundred copies were sold before they were taken away an melted down. Real copies sell for about £500.00 + each now.
- Mike, Worcecester, England
Scoliosis is not caused by bad posture. Bad posture is a result of scoliosis. Scoliosis is a genetic disorder. If it were caused by bad posture, we'd all be screwed, but this is a great song, nonetheless.
- Max, Austin, TX
I think all comments except Harry from London's should be deleted.
- tom, wapakoneta, OH
The stomach pains came from his addiction to a drug called DXM. he always had a bottle of robbotussin which contained the drug. and the drug comes along with SERIOUS agonizing pain in the stomach because it deteriorates the kidneys and liver. He tried to soothe the pains with heroine. when that stopped working he used other methods, "I'm on warm milk and laxitives. Cherry flavored ant-acids"
- Chris, Libertyville, IL
Okay, to all of you morons who say there is no difference in the "In Utero" and "Nirvana" versions, I would reccomend that you actually listen to the songs. There are quite a few not-so-subtle differences, and anyone with half of an ear can hear them.
- Chris, Boynton Beach, FL
During the European In Utero tour, Kurt sang, "Give me a Leonard Nimoy afterworld"
-Steve, Jacksonville, FL
- Steve, Jacksonville, FL
Large amounts of penny royal is fatal. You die from haemophillia, the same way as rat poison. When he talks about "anemic royality", he is referring to anemic problem caused by the hemmoragic blood pressure decrease. "Blood loss can also cause anemia - whether it's because of excessive bleeding due to injury, surgery, or a problem with the blood's clotting mechanism" (due the effect of penny royal tea)(Webster's New World Medical Dictionary). Eventually, a person actually dies of hypovelmic hypoperfusion. So "distill the life inside of me" is referring to killing himself. Weak penny royal tea was used pre 1900's as a method for abortion. The rest of the song is easy to figure out those facts have been established.
- harry, New York , NY
the version in in utero kurt didnt like..he wanted the version which is on "nirvana". the remix by scott litt was the version kurt wanted on the album..i agree its alot better
- Ant, Cardiff, Wales
I think the Pennyroyal Tea/penny royalty seem s like a very Kurt Cobain play on words. The song, to me a least, seems to refer to his place as a king to all his followers the drinking tea imagry seems to fit "distill the life thats inside of me" could refer to his puring out his soul into his music and it being processed and sold to the masses so that it cheapens his being, its just speculation but if you read the lyrics with this perception you could probably come to the same conclusion
- Jeff, Edmonton, AL
I think this song is about Kurt Cobain telling people that he's not cool or great or someone different and special...he's just like everyone. he says that he does things like a normal person...being on "cherry flavored antacids and warm milk and laxatives"...and how he's on a herbal medication called pennyroyal tea.
- Savio, Toronto, Canada
The version on the greatest hits is a little different. In the In Utero version, you can hear Kurt clearing his throat right before strumming the opening chords. That is not heard on the greatest hits. Also, if you listen, the greatest hits seems to be a little bit more overdubbed to hide the really raw effects used on some songs on In Utero.
- Matt, Millbrae, CA
Pennyroyal is a drug used to induce abortions in pregnant women. Cobain said that he knew girls who had thought that they were pregnant and drank pennyroyal tea to abort the baby, and that this was the inspiration for the song. ("Distill the life that's inside of me")
- Jeanette, New Milford, CT
Thanks, Hayden!! Sometimes I hate it that Engelish isn't my native language... On the other hand: I'm quite flexible with Dutch;-). It's just that I think I miss certain things, ambiguity's, sometimes in lyrics, and my bad luck is that I prefer English and American bands to Dutch. So I'm very greatfull for your explanation.
- Tanya, Rotterdam, Netherlands
umm I belive the part about being "anemic royalty" is an attack on kurt's family. The most likley insult from this phrase has to do with inbreeding. Alot of royals inbreed. One result of inbreeding is anemia another is scoliosis. It's a play on words anemic royalty, refferring to his anemia due to his family's inbreeding.
- Hayden, Hollywood, CA
I can't figure out what is meant by "anemic royalty". Can anyone explain please? Thanks.
- Tanya, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Ok, Kurt was amazing, but his lyrics were really hard to understand unless you looked very deep into them
P.S This song is amazing
- Gabriel Maclean, Toronto, Canada
Quintessential Nirvana. Enough said.
- Matt, Millbrae, CA
um, well, i say! you surely seem to know alot about kurt. I have never met him, so of course, i do not quote those who do, i just am waiting for justice.I hope he is in a heaven, and will let me in as well.Jesus does not compare.
- Clementine, Tucson, AZ
hello,yes kurt is sad but he makes me happy,and I do not care for rumours or guesses,but Nirvana and justice.Suicide,murder,we will never know truly.see you later, and that is that i suppose.
- Clementine, Tucson, AZ
This song refers to Kurt's problems with acid reflux (his well-documented stomach problem). Pennyroyal tea is a herbal remedy to releive stomach pains. This is one of the reasons that he took heroin to stop the pain caused by acid reflux. The lines refering to bad posture are especially important as acid reflux is made worse by slouching an "bad posture". On the Unplugged in NYC album you can clearly hear him clearing his throat and afterwards he mentioned how his stomach was especially bad and made his voice sound raspy and hoarse.
- Harry, london, England
the laxitives and antiacids helped w/ his stomach pians, which were proven to be caused by a pinched nerve. he did not take penyroyal tea to help ease the pain of this. his bad pousture was not that he was skinny this he expained and then said that the jocks wanted him around, if he was so small i want that explained. there was no remix!!! it is the same song. the comment of heroin being penyroyal tea is correct. and choen was a firm believer in buddshim.
- tourette, aberdeen, WA
the scoliosis pinched a nerve and thats what caused the stomach problem, and this song is what it is basically about how he had to take all this medication and s**t to kepp him from vomiting but it never worked, howeber one drug did work, but it was also his demise from that addiction from that drug
- Jimi, stamford, CT
there is no difference between the version on in utero and the greatest hits cd. they are exactly alike
- Billy Ross, Hagerstown, MD
Scoliosis does not cause stomache problems. His mom also had stomache problems without reason. Kurt's scoliosis was really bad due to his playing guitar.
- Edwin, Costa Mesa, CA
It is not known what causes osteoperosis, but it is linked to such things as magnesium deficiency, low estrogen levels (in women), and osteoperosis, among other things, and generally starts to appear during puberty. It is most certainly not caused by bad posture.
- sarah, Salem, MA
http://www.erowid.org/herbs/pennyroyal/pennyroyal.shtml

Try reading something before speaking guys and gals.
Just a suggestion.
- zak, nekoosa, WI
The reference of bad posture most likely comes from the fact that he had real bad scoliosis (sp?) which is caused by bad posture. The scoliosis also caused he stomach problem. The scoliosis caused him to have a pinched nerve in his stomach which caused the pain.
- Kyle, Niantic, CT
Errr, he had scoliosis (sp?) which is when your spine is all crooked and is caused by bad posture. That scoliosis caused his stomach problem not bad eating habits
- Kyle, Niantic, CT
Mike, the Cohen reference is Cobain referring to Cohen?s commitment to Buddhism in that last decade and his reputation as a dedicated and successful womanizer. If you don't understand, just think about it a bit.
- Brad, St. Charles, MO
What is the reference about Lenard Cohen about? I can't ffigure it out.

dont try to email me cause its not right so just post your response
- Mike, Boston, MA
Kurt Cobain had a stomach problem caused by stress and bad eating habits on the road (quoted)
and an irritated bowel, this is the reasoning for the mentioning of laxatives and antacids.
- jo, aberdeen, WV
The remix is featured on their greatest hits CD.
- Aidan, Boston, MA
Why does he cough at the begining of the song?
- Jacqui, Bedford, VA
Yea, no one ever mentions that Unplugged was the only nirvana album to get a grammy. sad huh?
- Kelly, houston, TX
Sometimes songs are written with meaning, sometimes it can be taken differently. Maybe Kurt wrote it with a hidden meaning that he wants the current life he lived to be cleaned out so that it could start again, because the world he lived in was not the one he wanted. When you sit and think about it he makes comments on clearing it out by different means, and the effect's of what not clearing it has done to him. "distill","antacids","laxatives".
- Jay, Toronto, Canada
I agree with the few true Nirvana fans..about this great track....actually all of the meanings from Abortion, and stomach problems are true...but what was not added was that this song is all bout Kurt's insecurities of being skinny...he was always made fun of--because of that..."i have really bad posture"...(hence)

Vick- n.y.
- Vick, Hicksville, NY
anemic royaly- the word "anemic" can also mean weak, instead of having to do with disease
- austin, Holly, MI
"I'm anemic royalty"
Queen Victoria was a carrier of hemophilia. Due to marriages between the nobles of various european countries, the royalty of Europe was plagued with the disease for many years. Probably the most well known royal hemophiliac was Alexei (brother of the famed Anastasia) who was the son of the last russian tsar. Tea is often associated with Europe (England in particular). Although I doubt the lyric has any deep meaning, it struck me as particularly clever.
- Peter, Crappy Place to Live, WI
The song is also said to have a hidden meaning (or two meanings). Kurt also used heroin to help him get through the times when his stomach pain was too much to handle, and could've nicknamed heroin as 'pennyroyal tea'.

kickass song, none the less.
- Travis, Dakota City, NE
In the book of his journal, it said next to the title herbal abortions don't work you hippie!
- Marri, St.Cloud, MN
the song was remixed for the best of Nirvana album, it sounds a lot better then the one on In Utero
- scott, Bismarck, ND
This song is written about his stomach problems. He drank the tea to calm his stomach and in the lyrics, he mentions the use of laxitives and "cherry flavored antacids."
- Erik, Davis, CA
The album also won a grammy i believe.. and a couple of VMAs
- Rachel, Dearborn Heights, MI
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