Natural and herbal remedies have been used for centuries, though many of them haven’t been tested for their safety in pregnancy.
Hibiscus (which also goes by the names Jamaica Flower, Florida Cranberry, Roselle, or Red Sorrel, among others) is one of those that has caused confusion for pregnant women, so I investigated the science behind its safety.
Is Hibiscus Safe in Pregnancy? Hibiscus – whether as a supplement or in hibiscus tea, is best avoided in pregnancy. Limited evidence shows that it may have negative effects on pregnant women and/or their fetus, but no solid conclusions have yet been drawn.
This article covers the science behind the existing studies on hibiscus, and hopefully reassures you that you shouldn’t worry if you’ve already had the odd cup of hibiscus tea.
Studies of the effects of Hibiscus on Pregnancy
For obvious ethical reasons, it’s very difficult to conduct human trials when seeing how high doses of herbs or supplements affect pregnant women and their babies.
There have, however, been several studies on the effect of hibiscus on pregnant rats, in controlled experiments.
A 2016 paper highlighted that “caution should be exercised” when consuming hibiscus in pregnancy (source: Nursing & Care Open Access Journal). This was because the rat studies suggested that consuming hibiscus extract may cause “delayed puberty, elevation of body weight and BMI” in the rat’s offspring.
In 2008, a Nigerian study suggested that hibiscus may cause maternal malnutrition and delayed puberty in the children of mothers who consumed hibiscus (source: Nigerian Journal of Physiological Sciences).
These findings were echoed in another study published in the Pakistan Journal of Nutrition in 2011 (source: ResearchGate).
It’s hard to draw conclusions from smaller-scale studies on rats, but the general consensus is that you should err on the side of caution when it comes to having hibiscus during pregnancy.
Pregnant women should also avoid taking hibiscus supplements. WebMD notes that taking a medicinal level like this is “likely unsafe” during pregnancy and breastfeeding (source: WebMD).
Hibiscus tea should be avoided where possible, and be replaced by other, safer herbal teas during pregnancy.
Can You Drink Hibiscus Tea in Any Trimester?
In 2003 the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology discussed possible effects of various herbs and their effect on pregnant women. Hibiscus was noted to potentially have an emmenagogue effect (source: IJOG). This basically means that it may increase menstrual flow.
Although there is no proven link between hibiscus and miscarriage, this emmenagogue effect suggests that it’s probably wise to avoid hibiscus in the first trimester in particular.
However, because of the question mark surrounding the safety of Hibiscus tea as a whole, it’s best to avoid it in every trimester – first, second OR third.
I Accidentally Had Hibiscus or Drank Hibiscus Tea: Should I Worry?
If you’ve been drinking hibiscus tea during your pregnancy you may now, understandably, be worried. Be reassured that herbal tea contains much smaller amounts than supplements.
It’s likely that the smaller dose won’t be harmful, however, it’s probably better to stop drinking hibiscus tea to avoid any cumulative effects, and replace the tea with another option for the remainder of your pregnancy.
Remember: Many studies involved extracts, tinctures, or high doses of herbs similar to the levels found in supplements. Herbal teas contain a much smaller amount.
The above studies were not conclusive, however, the best thing to do is avoid hibiscus for the remainder of your pregnancy.
Hibiscus Blend Safety, e.g with Rosehips or Raspberry
Very often, hibiscus flowers are used in drinks or tea blends with another ingredient. The two most common are rosehips and raspberries.
I wrote a separate article on the safety of rosehips in pregnancy, including rosehip tea. You can check that out if you plan to drink rosehip on its own.
When mixed with hibiscus, however, it’s better to avoid any tea blend with hibiscus in it. This includes when it’s blended with rosehips or raspberries.
Understandably, herbal teas are popular with pregnant women because many of them are caffeine-free. If you’re bored with water and want to know what else you can safely drink, I put together a list of ten drinks pregnant women can enjoy, besides water.
Overall, hibiscus is best replaced by another tea that is considered to be safe in small food amounts. You may also be interested in these articles on other types of tea:
- Rosehip Tea (and syrups) in pregnancy
- Jasmine tea and how much is safe when pregnant
- Lemon balm tea during pregnancy
- Decaf tea and coffee during pregnancy – what to look for
Many more will be added over time, so check back often!