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Playing it Safe: Herbal Teas and Supplements

Pregnant? Careful What You Sip On

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Mother Nature is a wise woman, and her herbs and plants can alleviate plenty of ailments. However, when you're pregnant, you need to be extra careful about what supplements you take and what herbal drinks you consume. Herbal supplements that were perfectly safe for you before pregnancy might cause pregnancy complications or harm your baby. Herbs are all-natural, but natural is not synonymous with safe, especially when you're "with child."

The chart below refers to medicinal and not culinary uses of herbs. Several herbs in the chart are also used to add flavor to food. While these herbs are on the "avoid" list, they are safe to use in food, because of the small amount you consume.

Unlike over-the-counter and prescription medications, herbal supplements aren't subject to the same research testing, evaluation process, and government regulations.
  • Herbs and herbal supplements have not been studied at the level that pharmaceutical drugs have---especially in pregnant and lactating women.
  • There is no organization monitoring or ensuring the reliability and safety of herbal products.
  • Because of this, the efficacy, strength and quality of a supplement can vary significantly. The content and activity of a product is dependent upon the manufacturer and brand, the harvest time, climate, soil, portion of the plant used, method of extraction, formulation and storage.
  • Numerous studies have also shown that there are inaccuracies with supplement labeling. Often the level of ingredient analyzed differs from the amount stated on the label. So consumers can't always trust what's written on a label.
Therefore, always consult your healthcare provider before you begin taking any supplement, herbal or otherwise.

Herbal Supplements to Avoid

This list refers to medicinal (not culinary) uses of herbs. Cooking with the herbs marked by (** ) is perfectly safe because they're used in such small amounts, even when eaten several times per week. Likewise, applying these herbs topically, such as in lotions or soaps, is also safe. These herbs should not be ingested in the form of teas, infusion teas, liquid extracts, dried extracts, tinctures, or supplements because they either lack research to prove they are safe during pregnancy, or they can induce uterine contractions, stimulate menstrual flow, and affect hormones, according to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.

Aloe vera* Angelica Anise** Arnica
Asafetida Ashwaganda Barberry Basil**
Bee balm Birthwort Black cohosh Bladderwrack
Blessed thistle Bloodroot Blue cohosh Blue flag
Borage Buchu Bugleweed California poppy
Camphor Cascara sagrada Cassia Castor oil
Catnip Cat's claw Celandine Celery**
Chamomile Cinchona Coltsfoot Comfrey
Corydalis Cotton root bark Dong quai Elecampane
Ephedra Ergot stimulate Evening Primrose Fenugreek**
Feverfew Ginseng** Goldenseal Gotu Kola
Guggul Horehound Hyssop Ipecac
Juniper Kava Kava Lemongrass** Licorice**
Lobelia Mace** Motherwort Mugwort
Myrrh Nettles (or Stinging Nettles) Nutmeg**

Oregon grape root
Osha Parsley** Passion Flower Pay D' Arco
Pennyroyal Peruvian bark Pleurisy root Prickly ash
Quassia Red clover Roman Chamomile Rosemary**
Rue Sage** Saw Palmetto Senna
Slippery Elm*** Thuja

Turmeric** Uva Ursi
Vervain Vitex Wild indigo Wormwood
Yarrow Yellow dock Yohimbe Raspberry Red Leaf****  
Dandelion Rose Hips German Chamomile Creatine
Elderberry Fennel Hibiscus Cranberry Extract
* Using aloe vera (or products containing it) as a topical skin treatment is safe during pregnancy.

** These herbs are safe to use in cooking.

***While the inner bark of the slippery elm can help relieve nausea, vomiting and vaginal irritations, the outer bark of the same tree contains chemicals that could cause a miscarriage. It's better to avoid all slippery elm products, just in case some outer bark contaminated the supplements.

**** A Special Note about Red Raspberry Leaf:

Red raspberry leaf can have an estrogenic effect, adversely affect pregnancy, bring about uterine contractions, and is sometimes used by midwives to facilitate delivery. Therefore, it should only be used under the close supervision of a healthcare provider in the later stages of pregnancy. Do not use red raspberry leaf at any time during pregnancy without the close supervision of a healthcare provider.

Safe and Possibly Safe When Used in Amounts Commonly Found in Foods

The following herbs have been deemed "safe" and/or "possibly safe" by the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. As with any supplement, consult your health-care provider before you begin taking any herb listed below.

Cranberry:
Cranberries-in unsweetened juice or fruit form--are used to promote urinary health and help ward off urinary tract infections, a common ailment during pregnancy.

Garlic:
Ubiquitous and pungent herb, garlic is safe to use as a seasoning during pregnancy. Some studies have suggested that garlic could help prevent or lessen symptoms of pre-eclampsia, but there is not enough evidence to verify those findings.

Ginger root:
Many women find that ginger relieves nausea and vomiting. Available in root, tea or candy form, use fresh, organic ginger when possible.

Oats:
Oats are high in calcium and magnesium; they are used to soothe itchy or dry skin when applied to the skin topically. Oats are also high in fiber, which is a good reason to add them to your diet.

Peppermint Leaf:
This herb, often used in tea form, can help relieve nausea and morning sickness or gas.

Psyllium (blond and black):
With high levels of soluble dietary fiber, psyllium is a key ingredient in many bulk laxatives. Psyllium supplements (such as Metamucil) are often used to alleviate constipation, a common pregnancy ailment.

Herbal Tea Primers

The word "tea" is used to describe many beverages made from dried plants and herbs diffused in hot or cold water. There are two varieties: herbal and nonherbal (traditional teas).
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About The Author

Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. She teaches prenatal classes and counsels individuals, helping women eat right and stay fit before, during and after their pregnancies.
Becky Hand

Member Comments

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  • Rosemary Gladstar's "Herbal Healing for Women" is another resource.
  • I'm sorry, but I must correct you. Elderberry, Rose Hips, dandelion, Chamomile, red raspberry leaf, stinging nettle, hibiscus are all safe during pregnancy. There are other herbs that are safe during pregnancy as well. You may want to consult with an herbalist when writing about herbs. Here are some good sources "botanical Medicine for Women's Health" Romm, MD (midwife, MD, herbalist), "American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook 2nd ed." written by Roy Upton, Soaring Bear, David Winston, Daniel Gagnon, Aviva Romm, Tieraona Low Dog, Mary Hardy and Lyle Carter. And "Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year" by Susan Weed. also Rosemary Gladstar is another good source for herbals.