Herbs can be a beneficial way to relieve mild discomfort during pregnancy. Many herbs are safe to use in tea form during pregnancy. There are some herbs, however, that you should avoid while you’re pregnant.
Herbal Safety for Mom and Baby
It is wise to avoid most herbs and medications completely in the first trimester of pregnancy, if possible. It is during the first trimester that teratogenic effects – the negative result of consuming a harmful substance that affects the baby – are most common. Some teratogenic effects are fetal alcohol syndrome, birth defects, and mental retardation. It is important to seek guidance from a qualified herbalist or holistic provider before taking herbs during pregnancy to determine the safest herb and dosage for mom and baby. In general, you should avoid medicinal amounts of herbs during pregnancy, without first consulting with an herbalist or holistic provider trained in their use. It is also important to avoid large amounts of alcohol tinctures, and to make sure that any herbs you use are high quality and free of adulteration or contamination.
Herbal Classifications to Avoid
Scientists classify herbs according to their biochemical constituents and therapeutic effects. Some herbs fall under a classification of unsafe during pregnancy. These lists are by no means complete and do not list every herb that you should avoid during pregnancy.
An abortifacient is a substance that can cause abortion, usually through uterine stimulation. These herbs are very strong and can be highly toxic. Many herbs have abortifacient qualities, making them inappropriate for use during pregnancy.
These herbs may promote menstruation and most are unsafe for use during pregnancy. Some herbs fit into more than one category and I have only included them once. I will list abortifacients and emenogogues together as they can often crossover.
- Angelica (Angelica archangelica),(Angelica sinensis)
- Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
- Rue (Ruta graveolens)
- Scotch Broom (CystisusScoparius)
- Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
- Thuja (Thuja occidentalis)
- Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Alkaloids are naturally occurring compounds found in plants.They can have varying effects on the body, including toxicity.The concern is that these constituents may have damaging effects on the developing baby. Caffeine and nicotine are both examples of alkaloids that you should avoid during pregnancy. Other plants containing alkaloids that are potentially harmful to an unborn child are:
- Barberry (Berberis vulgaris)
- Borage (Borago officinalis)
- Ipecac (Cephalis ipecacuanha)
- Lobelia (Lobelia inflata)
- Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
- Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
- Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium
Volatile/Essential Oil Containing Herbs:
Women should completely avoid the internal use of essential oils during pregnancy. Some whole herbs that contain essential oils are safe for use by pregnant women when used in small amounts. The following essential oil containing herbs are unsafe for use during pregnancy, even in low dosages.
- Juniper (Juniperus communis)
- Nutmeg (Myristica officinalis) In large quantities
- Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
These laxatives stimulate peristalsis and therefore may also stimulate the uterus.
- Aloes (Aloe vera)
- Buckthorn (Rhammnus
- Cascara sagrada
- (Rhamnus purshiana)
- Castor Oil (Oleum
- Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum)
These herbs can cause birth defects. Note: spp=all species
- Conium spp
- Datura spp
- Ferual spp
- Lupinus spp
- Nicotiana spp
- Prunus spp
- Senecio spp
- Solanum spp
- Trachymene spp
- Veratrum spp
Herbs and Pregnancy: When is it Safe?
Herbalism is a varied and beneficial health care option; although there are many safe herbs to take during pregnancy, it is very important to be aware that there are also many herbs that you should avoid. This list does not contain every herb that is unsafe for use during pregnancy, so fully educate yourself on any herb or supplement. Don’t forget to ask your healthcare provider before taking any herb or medication, it’s the safest choice during pregnancy.
Romm, Aviva. Herbs: For The Mom-To-Be. (2008). Mothering.
Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices Of
Herbal Medicine. (2003). Healing Arts Press. Accessed November 10, 2013.