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Mediterranean Journal of Chemistry 2013, 2(4), 607-619
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Phytochemical study and insecticidal activity of Mentha pulegium
L. oils from Morocco against Sitophilus Oryzae
Nadia Zekri 1, 3, Smail Amalich 1, Ahmed Boughdad 2, Mohamed Alaoui El Belghiti 3 and Touria Zair* 1
1Laboratory of Chemistry of Bioactive Molecules and Environment, University of Sciences
Moulay Ismail, BP 11201. Zitoune, Meknès, Morocco.
2Département of Plants Protection of Plants and Environement, Ecole Nationale d’Agriculture,
BP S/40 ENA, 50000, Meknès, Morocco.
3Laboratory of Chemistry - General Physics – University of Sciences- Agdal, 4- Avenue
Ibn Battouta. B.P.1014 RP, Rabat, Morocco.
Abstract: There is a growing interest of industry to replace synthetic chemicals by natural products with
bioactive properties from plant origin. The aim of this study was to validate the therapeutic properties of Mentha
pulegium L. by conducting a phytochemical study, to determine the chemical composition of its essential oils
(EO) and evaluate its insecticidal activity against stored cereals pests. Leaves and flowers of M. pulegium L.
were collected from three regions of the Moroccan Middle Atlas. Phytochemical tests on pennyroyal aerial parts
revealed the presence of gallic tannins, flavonoids, alkaloids, sterols and triterpenes and saponins. The chemical
composition of essential oils was analyzed by gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry. The main
components were pulegone and piperitenone. The EO from Khénifra is dominated by pulegone (81.46%), and
those from Azrou and M'rirt are rich both in pulegone (68.86 and 71.97%) and piperitenone (24.79% and
26.04%) respectively. Pennyroyal oil has showed an important fumigant effect against Sitophilus oryzae (L.)
adults. This effect is influenced by the tested doses and exposure periods. The potential of this plant to be used
to control stored product insects was discussed.
Keywords: Essential oil, Mentha pulegium L., Phytochemistry, fumigation, Sitophilus oryzae (L.).
Mentha pulegium L. is a herbaceous perennial that belongs to the Lamiaceae family,
commonly known as pennyroyal/European pennyroyal, native to North Africa, Europe, Asia
Minor and the Middle East 1. It grows wildly in humid areas of the plains and mountains. In
Morocco, M. pulegium L. is known as the Arabic name "Fliyou". It is among the top five
national mints and most widely used and commercialized 2.
Aerial parts of this plant contain a wide diversity of secondary metabolites such as:
tannins, resins, pectins, bitter principles and essential oils 1, 3. Fresh or dried leaves and
flowering tops are commonly used for their healing and culinary properties. The whole plant
and its essential oil have a strong and characteristic smell 3.
Mediterr.J.Chem., 2012, 2(4), N. Zekri et al. 608
In therapeutic applications, this plant and its preparations have been used traditionally for
their antispasmodic, carminative, diaphoretic, sedative, stimulant, diuretic, antitussive, tonic,
cholagogue, expectorant, antiseptic and digestive effect 1,3,4.
It was even used to promote menstruation, cure headaches, treat bronchitis, relieve bites
from scorpions and snakes and help against vomiting and kidney disease 1, 3. It also served as
a repellent against fleas and other insects 2-4. It was effective in relieving acne and other skin
conditions. This plant has been used as a spice and flavoring in various foods, especially
desserts 1, 4, also as perfume in cosmetics 3-4 and corrosion inhibitor for steel in the chemical
Pennyroyal is an important source of essential oils. The chemical composition of the
pennyroyal oil has been described by several studies 4, 6-14. Pennyroyal oils are characterized
by the preponderance of pulegone (70-90%) along with other monoterpenic ketones such as
menthone, isomenthone and piperitenone 15. The pennyroyal oil and its constituents exhibit
interesting biological activities particularly antibacterial 10, 13, 16-17, antifungal 18-19, antioxidant
9, 20 and insecticidal 11, 14, 21.
Pennyroyal is not yet described by the Pharmacopoeia 15. Even if its properties were
traditionally well-known, this species has never been investigated pharmacologically 15.
However, its essential oil is highly suspected to be hepatotoxic. It was responsible for fatal
accidents. Its liver toxicity is mainly related to pulegone and its metabolites that are
responsible for tissue necrosis 15, 22. The consumption of several milliliters of pennyroyal oil
is highly probable to cause toxic effects. Small amounts (10 ml) can produce a moderate to
severe poisoning 23, large quantities (25ml) can cause a fatal liver necrosis 22. The most
important hazard associated with this oil, is the potential for accidental consumption by a
child 22 (LD50 = 3 ml). The right dosage and good administration of the plant could avoid
such accidents 22, 24. Note that the exact mechanism of toxicity of pennyroyal oil and pulegone
is not yet revealed 15.
In Middle Atlas, a mountainous region of Morocco, pennyroyal is considered among
plants frequently used by people in traditional medicine. In this context, the aim of this work
is to identify the own secondary metabolites of pennyroyal that collected from three regions
of Middle Atlas, to study the variability of the chemical composition of its essential oils and
to evaluate its insecticidal potential against pests of stored cereals.
The aerial parts (leaves and flowers) of pennyroyal were collected in July 2010 from three
sites in the Middle Atlas: Azrou (Latitude: 33° 25′ 59″; Longitude: 5° 13′ 01″; Altitude:
1278m), M'rirt located between Azrou and Khénifra (Latitude: 33°10′ 00″; Longitude:
5° 34′ 00″; Altitude: 1113m) and Khénifra (Latitude: 34°15'36"; Longitude: 6°34'12";
Altitude: 860m). The climate is semi-humid with strong continental influence with an annual
average temperature of 20°C.
Essential oils extraction
Flowers and leaves (100g) were air-dried at room temperature and hydro-distilled using a
Clevenger-type apparatus for 3 hours. The essential oils were dried with anhydrous sodium
sulphate and stored in a refrigerator at 4°C until use. For calculations of essential oil yields,
three replicates were performed for each plant material.
Mediterr.J.Chem., 2012, 2(4), N. Zekri et al. 609
The chromatographic analyses were performed using a gas chromatograph Hewlett
Packard (HP 6890 series) type equipped with a HP-5 capillary column (30m x 0.25 mm x
0.25 microns film thickness) , a FID detector set at 250 ° C and fed with a gas mixture H2/air.
The mode of injection is split; the carrier gas used is nitrogen with a flow rate of 1.7 ml / min.
The column temperature is programmed at a rate of 4 mounted ° C / min from 50 to 200 °C
for 5 min. The unit is controlled by a computer system type "HP ChemStation" managing the
operation of the device and to monitor chromatographic analyzes. GC-MS was carried out by
a chromatograph Hewlett Packard (HP 6890) coupled to a mass spectrometer (HP 5973
series). Fragmentation is performed by electron impact at 70 eV. The used column was a
capillary-type HP 5SM (30 mx 0.25 mm x 0.25 mm). The column temperature is
programmed at a rate of 4 mounted °C / min from 50 to 200°C for 5 min. The carrier gas is
helium with a flow rate set at 1.7 ml / min. The injection mode is split type.
For compound identification, the Kovàts Index 25 of each compound was calculated in
relation to the retention time of a series of linear alkanes (C7-C40). The calculated index was
then compared to those of Adams 26 reference. The mass spectra of compounds were also
matched with those stored in the NIST library / EPA / NIH MASS SPECTRAL LIBRARY;
Version 2.0, build libraries Jul, 1, 2002.
The phytochemical study needed the preparation of plant material. Leaves and flowers of
M. pulegium were dried in the open air, milled in an electric grinder and used to prepare
extracts, infusions and decoctions.
Selective extractions of homogenates were made specifically on each family of compounds
studied. The extracts have been obtained by extraction with solvents. The solvents used are
petroleum ether, methanol, ethanol, chloroform and distilled water.
The phytochemical screening was also based on several reagents. Research of alkaloids
was performed by Dragendorff reagent. Characterization of catechin tannins was carried out
by isoamyl alcohol and hydrochloric acid and gallic tannins by Stiasny reagent, sodium
acetate and ferric chloride. To detect sterols and triterpenes, we used acetic anhydride and
concentrated sulphuric acid. Diluted alcohol hydrochloric acid, magnesium chips and
isoamyl alcohol were used to seek the flavonoids. Chloroform, dilute ammonia and
hydrochloric acid have to look for quinonic substances.
Characterization tests of different chemical groups were performed as described by
Bruneton15, Harborne 27 and N’Guessan 28.
Adults of Sitophilus oryzae (L.), rice weevils belonging to the Curculionidea family were
brought from the grain market. They were raised thereafter at the expense of wheat grains in
glass jars at a temperature of 24 ± 1°C and a relative humidity of 76 ± 5% in the dark in order
to obtain a homogeneous population.
Fumigation tests were carried out in plastic boxes of 1 liter volume. Thus, in each box was
placed a Petri dish by airy chiffon gauze containing 10 adults of S. oryzae and filter paper
soaked with M. pulegium essential oil. The concentrations of essential oil in the air were:
0.75; 0.25; 0.5; 1 and 2 µl /l air. For each concentration, five replicates were conducted.
Mediterr.J.Chem., 2012, 2(4), N. Zekri et al. 610
Control of mortality was performed daily by counting died individuals until the death of last
To detect the toxic fumigant effect of tested essential oil, an analysis of variance performed
using the function Arsin (square root (percentage mortality)) in the software Microsoft Excel
2007. The calculation of the survival probabilities and comparison of the effect of each
concentration tested were taken respectively by the test of Kaplan-Mayer 29 and the log-rank
test 30. The lethal concentrations 50% (LC50) and 99% (LC99) fumigated insects were
determined by the Probits method according to Finey 31.
Results and discussion
Yields and Chemical composition
The yields, calculated from dry material, varied from sample to sample. The essential oil
from Khénifra has the highest yield (6.2%) followed by those from Azrou (5.9%) and M'rirt
(5.29%). These rates are higher than those already obtained by Boughdad 14 (4.77%),
Benayad 11 (2.33%) and Derwich 13 (1.66%).
The chromatographic analysis of essential oils have identified twenty six compounds that
represent approximately 99.10% for M. pulegium of Azrou, thirteen compounds (99.87%) to
that of M’rirt against sixteen compounds for the sample from Khénifra (89.10%).
Oxygenated monoterpenes were the most abundant class of the components identified in three
essential oils. However, the sesquiterpenes were found with small contents in pennyroyal oils
from Azrou and Khénifra and quasi absent in that of M'rirt (Table 1).
Table 1: Chemical composition of pennyroyal oils from Middle-Atlas.
Mediterr.J.Chem., 2012, 2(4), N. Zekri et al. 611
Table 1 (Continued): Chemical composition of pennyroyal oils from Middle-Atlas.
Coahuilensol methyl ether
Himachal-4-en-1- β-ol (11- α H)
The essential oil from Azrou is dominated by pulegone (68.86%) and piperitenone
(24.79%). Other compounds were identified but at relatively small percentages such as
chrysanthenol (1.03%), thymol (1.01%), limonene (0.9%) and menth-2-en-1-ol (0.57%). Two
constituents also characterize the essential oil M'rirt but its rates are higher than those of
Mediterr.J.Chem., 2012, 2(4), N. Zekri et al. 612
Azrou: pulegone (71.97%) and piperitenone (26.04%) accompanied by chrysanthenol
(0.80%), menth-2-en -1-ol (0.28%), α-pinene (0.14%) and β-pinene (0.13%).
However, the EO from Khénifra is mainly composed of pulegone with a larger rate than
the other two regions; it reached 81.46%. Other components were also identified but with
lower levels such as α-humelene (2.89%), E-caryophyllene (1.70%), isopulegol (0.55%), 10-
epicubelol (0.51%), α-pinene (0.23%) and β-pinene (0.22%).
Differences between the three oils chemical composition were reported. Indeed, limonene
(0.9%), perilla aldehyde (0.21%) and coahuilensol methyl ether (0.16%) are specific to the oil
of Azrou. Furthermore, piperitenone second chemotype of Azrou (24.81%) and M'rirt
(26.04%) essential oils is absent in that of Khénifra. The latter also contains specific
compounds such as α-humelene (2.89%), E-caryophyllene (1.70%), trans-sabinene hydrate
(0.57%), isopulegol (0.55%) and 10-epi-cubebol (0.51 %). On the other hand, 1,8-cineole
(0.10%) is present only in M'rirt and Khénifra oils.
The variation of yields and chemical composition of essential oils depends on several
factors: the method used, the used plant parts, the products and reagents used in the
extraction, the environment, the plant genotype, geographical origin, the harvest period of the
plant, the degree of drying, the drying conditions, temperature and drying time and the
presence of parasites, viruses and weeds 32-33.
Pennyroyal can be considered as an important source of pulegone. This ketone presents
approximately 3/4 of the overall chemical composition of the studied oils. It is usually used
in the manufacture of industrial and cosmetic products as it can be transformed into menthol
by semisynthetis which is highly demanded for flavouring food, in cosmetics and
pharmaceutical industry 34.
The chemical composition of the studied oils is similar to that reported by several studies
already carried out in Morocco. The EO of M. pulegium from Morocco is characterized by its
high rate of pulegone. The EO from Asilah (North east) studied by Hmiri 18 contains a very
attractive pulegone rate (80.28%). The content of pulegone in pennyroyal from Meknes is
about 65% 14. In Taouirt region (North-East) 69.8% 35; in Rabat region (Ain Aouda), it is
about 73.33% 11 and in Southern Morocco, it reached 85.4% 17. Similarly, pennyroyal oils
from different Algerian sites are characterized by the predominance of pulegone with
different proportions 43.3 to 87.3% 36. Similar results were obtained from Uruguay 7 and
Tunisia 12, the main compounds are respectively pulegone (73.4% and 61.11%) and
isomenthone (12.9% and 17.02%). In Egypt, the pennyroyal oil is rich in pulegone (43.5%)
and piperitone (12.2%) 9. While the species from Iran 10 and Skoura (Morocco) 13 contain two
particular chemotypes: piperitone (38 and 35.56%) and piperitenone (33 and 21.12%) while
the pulegone rate does not exceed 2.3 and 6.42% respectively. Similarly, those from Portugal
6 and Yugoslavia 37 are characterized by different chemical composition whose major
compounds are menthone (35.9 and 30.9%) and pulegone (23.2 and 14.1%) respectively.
The results of phytochemical screening are assembled in Table 2. Different groups
occurring in leaves and flowers of pennyroyal were identified.
According to the results of the characterization tests, the aerial parts of pennyroyal
from three regions contain gallic tannins, saponins, flavonoids, sterols and triterpenes,
alkaloids, mucilages and reducing compounds. However, it is devoid of anthraquinones, oses
and holosides, cyanogenic glycosides and catechin tannins. The effective presence of some of
them in the plant does not exclude its therapeutic properties 38.
Mediterr.J.Chem., 2012, 2(4), N. Zekri et al. 613
Flavonoids are perfect antioxidants 39, antiulcer, antispasmodic, anti-secretory, anti-
diarrheal 40, antiallergic, anti-inflammatory, blood pressure and protect against cancer and
Table 2: Results of phytochemical screening of pennyroyal aerial parts by colored reactions.
Alkaloids have different pharmacological activities such as strengthening the heart activity,
excitation of the central nervous system and nerves symptomatic, stimulating blood
circulation 38. The presence of alkaloids may also justify the use of the plant in the treatment
of certain diseases 28. The tannins show the properties of vitamin D, they could be used to
strengthen blood vessels and contribute to the accumulation of vitamin C in the body 38. The
saponins have a healing effect and sterols and triterpenes have bactericidal properties 28.
These properties were linked to the identified classes of phytoconstituents in pennyroyal.
Therefore, this plant exhibits important therapeutic effects. These results justified the wide
use of this plant in traditional medicine by people in Middle Atlas.
Insecticidal activity of M. pulegium essential oil against adults of S. oryzae (L.)
In this research, we evaluated the insecticidal activity of pennyroyal oil from Azrou against
weevil of S. oryzae. Concentrations tested have showed a significant fumigant activity. The
degree of this activity depends on the applied concentration (F concentrations = 18.38 > F (0.05, 5-192)
= 2.2141) and the exposure duration (F time = 12.83> F (0.05, 7-192) = 2.0096). The survival rate
of insects decreases as the concentration and exposure period increased (Figure 1).
The interaction between weevils and essential oil lasted eight days. The mortality within
the weevil was observed on the first day and even with the lowest concentration. At 2μl of
essential oil/l air, insects have been totally decimated the fourth day. As at low
concentrations, the mortality of insects reached gradually the entire population on the eighth
day after the beginning of fumigation.
The survival time of 50% (LT50) and 99% (LT99) of adults who were exposed to different
concentrations of essential oil vary respectively from 24 hours to 4 days and about 4 to 8 days
depending on the concentration, whereas in the control group, adults live an average of 29 and
57 days respectively (Table 3). Furthermore, the LT50 and LT99 are negatively correlated with
the tested concentrations.
Foam index = 225
Oses and holosides
Sterols and triterpenes
Mediterr.J.Chem., 2012, 2(4), N. Zekri et al. 614
Figure 1. Survival rate of S. oryzae (L.) adults fumigated by pennyroyal oil (Concentrations
affected with the same letter do not differ statistically between them (log-rank test)).
Table 3: LT50 and LT99 of S. oryzae adults fumigated with M. pulegium essential oil.
The toxicity parameters of the tested essential oil are summarized in Table 4. The
calculated lethal concentrations LC50 and LC99 vary according to the time. They decrease
gradually as the fumigation time increases. Extreme lethal concentrations LC50 and LC99 vary
from 2.65 to 0.044μl /l air and 143.9 to 0.518μl /l air respectively.
The effectiveness of the pennyroyal oil may be attributed to its chemical composition
generally and particularly to monoterpenes that act as insecticidal agents 41. Our plant is rich
in monoterpenes (96.87%) mainly pulegone (68.86%) and piperitenone (24.81%), thymol
(1.01%), limonene (0.9%) and pinene (0.32%). These active components have shown an
important insecticidal activity against several pests 14, 21, 30, 41-43.
Results similar to ours have been reported by Benayad 11 which a concentration of 3 μl of
M. pulegium oil (73.33% of pulegone) caused mortality of all weevils of S .oryzae after one
day of treatment. Similarly, these insects were also decimated at a dose of 1.7 10-2 μl/ cm3 of
M. suaveolens oil (85.5% of pulegone) after 7 days of treatment and at a dose of 3.5 10-2 μl/
cm3 of oil after 24 hours 44.
The fumigant effect of this oil against adults of S. oryzae could also be explained by the high
content of pulegone. The toxicity of this ketone against S. oryzae was also observed by Lee 30
and Hannin 45.
Furthermore, the insecticidal activity of the essential oil is not limited only to its major
constituents; it could also be due to some minor constituents or a synergistic effect of several
Mediterr.J.Chem., 2012, 2(4), N. Zekri et al. 615
Table 4: Toxicity parameters of pennyroyal oil against S. oryzae (L.) adults.
The toxic effect of M. pulegium essential oils against S. oryzae may be attributed to the
inhibition of neurotransmitters such as acetylcholinesterase 41, 48 and octopamine 49.
Essential oils as natural insecticides are therefore an alternative to synthetic insecticides
because of their physicochemical properties that make them very volatile and biodegradable,
which presents no risk of residues on treated products or on the germination of processed
grains. Moreover, the fact that essential oils act on octopaminergic sites insects 46, they are less
toxic to mammals.
In the present research, we performed a phytochemical study of M. pulegium L., determined
the chemical composition of essential oils and assessed its insecticidal activity. The results
allowed concluding that the yields and chemical composition of essential oils vary according to
the plant origin. Essential oils originating from Azrou, M'rirt and Khénifra are characterized by
diverse chemical profiles. Thus, species of Azrou and M'rirt are dominated mainly by
pulegone (68.86% and 71.97%) and piperitenone (24.97% and 26.04%) while that of Khénifra
is very rich in pulegone (81.46%).
Moroccan pennyroyal may therefore be an important source of pulegone. This active
component is highly required for the manufacture of cosmetics and industrial products.
Different secondary metabolites were identified: flavonoids, gallic tannins, sterols and
triterpenes, alkaloids and saponins. Therefore, pennyroyal can be seen as a potential source of
useful drugs. Further studies are going on this plant in order to isolate, identify and characterize
the structure of the bioactive compounds.
Pennyroyal oil has showed an important fumigant effect against S. oryzae weevils. This
effect could be attributed to the chemical composition and particularly to the abundance of
pulegone and piperitenone without ignoring the synergistic role of minor compounds.
Furthermore, the use of essential oil M. pulegium in fumigation to control populations of
S. oryzae is possible. Fumigation can handle large masses of seeds without moving. In this
way, the pennyroyal oil has a huge potential as alternative to synthetic pesticides in cereals
stored and crop protection.
LC50 (μl/l air)
LC99 (μl/l air)
1.34x + 4.43
143.9 [27.9 ; 111637.9]
1.84x + 5.02
17.67 [8.11 ; 8.02]
8.65 [4.66 ; 27.33]
2.735 [1.829 ; 5.601]
1.507 [1.060 ; 2.971]
0.084 [0.004 ; 0.162]
0.777 [0.518 ; .892]
Mediterr.J.Chem., 2012, 2(4), N. Zekri et al. 616
Further studies should evaluate the safety and toxicity of M. pulegium oil to human
consumption before their use for medicinal and food purposes.
We extend our sincere thanks to Mr M. Ibn Tattou, Professor at the Scientific Institute of
Rabat, for the identification of the studied species. We also thank so much Mr R. Guentouri
for his contribution to the manuscript.
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