Wednesday, April 4, 2012


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!



  1. They also say not to give wine to pregnant women, and we have been drinking kiddush ans arba kosot for thousands of years, with no notable increase in miscarriages or brain damage compared with our gentile counterparts.
    About the herbs there is another factor also- we don't eat them with the worms and bugs which may add to the unwanted effects...
    Just "Tzee lach b'ikvei hatzon..."(Shir Hashirim").

    1. Anyone with diabetes or pregnancy induced diabetes (usually temporary for the pregnancy) should not drink wine. Alcoholics give birth to infants suffering from brain damage - fetal alcoholic syndrome. So in fact no harm will come to mother or baby if they pass up alcohol during pregnancy. Grape juice, tirosh is just as healthy as far as anti oxidants and good things found in wine. Alcohol increases blood sugar levels - this is just a scientifically proven fact. However, the healthiest way to get the benefits from grapes is to eat them fresh.

  2. There are so many herbs for pregnancy that are very harmful and hazardous to use. I saw in one post that parsley can induce miscarriage. Guys, be careful.


  3. First of all thanks for share your personal experience. Meditation and Ayurvedic pregnancy medicine are the best always without side effect. Its Good to Know now a days women are feel secure after getting so much support from Govt. and Family.Even in organizations are gave them Seek leave for long days during Pregnant period.