Herbs of caution (and to avoid) during pregnancy and breastfeeding

Herbs of caution (and to avoid) during pregnancy and breastfeeding

Throughout the childbearing year you should be very aware of everything that you ingest, be it food or medicine. Herbal remedies, as with any medicine, should be used with extreme caution during this time. Many herbs and natural remedies can be safely employed in the hands of a qualified practitioner. For safety’s sake the following list includes anything that should be questioned before use during pregnancy and lactation. Your practitioner may help you utilize some of these remedies if the need arises (such as preparing for labour, infection, encourage breastmilk, etc.). Before using any natural remedy/supplement during pregnancy ask yourself the following:

1. Do I really need this supplement?
2. Is there something else I can do/use instead?
3. Have I checked with someone knowledgeable in the use of natural remedies during pregnancy and breastfeeding
4. Am I aware of the risks that might accompany the use of this supplement?

Alkaloid containing plants

Alkaloid containing plants have a wide range of pharmacological effects, some more powerful than others. It is best to avoid them all, especially the following:

  • Berberis vulgaris Barberry
  • Borago officinalis Borage
  • Colchicum autumnale Autumn crocus
  • Ephedra sinensis Ma Huang
  • Hydrastis canadensis Golden Seal
  • Lobelia inflata Lobelia
  • Panax ginseng Ginseng
  • Podophyllum peltatum Mandrake
  • Sanguinaria canadensis Blood root
  • Sarothamnus scoparius Broom
  • Symphytum off. Comfrey
  • Tussilago farfara Coltsfoot


The following herbs are bitter in action, meaning that they may have an effect on smooth muscle and/or act as emmenagogues. All strong bitters should be avoided during pregnancy, especially the following:

  • Angelica spp. D. Quai, Angelica
  • Artemisia abrotanum Southernwood
  • Artemisia absinthium Wormwood
  • Artemisia vulgare Mugwort
  • Berberis vulgaris Barberry
  • Chelidonium majus Celandine
  • Gentiana lutea Gentian
  • Hydrastis canadensis Golden Seal
  • Menyanthes tifoliata Bog/Buckbean
  • Ruta graveolens Rue
  • Tanacetum parthenium Feverfew
  • Tanacetum vulgare Tansy

Oil containing plants

Essential oils, such as those used in aromatherapy, should NEVER be taken internally which could be extremely toxic to both mother and fetus. Some WHOLE plants from which the essentail oils were extracted should also be avoided or used with caution. Herbs used in cooking (nutmeg, sage, etc.) in normal quantities is not likely to pose a risk:

  • Achillea millefolium Yarrow
  • Apium graveolens Wild Celery
  • Commiphora molmol Myrrh
  • Hyssopus officinalis Hyssop
  • Juniperus communis Juniper
  • Mentha pulegium Pennyroyal
  • Myristica officinalis Nutmeg
  • Petroselinum spp. Parsley
  • Salvia officinalis Sage
  • Thuja occidentalis Arbor vitae
  • Thymus spp. Thyme

Anthraquinone laxatives

The presence of anthraquinones in these herbs is what initiates a laxative effect. Anthraquinone stimulates peristalsis of the intestines and may have a similar effect on the uterus:

  • Aloe spp. Aloe (internally)
  • Cassia senna Senna
  • Rhamnus cathrticus Purging Buckthorn
  • Rhamnus frangula Alder Buckthorn
  • Rhamnus pursiana Cascara Sagrada


These are herbs with pharmacological actions other than those listed above, but may also be of concern during pregnancy or lactation:

  • Anemone pulsatilla Pasqueflower
  • Arctostapholus uva-ursi Bearberry
  • Capsella bursa-pastoris Shepard’s Purse
  • Capsicum spp. Cayenne
  • Caulophyllum thalictroides Blue Cohosh
  • Cimicifuga racemosa Black Cohosh
  • Cinchona spp. Peruvian Bark
  • Cynara scolymus Artichoke
  • Dryopteris felix-mas Male Fern
  • Fucus vesiculosis Kelp
  • Glycyrrhiza glabra Licorice
  • Gossypium herbaceum Cotton-Root
  • Harpagophytum procumbens Devil’s Claw
  • Melilotus officianalis Melilot
  • Phytolacca spp. Poke Root
  • Stachys officinalis Wood Betony
  • Trigonella foenum-graecum Fenugreek
  • Trillium erectum Birth/bethroot
  • Turnera diffusa Damiana
  • Viscum album Mistletoe

Source: Stacelynn Caughlan is a Clinical Nutritionist and Certified Herbalist who specializes in Prenatal and Pediatric Health.

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