Herbs to Avoid During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Stacelynn Caughlan

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 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
Artemisia absinthium
Artemisia vulgare
Berberis vulgaris
Chelidonium majus
Gentiana lutea
Hydrastis canadensis
Golden Seal
Menyanthes tifoliata
Ruta graveolens
Tanacetum parthenium
Tanacetum vulgare

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

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

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