Is Ginseng Safe During Pregnancy? Side Effects and Risks

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Now commonplace in more than traditional Asian dishes and herbal medicine, ginseng is popping up in all sorts of teas and other “energy” beverages. But just because it is used in herbal medicine does not mean it is safe for everyone, pregnancy included.  

Chinese, Korean, and American ginseng may lead to unintentional vaginal bleeding and are therefore considered unsafe to use in any amount while pregnant. Though Siberian ginseng does belong to a different plant family, it too has not been verified as safe to use while pregnant. 

For many herbs, the dosage helps to determine safety, but ginseng does not follow along with this generalization. I’ll help walk you through the types of ginseng, including when it is used in foods and drinks and if any of these dishes can be considered safe.

Is Ginseng Safe When Pregnant? 

Ginseng comes in quite a few different varieties. The most common types of ginseng include Siberian, Chinese, Korean/Red ginseng, and American ginseng.

Chinese and Korean (also known as Red) ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefoliusso) are incredibly similar and made from the same active compounds- known as ginsenosides.

While the name sounds similar, Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is not related to the other types of ginseng (source: Mount Sinai). 

All three ginseng plants have similar reported benefits in traditional or herbal medicine. According to traditional medicine, ginseng is thought to improve athletic performance, boost the immune system, and de-stress the body. However, there is very limited research to back up these claims (source: Mount Sinai, LactMed). 

Despite coming from slightly different plants, neither Asian nor American ginseng is safe to consume during pregnancy due to their risk for leading to vaginal bleeding. The safety of Siberian ginseng has not been verified, and so it too is best avoided while pregnant. (source: American Pregnancy Association, Nutrition in Clinical Care). 

In the case of some herbs, the dosage or amount used at a time determines the safety. Ginseng, however, is different. Because the herb is considered unsafe during pregnancy, this goes for all amounts, no matter how small, and the herb should be avoided completely. 

Ginseng is used as an ingredient in some foods and Asian-style soups, such as samgyetang or ginseng chicken soup. Because Asian and American ginseng are unsafe to use while pregnant, it is best to also avoid foods that contain either of these ginseng types.

In addition to foods, ginseng is a popular supplement and tea. I will dive deeper into both of these preparations below. 

ginseng tea in a cup and a fresh ginseng

Can I Drink Ginseng Teas or Coffees during Pregnancy? 

Perhaps nothing says relaxing and soothing more than sipping a warm cup of tea. During pregnancy, however, it is especially important to be vigilant of exactly what is in your tea- or even in your coffee, if you choose to drink it. 

Ginseng can sneak its way into tea blends and coffee drinks. Even store-bought prepared sweet teas, such as the popular Arizona tea, include ginseng for its supposed energy boost and sweet yet earthy notes. Because ginseng is considered an unsafe herb during pregnancy, it is safest to avoid the herb in foods and drinks too. 

Similar to the often-repeated advice to carefully read supplement and tea labels, it is important to verify that no ginseng is inadvertently included in your tea. Green tea blends appear to be the most common culprit, however, some newer “adaptogenic” and “superfood” boosted coffee blends also contain the herb. 

Is Ginseng Root Extract Safe for Pregnant Women? 

Ginseng root extract is a popular supplement. Most often sold as tincture, capsule, or powder, these products are advertised as “energizing” or “stress-relief.”  

Despite their claims, there are better and more safe ways to energize and de-stress while pregnant. Ginseng supplements are typically made from Asian ginseng, which is known to be unsafe during pregnancy. 

Of course, it is best to be choosy with any and all of the supplements you might decide to take. Many “adaptogenic” or “de-stress” supplements contain ginseng even though their front label does not advertise the herb.

Always be sure to buy your supplements from a trustworthy brand and read the full label to ensure there are no unsafe herbs in the blend. 

fresh Korean ginseng on a chopping board

Can Ginseng Cause Miscarriage?

In addition to the claim that ginseng can boost immunity, it is also thought that Asian and American ginseng can act as a blood thinner (source: Aesthetic Surgery Journal). Ginseng may also have hormonal effects, as it is a common herbal remedy for menopausal symptoms (source: Medicine). 

With these two effects in mind, it is likely not surprising that these two types of ginseng have long been shown to cause vaginal bleeding (source: JAMA). Though not exactly the same as a miscarriage, experiencing vaginal bleeding while pregnant is certainly risky and a strong reason to avoid the herb when expecting. 

Can Ginseng Affect Fertility or Help in Getting Pregnant? 

Struggles with fertility are a trying time that many couples experience, and can often prompt both parties to try anything in their power to boost chances of conception.

Ginseng has been investigated for usefulness in improving fertility, though most studies have been done in regards to male fertility and sperm count. In men, Korean red ginseng has been shown to improve the process of sperm production (source: Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine).

The research into ginseng’s benefits for women who are trying to conceive is less robust. Animal studies, however, have shown some improvement in female egg quality related to Korean red ginseng (source: Biomedical Journal of Scientific and Technical Research). 

While it may have come as a surprise, the unsuspecting herb ginseng is not safe during pregnancy. Snuck into tea blends, soups, and even coffees, hopefully, you are now more aware of where ginseng may be hiding.