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Herbs to avoid during pregnancy

A literature search of the pharmacology of plants used for their arbortifacient or uterine stimulating actions provides a long list of plants to avoid.

Herbs to avoid during pregnancy

A literature search of the ethnopharmacology of plants, used for their abortifacient or uterine stimulating actions, provides a long list of plants to avoid.

According to Marderosian and Liberti, in their useful but rather biased book, Natural Product Medicine, 565 species from 125 families have such effects. These otherwise extremely useful remedies often share chemistry that some way irritates the placenta or causes muscular contractions in the uterus.

Limiting ourselves to those plants most often encountered in Western phytotherapy, the following groupings can be identified and we suggest you avoid these during all stages of pregnancy, unless otherwise prescribed by a qualified Medical Herbalist.


It is clear that the general metabolic stimulation - and especially that of smooth muscular tissue (uterus) and the emmenagogue results (something that promotes or assists the flow of menstrual fluid), are contra-indicated during pregnancy. All strong bitters should be excluded, with special attention being paid to:


Southernwood Artemisia abrotanum
Wormwood Artemisia absinthium
Mugwort Artemisia vulgare
Barberry Berberis vulgaris
Celadine Chelidonium majus
Golden Seal Hydrastis canadensis
Rue Ruta graveolens
Feverfew Tanacetum parthenium
Tansy Tanacetum vulgare

Alkaloid containing plants

Alkaloids are a diverse group of secondary plant constituents that have a wide range of pharmacological impact upon the body. The stronger representatives are to be avoided, including the caffeine containing social drugs coffee and tea. These include:

Barberry Berberis vulgaris
Autumn Crocus Colchicum
Golden Seal Hydrastis canadensis
Mandrake Podophyllum canadensis
Blood Root Sanguinaria canadensis
Broom Sarothamnus scoparius

Oil containing plants

Many of the essential oils can have a devastating impact on the placenta and foetus if taken internally during pregnancy. Avoid all essential oils internally. However, the whole plant that the oil was distilled from, will usually be fine, if used in moderation. Important exceptions are:

Juniper Juniperus communis
Pennyroyal Mentha pulegium
Nutmeg (in large amounts) Myristica officinalis
Arbor-vitae Thuja occidentalis

Anthraquinone laxatives

The strong herbal laxatives often owe their effects to the presence of anthraquinones that stimulate peristalsis in the bowel. They may have a similar stimulating impact upon the uterus. If a laxative is needed during pregnancy, it should be either a bulk or hepatic laxative. Please refer to appropriate section for more information.

Senna Cassia senna
Purging Buckthorn Rhamnus catharticus
Alder Buckthorn Rhamnus frangula
Cascara Sagrada Rhamnus purshiana


There are other plants that should be avoided, which do not fit into such convenient categories. Some are listed here. Male fern is an example of an anthelmintic remedy for the treatment of worm infestations.

Peruvian Bark Cinchona spp.
Male Fern Phytolacca spp.
Cotton-Root Gossypium herbaceum
Mistletoe Viscum album
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The Naturopathic Team
Ideal Health

Disclaimer: The health information presented here has been written for the New Zealand health consumer. It is of a general nature and is only intended to provide a summary of the subjects covered and is intended to be used for educational and general information purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice or as a means to diagnose, treat, cure or prescribe for any particular condition or disease. You assume all responsibility for the treatment which may be undertaken as a result of the information on this site, or treatment recommended by any other party. While all care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility or liability is accepted, and no person should act in reliance on any statement contained in the information provided. All health ailments should be treated by a qualified health professional.

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