Many women ask me about the safety of using herbs during pregnancy.
This is a tricky question. Some herbs are very helpful to pregnant women. Others must be used with great care or only at certain times in the pregnancy. And then there are the herbs that need to be avoided throughout the pregnancy.
The following are general guidelines of herbs to avoid during pregnancy.
• Avoid herbal laxatives. This includes sienna (Senna alexandrina), cascara (Cascara sagrada), and Chinese rhubarb (Rheum palmatum) just to name a few.
• Avoid herbs are used to regulate the menstrual cycle.
• Refrain from using herbs that contain alkaloids. This includes tobacco and coffee, but also goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). Goldenseal is found in many herbal cold medicine products.
• Finally, avoid herbs that have a pronounced effect on the body. These herbs are called effectors. In herbal medicine they are used to stimulate a healing response from the body and are used for short periods of time. Examples of these herbs include Celandine (Cheladonium majus) or other strong bitters which stimulate digestion and juniper (Juniperus communis), used to relieve urinary tract infections.
Let’s follow a hypothetical woman called Sue through her pregnancy to explore how herbs can benefit her well-being.
During the first trimester, Sue is tired, constipated and experiences nausea. A nourishing herbal tea made with nettles, rosehips and a pinch of peppermint will make an excellent tonic for the Sue in her first trimester.
Nettles are potent green food, high in iron and other minerals. They will give Sue the energy boost she needs while nourishing her body. The rosehips are pack with vitamin C and bioflavonoids. In the tea, the rosehips will help the Sue’s body absorb of the minerals from the nettles. They will offer protection to Sue’s blood vessels to help prevent hemorrhoids and varicose veins.
Peppermint is a traditional remedy used to relieve morning sickness. Ginger is also used to ease nausea. A delicious tea to calm morning sickness is: ½ tsp of freshly grated ginger in one cup of peppermint tea, steep for 20 minutes and add a little honey. Add a slice of lemon to this tea and it becomes soothing cold remedy for pregnant moms.
To relieve constipation, grind up whole flax seeds in a coffee grinder and sprinkle a tablespoon on a bowl of apple sauce. The flax seeds will not only help Sue go, but they are an excellent source of essential fatty acids. The child in the womb needs these fatty acids for its developing nervous system. In many cases woman’s stores of fatty acids are depleted during pregnancy. Research has shown that low levels of fatty acids are a contributing factor to postpartum depression and/or anxiety. Using ground flax seed may help prevent these conditions from arising after the child is born.
During the second trimester, Sue is feeling better. However, she is having moments of anxiety, fearful that everything will turn out OK. Green oat seed (Avena sativa) is added to the tea of nettles, rosehips and peppermint. Green oat seed is a gentle nerve tonic, used to calm frayed nerves. Green oat seed will help Sue let go of her fears and enjoy her pregnancy.
As Sue’s third trimester begins, raspberry leaf (Rubus ideaus) is added to the pregnancy tea. Raspberry is high in calcium, Vitamin C and many other minerals. Along with the nettles and rosehips Sue’s tea will give her body the resources it will need to recover from labour quickly and make nourishing milk for her newborn.
Raspberry leaf is a uterine tonic. For centuries women have used raspberry leaf to prepare for pregnancy and labour.
Today, raspberry leaf is used to prevent premature labour as well as postpartum bleeding. Many herbalists recommend using raspberry leaf throughout a woman’s pregnancy. However, because it contributes to constipation, it maybe better to wait until the last trimester.
Sometime during Sue’s last months of pregnancy her feet and hands begin to swell. Dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinalis folia) is added to her tea. Dandelion leaf is a diuretic. It removes excess fluid from the body via the kidneys. Most diuretics deplete potassium.
The loss of potassium disturbs the rhythm of the heart. Dandelion leaf is so high in potassium, using it in a herbal tea actually increases potassium levels in the body.
If the Dandelion leaf does not relieve the swelling and it gets worse, it would be very important for Sue to see her midwife or doctor.
There are many herbs used to bring on labour. But most herbalist agree, in most cases, it’s best to let the baby decide when to come into the world. So in those last couple of weeks, put the finishing touches on the baby’s room and dream of the child to be born.
Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.