One of the most commonly asked questions asked in pregnancy by expecting mamas is “what herbs are OK for me to enjoy during pregnancy?” The fear and stigma around certain herbs in pregnancy is both anxiety-producing and can have the unfortunate consequence of limiting the number of tools pregnant mamas-to-be have for support during a time where the body can use all the support it can get.
We asked Agni’s very own Medical Advisor and Herbalist, Sarah Buscho, (who also happens to be the CEO + founder of the incredible botanical skin and self care company, Earth tu Face), a few questions about how she approached herbs during her own pregnancy and how we we can all relate to herbs in pregnancy to stay safe and supported.
What is a healthy orientation towards herbs during pregnancy we can adopt?
A few helpful tips to follow during pregnancy around medicinal plants are:
1. Follow your body. Often your body will give stronger feedback on what it likes and doesn’t like during pregnancy than it does pre-pregnancy. This may be in the form of things smelling especially delicious to you unexpectedly, smelling really off putting that you had previously enjoyed, strong cravings or even strong aversions. Follow the messages your body is providing.
2. Easy does it. You don’t need to overload your body during this time. Make sure you are eating what you can and including a pregnancy friendly tea or other pregnancy friendly blends to support the transitions your body is making. Red raspberry leaf tea is really helpful! It may even taste delicious to you. Good pregnancy blends are incredibly handy support to have on hand. They give you something nourishing to reach for.
3. Do read labels and talk to your health care providers, while also not sweating the small amounts of herbs in recipes and foods, in general, these are not present in amounts that can harm you or your developing little one.
What herbs should be absolutely avoided during pregnancy and why?
There is a long list of herbs that someone at sometime has recommended pregnant women to avoid. I believe this is primarily because so many medicinal plants have been attempted to be used as abortifacients or uterine stimulating herbs. Any plants that can irritate the placenta or stimulate uterine contractions should be avoided.
These classes of herbs should be avoided in general: Bitters, alkaloid-containing herbs, strong laxatives, and herbs containing volatile oils.
Bitters are a large group but the ones to note specifically to avoid (which should be easy because they are not commonly found in food) are goldenseal, rue, barberry, wormwood, feverfew and celandine.
Alkaloid-containing herbs are also not common, and therefore easy to avoid, to mention a few specific plants to avoid: pennyroyal, juniper, nutmeg (in large amounts), and thuja.
Strong laxatives include aloe vera juice, cascara sagrada, senna and other laxative herbs should be avoided. These are more common. Sticking to fiber such as prunes is a safer bet during pregnancy.
There are long lists of herbs to avoid in pregnancy. However, speaking for myself, when I was pregnant, I felt safe drinking blends of tea formulated for pregnancy, drinking red raspberry leaf tea as a simple, chewing on ginger chews as needed for nausea, and cooking with herbs that sounded good to my body (and tasted good!). My body preferred things on the blander side while carrying my child, and I followed those cues. Although garlic is thought to be good for pregnancy, for example, I couldn’t tolerate it. On the flip side some people have strong garlic cravings. I could not get enough strawberries and citrus when pregnant, or enough cheesy bread!
What herbs are supportive for all pregnancies or certain pregnancy symptoms and why?
Red raspberry leaf is supportive to pregnancies as it works to strengthen and tone the uterine lining. Several medicinal plants have been known throughout history to help prepare people for birth. They are said to shorten labor and decrease the potential for complications. Raspberry leaf is the most widely used for this. It is a tonic, alleviates nausea a little, and is ever so slightly relaxing. It has an affinity for the uterus and helps to strengthen both the uterus and the muscles of the pelvis. It is used, in tea, before labor to help promote an easier delivery process.
A few herbs are thought to help minimize risk of miscarriage. These are: Wild yam, fenugreek, motherwort, rosemary, cramp bark, black haw and black cohosh. Red raspberry leaf is also on this list.
Many women crave a list of “fully approved” herbs for use in Pregnancy. Practitioners typically do not give general guidelines around herbs because herbs have not been studied extensively for use in pregnancy and it opens everyone up to liability. This means practitioners often rely on traditional healing practices as a guide, and the traditions are extremely variable when it comes to herbs for pregnancy. Some say ginger is a big no-no, others say it is good for nausea. This is true for almost every plant. It is confusing and frustrating to not be able to get definitive answers, but it is also an opportunity to check in with one’s own intuition.
I can explicitly say what I was comfortable consuming during pregnancy:
- Raspberry leaf
- Cinnamon (in small amounts)
- Ginger (ginger in foods and chews)
- Spearmint (in small amounts)
- Rosemary (in small amounts)
- Wild yam.
In general, I felt safe ingesting herbs that are in foods for flavor if my body also was saying yes to that food, that amount feels safe to me.
What other questions can/should we be asking ourselves about herbs during pregnancy?
I think we can be dropping into what our bodies are telling us more. How does this smell and taste to me? Am I feeling drawn to have more of it or getting messages that it is not something I want to have in my body?
Whatever this season of pregnancy brings, we wish you lots of nourishment, support, and calm through it all.