Herbs to AVOID During Pregnancy:

How Do I Figure This Out?

The first thing on most pregnant mamas’ minds is probably, ” Is this dangerous for my baby?” The second thing is probably, “How can I feel better?” Like conventional medicine, herbs can be harmful, but they can also be very beneficial for you and your child.

Herbs to Avoid While Pregnant and WHY to avoid them

One Google search about what herbs to avoid during pregnancy and you can scare yourself so badly that you won’t even want to touch a leaf until you have the baby! (It could be a uterine stimulant!) Because herbs are not officially regulated like pharmaceuticals are, conventional authorities seem to basically suggest that you avoid using any herbals unless suggested by your healthcare provider. Unfortunately, must conventional healthcare providers are much more likely to reach for their blank prescription pad than suggest something natural that they are not well educated in. When dealing with nausea, it’s much easier for the doctor to give you a prescription than to work with you to improve your health with vitamin B, homeopathy, or a soothing herb like chamomile.

There is a list floating around online of about 120 herbs to avoid during pregnancy. It’s just that; a list of herbs varying from herbs that you probably cook with a few times a week to ones you may never have heard of. No explanations about why they are bad. I have always been the kind of person that needs to know WHY, so this irritated me SO MUCH when I began trying to learn which herbs to use or avoid during pregnancy.

For example, the first herb on the list is aloe. Do I avoid aloe completely? Do I just avoid “high” amounts, whatever that means? Can I break off & use a bit of my aloe plant if I burn my finger in the kitchen? Can I use aloe vera gel on a larger area of skin if I get a sunburn?  Aloe is on the “banned” list because it is a purgative. According to Dr. Ax, it can be used to treat constipation, treat IBS, soothe inflammation, etc.  I’m guessing the author of the list included aloe to keep pregnant women from giving themselves diarrhea by drinking copious amounts of aloe vera juice. But it doesn’t explain itself, so it is not very helpful.

This is an excellent example of why you need to be well educated about how plants work with your body and why you need to be willing to use your reason and make wise decisions for yourself. (Check out my post on Herbs NOT to use to learn how to make the right choices for you.)

My goal for this post has been to share categorical reasons why you should not use certain herbs and to share a brief list of herbs not to use during pregnancy that I found helpful. I feel like learning WHY an herb is dangerous is more important than having a list of herbs to avoid because I strongly suggest not using any herbs that you do not have a thorough knowledge of. For example, if you enjoy using licorice in your tea, but know that it can raise your blood pressure, than you will automatically reconsider it when you are pregnant. As you build your knowledge of how individual herbs work, you will also build your knowledge of which herbs to use for pregnancy.

Avoid Herbs that Are A . . .

– Uterine stimulant: Many herbs that are used to induce periods or regulate menstrual cycles are uterine stimulants. These are great when you need to regulate your period or want to induce labor, but are definitely something to avoid during the majority of your pregnancy.

– Mild Toxin & Herbs that interfere with the nervous system: According to Mother Earth Living, herbs, “containing high quantities of volatile oils (some of which can be toxic) or alkaloids, such as barberry, can affect your central nervous system as well as interfere with the development of your baby’s”

-Steroids or Antibiotics: Just like you would not want to overwhelm your unborn baby with conventional antibiotics or steroids, it is suggested that you avoid very strong herbal antibiotics & steroids. For example, many consider Goldenseal to be too strong of an antibiotic for a growing baby.

– Stimulating Laxative: Many herbs that are used as a laxative can cause cramping in people who are not pregnant and can trigger contractions in women who are pregnant. Obviously this is something you will want to avoid until you are full term. Once you are full term, however many of these herbs can be used to encourage labor to begin or progress. For example Black and blue cohash should not be used during pregnancy, but are highly recommended once you need to jumpstart your labor.

– Known abortificant: Obviously if something is known to cause a miscarriage then you will want to avoid it. Unfortunately this information can be spotty. Most information seems to come from stories of women who have tried & succeeded in naturally triggering a miscarriage or other anecdotal evidence. My theory is to take things with a grain of salt, but still err very strongly on the side of caution because my baby is just too precious to take foolish risks.

Sadly there are many resources available if you search “natural abortion.” Many articles suggest taking common herbs and foods in high amounts to either trigger contractions, alter your hormone levels, or cause bleeding. Some of these include tablespoons of cinnamon, 10-12 grams of Vitamin C daily, around 5 cups of Parsley per day, handfuls of sesame Seeds. Does this mean you shouldn’t eat a sesame seed bagel or have a cinnamon bun? No, but just seeing a list of things to avoid that includes vitamin C or cinnamon can obviously be disconcerting. This is why it is so important to do your research & understand how to stay healthy.

– Herbs with Hormonal Properties: These herbs can affect your baby’s development. For example; Saw Palmetto induces testosterone production and should not be used by pregnant women.

Ok, ready for the lists???

First, here’s the list of 120 herbs to avoid that I was complaining about above. I found this on multiple websites. It’s a place to start, but there are no details to help you make educated decisions

HP 120 unhelpful list

Here are some more helpful lists to peruse. I have taken copious amounts of notes as I try to learn (and more importantly, remember) what is safe or unsafe for pregnancy, but have decided to save myself some valuable time (I have about 10 minutes before my babies wake up from their naps) and share them directly from one site that was very helpful to me. I found these lists on pregnancyandchildren.com. They were taken from “Herbs for a Healthy Pregnancy: From Conception to Childbirth” by Penelope Ody. I think I just found the next book to add to my library!!!!!! Penelope Ody also wrote “The Complete Medicinal Herbal” and is a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists.

Herbs to completely avoid during pregnancy:

Herb Reason to avoid
Aloe Vera The leaves are strongly purgative and should not be taken internally.
Arbor vitae (Thuja occidentalis) A uterine and menstrual stimulant that could damage the fetus.
Autumn crocus (Colichicum autumnale) Can affect cell division and lead to birth defects.
Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) Contains high levels of berberine, known to stimulate uterine contractions.
Basil oil A uterine stimulant; use only during labour.
Beth root (Trillium erectum) A uterine stimulant; use only during labour.
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosus) May lead to premature contractions; avoid unless under professional guidance. Safe to use during childbirth.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) A uterine stimulant that in quite small doses also causes vomiting.
Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) A uterine stimulant to avoid unless under professional guidance. Safe to use during childbirth.
Broom (Cytisus scoparius) Causes uterine contractions so should be avoided during pregnancy; in parts of Europe it is given after the birth to prevent blood loss.
Bugleweed (Lycopus virginicus) Interferes with hormone production in the pituitary gland, so best avoided.
Clove oil A uterine stimulant used only during labour.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) Contains toxic chemicals that will cross the placenta; do not take internally.
Cotton root (Gossypium herbaceum) Uterine stimulant traditionally given to encourage contractions during a difficult labour, but rarely used medicinally today.
Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) Uterine stimulant, oxytocic.
Dong quai (Angelica polymorpha var. sinensis) Uterine and menstrual stimulant, best avoided during pregnancy; ideal after childbirth.
False unicorn root (Chamaelirium luteum) A hormonal stimulant to avoid unless under professional guidance.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) Uterine stimulant; may cause premature contractions.
Golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis) Uterine stimulant; may lead to premature contractions but safe during childbirth.
Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) Uterine stimulant; may cause premature contractions.
Juniper and juniper oil (Juniperus communis) A uterine stimulant; use only during labour.
Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla xanthoclora) A uterine stimulant; use only in labour.
Liferoot (Senecio aureus) A uterine stimulant containing toxic chemicals that will cross the placenta.
Mistletoe (Viscum album) A uterine stimulant containing toxic chemicals that may cross the placenta.
Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) A uterine stimulant that may also cause birth defects; avoid unless under professional guidance. Also avoid when breastfeeding.
American pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides) Reputed uterine stimulant to be avoided during pregnancy.
European pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) A uterine stimulant that may also cause birth defects; avoid unless under professional guidance. Also avoid when breastfeeding.
Peruvian bark (Cinchona officinalis) Toxic; excess may cause blindness and coma. Used to treat malaria and given during pregnancy only to malaria sufferers under professional guidance.
Pokeroot (Phytolacca decandra) May cause birth defects.
Pseudoginseng (Panax notoginseng) May cause birth defects.
Pulsatilla (Anemone pulsatilla) Menstrual stimulant best avoided during pregnancy; limited use during lactation.
Rue (Ruta graveolens) Uterine and menstrual stimulant; may cause premature contractions.
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) A uterine stimulant that may also cause birth defects.
Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) A uterine stimulant; use only during labour.
Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) A uterine stimulant that may also cause birth defects; avoid unless under professional guidance. Also avoid when breastfeeding.
Squill (Urginea maritima) A uterine stimulant that may also cause birth defects.
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) A uterine stimulant that may also cause birth defects.
Wild yam (Diascorea villosa) A uterine stimulant to avoid unless under professional guidance; safe during labour.
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthum) A uterine stimulant that may also cause birth defects; avoid unless under professional guidance. Also avoid when breastfeeding.

Herbs to use only in moderation during pregnancy:

Herb Reason for caution
Alder buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) Strongly purgative, so should not be taken in high doses or for long periods.
Angelica (Angelica archangelica) A uterine stimulant in high doses, but quite safe as a culinary herb.
Anise and aniseed oil (Pimpinella anisum) A uterine stimulant in high doses, but quite safe as a culinary herb; avoid using the oil entirely.
Bitter orange (Citrus aurantiam) A uterine stimulant in high doses, but quite safe as a culinary herb or in moderate use.
Caraway (Carum carvi) A uterine stimulant in high doses, but quite safe as a culinary herb.
Cascara sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana) Strongly purgative, so should not be taken in high doses or for long periods.
Celery seed and oil (Apium graveolens) A uterine stimulant in high doses, but quite safe as a culinary herb.
Chamomile oil The oil is a potent uterine stimulant to be avoided, but the dried or fresh herb is safe in moderation.
Chili (Capsicum spp) Avoid high doses as they may lead to heartburn; can flavor breast milk when breast-feeding. Moderate culinary use is fine.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) A uterine stimulant in high doses, but quite safe as a culinary herb; avoid the essential oil completely.
Cowslip (Primula veris) Strongly purgative and a uterine stimulant in high doses.
Elder bark Strongly purgative, so should not be taken in high doses or for long periods.
Fennel and fennel oil A uterine stimulant in high doses, but quite safe as a culinary herb; avoid using the oil entirely.
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) A uterine stimulant in high doses, but quite safe as a culinary herb or during labour.
Garlic (Allium sativa) Avoid high doses as they may lead to heartburn; can flavor breast milk when breastfeeding. Moderate culinary use is fine.
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) Possible uterine stimulant; use in moderation for occasional teas only.
Jasmine oil A uterine stimulant best reserved for childbirth to ease labour.
Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) Clinical reports suggest that high doses in pregnancy can lead to androgynous babies (caused by overstimulation of male sex hormones); use for short periods only.
Lavender (Lavendula argustifolia) A uterine stimulant in high doses, but quite safe as a culinary herb or for moderate use.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) High doses can exacerbate high blood pressure; safe in moderation.
Lovage (Levisticum officinale) A uterine stimulant traditionally used in slow and difficult labour; safe as a culinary herb.
Marjoram and marjoram oil (Origanum vulgare) A uterine stimulant in high doses, but quite safe as a culinary herb; avoid using the oil entirely.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) A uterine stimulant in high doses; best limited to the final weeks and during labour.
Myrrh (Commiphora molmol) A uterine stimulant that may lead to premature contractions; avoid high doses.
Nutmeg and Nutmeg Oil Inhibits prostaglandin production and contains hallucinogens that may affect the fetus; once erroneously regarded as an abortifacient. Safe in normal culinary use.
Oregano (Origanum X marjoricum; O. onites) A uterine stimulant in high doses, but quite safe as a culinary herb; avoid using the oil entirely.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) Uterine stimulant that may also irritate the fetus in high doses; safe in normal culinary use.
Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) A uterine stimulant in high doses; safe for moderate use.
Peppermint oil A uterine stimulant; avoid the oil entirely, although low doses of the dried herb can be used.
Raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) A uterine stimulant in high doses; best limited to the final six to eight weeks and during labour.
Rhubarb root (Rheum palmatum) Strongly purgative, so should not be taken in high doses or for long periods.
Rosemary and rosemary oil A uterine stimulant in high doses; safe in moderation and normal culinary use. Avoid using the oil entirely.
Saffron (Crocus sativa) A uterine stimulant in high doses; safe in normal culinary use.
Sage and sage oil A uterine and hormonal stimulant in high doses, but quite safe as a culinary herb; avoid using the oil entirely.
Senna (Senna alexandrina) Strongly purgative, so should not be taken in high doses or for long periods.
Tea, black (Camellia sinensis) Limit to two cups a day, as excess can lead to palpitations and increased heart rate.
Thyme oil (Thymus vulgaris) Some reports claim that it acts as a uterine stimulant, though the research is disputed; the herb is quite safe in cooking.
Vervain (Verbene officinalis) A uterine stimulant in high doses; best limited to the final weeks and during labour.
White horehound (Marrubium vulgare) Reputed uterine stimulant; safe in moderation in cough drops.
Wood betony (Stachys officinalis) A uterine stimulant in high doses; best limited to the final weeks and during labour.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) A uterine stimulant in high doses; best limited to the final weeks and during labour.

I hope that this post is a helpful place to start as you learn what to avoid during pregnancy. Remember, I’m not an herbal expert. I just want to learn as much as I possibly can about keeping my family healthy with herbs and a natural lifestyle. Please use your own judgment as you make healthcare choices for your family. If you want to learn more, these other posts are a great place to start:

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