by Josephine Levin
“The bitter herb wherefore do we eat it? Because the Egyptians embittered the lives of our ancestors in Egypt: as is said: and they embittered their lives with cruel bondage, in mortar and brick, and in all manner of labor in the field” (Passover Hagadah)
|Parsley & Celery - Photo by Josephine Levin|
It is customary to eat bitter herbs at the Passover Seder. Some of the bitter herbs we eat can be dangerous to pregnant women, especially in the early months of pregnancy.
Parsley Petroselineum crispum (petrozilea in Hebrew) is listed as a potential abortion causing herb. The Physician’s Desk Reference of Herbal Medicine (PDR) lists parsley on the list of herbs prohibited to pregnant women. High doses of parsley “increase the contractility of the smooth muscle of the intestine, bladder, and especially the uterus, and therefore may be abortifacient; “(PDR Herbal Medicine, 3rd Ed. 2004, Thomson).
Celery Apium graveolens (carpas in Hebrew) should also not be used during pregnancy according to the PDR of Herbal Medicine.
Horseradish Armoracia rusticana is listed by Susun S. Weed in the Wise Woman Herbal Childbearing Year, 1985, as one of the common garden herbs that can lead to a miscarriage. Other herbs Weed says to avoid, especially in the first 3 months of pregnancy, are: savory, marjoram, celery seed, and more.
According to Herb Contraindications by Francis Brinker, N.D., horseradish can potentially cause an abortion if taken in large amounts.
The PDR also says horseradish is not to be eaten by people suffering from stomach or intestinal ulcers or from kidney disease.
Problem on Seder night is that women take parsley, celery and horseradish almost at the same time and this can increase the chance for a miscarriage. A woman who has a history of miscarriages should really not eat these at all, but only lettuce which is a bitter herb that does not pose danger to pregnant women.
Cinnamon and ginger often used to flavor matza balls and Pesach cakes should be avoided. Ginger root has sometimes been recommended for nausea, but it induces bleeding and should be avoided throughout pregnancy. A safer remedy for nausea during pregnancy used by Moroccan Jewish women is to scratch the peel of a lemon and smell it. One sure remedy that always works for nausea of pregnancy is to lie down. Women only usually vomit after getting up!
The PDR of Herbal Medicine has a very long list of herbs that are not to be used by pregnant women. The list is too large to list here but some of the more common ones are:
Alfalfa, Aloe vera, Anise seed, Barley, pearl barley & Scotch barley, Basil, Bilberry, Bladderwrack, Blessed thistle, Borage, Castor oil, Catnip, Cinnamon, Coffee, Cola, Comfrey, Elecampane, English chamomile, Fenugreek, Ginseng, Goldenseal, Green tea, Hops, Horehound, Horsemint, Hyssop, Ipecac, Juniper, Lemongrass, Licorice, Cannabis, Morning glory, Motherwort, Myrrh, Nutmeg, Pennyroyal, Papaya, Peppermint, Poppyseed, Red clover, Rosemary, Rue, Safflower, Saffron, Sage, Saw palmetto, Senna, Short buchu, Spikenard, Stinging nettle, Tansy, Tea, Turmeric, Uva-ursi, Vervain, Watercress, Wild carrot, Wormwood, Yarrow.
The American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicines suggests that pregnant women avoid Caraway seeds, Ginger, Thyme, Tarragon, Oregano, and more.
Raspberry leaf tea should only be used when a woman is at term, as it promotes and speeds up labor. Women have reported miscarriages after taking raspberry leaf tea in early pregnancy.
When there are disagreements in the literature about what is safe or not, always heed those that caution. Not enough research has been done on many herbs to know just how they affect a pregnant woman or an unborn child. The rule should be “when in doubt don’t.”
Herbs and spices are powerful medicines and some are dangerous when used in combination with other herbs or when taken with conventional medicines.
No pregnant woman should ever use any kind of herb or herbal preparation without consulting a qualified health care provider.
In conclusion the safest bitter herb for a pregnant woman to eat for the maror for the Passover seder is lettuce.
Have a happy and health Passover!