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.
Suggestion credit: 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.
Suggestion credit: 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.
Suggestion credit: 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.
Suggestion credit: 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.
Suggestion credit: Chris - Libertyville, IL
Cobain namechecks another famous songwriter prone to depression in the lines:
Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld So I can sigh eternally
Cohen wrote many introspective songs dealing with death and his place in the universe, something did as well.
John Doe from FrederickThis song is about abortion. That's all.
Socrateshirt from Los Angeles"Pennyroyal Tea" is perhaps one of the most widely misunderstood Nirvana songs of all time. First off, the song is a parody - yes, a parody. The most obvious clue we're given actually comes at the very end of the song when the speaker gives out a death scream and then follows with three or so groans as the music slows down. Our tortured hero is dying. Before you rush to judgement I suggest you listen to it again. If you keep an open mind you'll realize that the end sounds silly; almost slapstick even. Perhaps suggesting "Pennyroyal Tea" is a parody has offended you. Here's a songfact- Kurt Cobain was a smart-ass. Lets not forget that the title of "In Utero" was going to be "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die" (I believe that this was stated in Michael Azerrad's Come as You Are). This wasn't because Kurt Cobain really hated himself and wanted to die, it was because he wanted to make fun of his public image. The title got dropped and due to commercial reasons and "In Utero" took its place.
Pennyroyal Tea, like the original name of the album, pokes fun at the way Kurt Cobain was portrayed by the media. Other clues he gives us are joltingly campy lines like "I'm on warm milk and laxatives, cherry-flavored antacids" and "I have very bad posture." He even drops the bass and drums during the former line to make it even more blunt than it already was. And "I have very bad posture" sounds so blunt as to be funny. Was Cobain really lamenting his bad posture? Come'on folks. It's self-conscious over-the-top parodic self-loathing.
There is a lot of dark humor and sarcasm in Kurt Cobain's music and Pennyroyal Tea is no exception. Don't be fooled by the sad chords and the pretty melodies - he usually has something up his sleeve. That's what made him a great songwriter.
And if you are saying to yourself "He effing killed himself, Socrateshirt! He obviously hated himself!;" then I suggest you check out the film 'Soaked in Bleach.'
Adrianna from Harrisburg, Paokay 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.
Erin from Santa Cruz, CaJew from Gayville KY is awesome!!
Mark from Worcester, MiThe 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.
Joel2point0 from Nashville, Tnthis 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.
Darkdread from Magallanes, ChileDuring 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!
Dustin from West Monroe, LaI 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...
Jew from Gayville, KyLaura, 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"
Laura from Weymouth, MaWell, 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.
Randy from Mclean, VaI 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.
Chris from Ontario, Canadathere 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.
Noneofyerbusiness from Seattle, WaIt'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:
Ryan from Eaton, InKurt 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.
George from No City, Australia"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'?
Defri from Samarinda, Indonesiai think the word "tired" here implies Kurt's boredom of his trouble. so he can't sleep soundly...
Patrick from Toronto, CanadaAnemia 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.
Nadia from New York, NyThis song always reminded me about anorexia. Anemic, laxitives, drinking lots of tea, bad posture.
Aleah from New Kensington, Sc "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...
Joe from Perth, Australiathis song is brilliant for me it sums up feelings of boredom depression loneliness and the need for absolution
Pyro017 from Bfe, Tnhey, 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.
Echo from Normalville, Majeez...don't get all scientific over such an incredible beautiful song--with an equally beautiful solo
Rory from Winnipeg, CanadaI'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).
Jeffrey from Mcewen, Tnto 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.
Ray from Co.wicklow, Irelandsomebody 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....
Arm from Somewher, United StatesWhats with this crap about DXM addiction on Nirvana song pages? I call into serious question what Chris from Libertyville says.
Alex from Sebastian, FlWell, 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.
Robert from San Jose, CaI 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.
Mike from Worcecester, EnglandA 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.
Max from Austin, TxScoliosis 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.
Tom from Wapakoneta, OhI think all comments except Harry from London's should be deleted.
Chris from Libertyville, IlThe 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 from Boynton Beach, FlOkay, 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.
Steve from Jacksonville, FlDuring the European In Utero tour, Kurt sang, "Give me a Leonard Nimoy afterworld" -Steve, Jacksonville, FL
Harry from New York , NyLarge 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.
Ant from Cardiff, Walesthe 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
Jeff from Edmonton, AlI 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
Savio from Toronto, CanadaI 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.
Matt from Millbrae, CaThe 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.
Jeanette from New Milford, CtPennyroyal 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")
Tanya from Rotterdam, NetherlandsThanks, 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.
Hayden from Hollywood, Caumm 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.
Tanya from Rotterdam, NetherlandsI can't figure out what is meant by "anemic royalty". Can anyone explain please? Thanks.
Gabriel Maclean from Toronto, CanadaOk, Kurt was amazing, but his lyrics were really hard to understand unless you looked very deep into them P.S This song is amazing
Matt from Millbrae, CaQuintessential Nirvana. Enough said.
Clementine from Tucson, Azum, 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 from Tucson, Azhello,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.
Harry from London, EnglandThis 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.
Tourette from Aberdeen, Wathe 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.
Jimi from Stamford, Ctthe 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
Billy Ross from Hagerstown, Mdthere is no difference between the version on in utero and the greatest hits cd. they are exactly alike
Edwin from Costa Mesa, CaScoliosis does not cause stomache problems. His mom also had stomache problems without reason. Kurt's scoliosis was really bad due to his playing guitar.
Sarah from Salem, MaIt 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.
Zak from Nekoosa, Wihttp://www.erowid.org/herbs/pennyroyal/pennyroyal.shtml
Try reading something before speaking guys and gals. Just a suggestion.
Kyle from Niantic, CtThe 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 from Niantic, CtErrr, 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
Brad from St. Charles, MoMike, 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.
Mike from Boston, MaWhat 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
Jo from Aberdeen, WvKurt 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.
Aidan from Boston, MaThe remix is featured on their greatest hits CD.
Jacqui from Bedford, VaWhy does he cough at the begining of the song?
Kelly from Houston, TxYea, no one ever mentions that Unplugged was the only nirvana album to get a grammy. sad huh?
Jay from Toronto, CanadaSometimes 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".
Vick from Hicksville, NyI 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)
Austin from Holly, Mianemic royaly- the word "anemic" can also mean weak, instead of having to do with disease
Peter from Crappy Place To Live, Wi"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.
Travis from Dakota City, NeThe 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.
Marri from St.cloud, MnIn the book of his journal, it said next to the title herbal abortions don't work you hippie!
Scott from Bismarck, Ndthe song was remixed for the best of Nirvana album, it sounds a lot better then the one on In Utero
Erik from Davis, CaThis 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."
Rachel from Dearborn Heights, MiThe album also won a grammy i believe.. and a couple of VMAs