Lemongrass in Tea and Food: Is It Safe for Pregnancy?

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For some, lemongrass might not be the most familiar flavoring, but it is used in more types of foods than you may initially think. As with all herbs, it is important to verify safety before consuming lemongrass on a regular basis. 

Don’t be fooled by the sweet, lemon smell and taste of lemongrass- this herb has been shown to lead to birth defects, including interfering with the development of the baby’s eyes. Avoid lemongrass while pregnant and opt for lemon, lime, or other citrus fruits to get a similar flavor without the risk. 

Knowing that lemongrass is not safe during pregnancy, does this mean giving up all lemongrass products, or are small amounts okay? I’ll break down what products to look out for, how much is too much, and alternatives for the herb so that you don’t need to forgo your favorite lemony foods and drinks. 

Is Lemongrass Safe During Pregnancy?  

Popular in traditional and naturopathic remedies, lemongrass is thought to be both calming and anti-inflammatory. Available as an essential oil, as well as in tea blends and even to add flavor in Thai and Asian cooking styles, lemongrass might be more common than you think. 

Like so many other herbs, there is not much research done on the safety of lemongrass, especially during the sensitive time of pregnancy, specifically.

What we do know is that citral, which is one of the compounds found in lemongrass and contributes to its signature sweet lemon scent, can be harmful during pregnancy (source: International Journal of Molecular Sciences, Memorial Sloan Kettering). 

Researchers recently found that citral can cause birth defects and problems metabolizing vitamin A (source: International Journal of Molecular Sciences).

fresh lemon grass and lemon grass tea

During your baby’s growth and development in utero, vitamin A plays an essential role in helping the baby’s bones and internal organs grow, developing their immune system, and formation of the baby’s eyes and eye health (source: Nutrients).

Research in chickens has even shown that the problems metabolizing vitamin A caused by citral can lead to abnormal development of the fetus’ eyes (source: International Journal of Molecular Sciences). 

Bear in mind, this research has only been done on animals, and so the results may not be the same in people. However, because of the risk for birth defects, it is best to avoid lemongrass in all forms while pregnant. 

Since there is such a wide range of ways to eat, drink, and use lemongrass, I will cover the specific safety of lemongrass teas and foods in greater detail below. 

Is Lemongrass Tea Safe When You’re Pregnant? 

Lemongrass is a highly common addition to many different tea blends, such as lemongrass matcha, calming blends, headache relief, and even teas designed with mothers in mind.

While drinking a nice warm mug of lemongrass tea might sound relaxing, it can provide a concentrated amount of citral and therefore is best avoided during pregnancy. 

Lemongrass-containing teas also tend to be naturally caffeine-free herbal teas, which are often thought to be the best option during pregnancy in order to eliminate caffeine as much as possible.

This can lead many women to inadvertently drinking lemongrass tea, assuming that it is safer than, say, caffeinated black tea. Despite being caffeine-free, lemongrass tea is not safe to drink while pregnant. 

During pregnancy, lemongrass-ginger tea tends to be quite popular, especially among women experiencing morning sickness. Though lemongrass is known as a comforting and calming herb, any beneficial effects on morning sickness are likely due to the ginger.

To get the same nausea-calming effects without the risks from lemongrass, opt for another herbal tea such as lemon-ginger, peach ginger, or a mint medley.  

Lemongrass in Asian or Thai Food During Pregnancy: Is That Safe? 

The bright, citrus flavor of lemongrass complements Thai and Asian styles of cooking quite well, and so it is common to find lemongrass as a seasoning in different curries, soups, and salads. A few frequently queried examples include:

  • Thai lemongrass chicken
  • Lemongrass and coconut curry
  • Tom Yum Gai (spicy lemongrass soup)

While undoubtedly delicious, the lemongrass in these dishes poses a risk to both mom and baby. Because these dishes rely so heavily on lemongrass, and typically contain larger amounts of the herb, it is best to opt for other entrees that are made without lemongrass. 

Thai lemongrass and coconut curry in a bowl

Unfortunately, meals such as Thai lemongrass chicken and lemongrass curry do incorporate the lemongrass during cooking, and so it is not often possible for your dish to be made without the herb if you are dining at a restaurant.

If you are craving a lemongrass dish, try preparing the dish at home using the zest from a lemon or lime in place of the lemongrass. 

I’m Pregnant and Had Lemongrass Tea – Should I Worry? 

Hearing that lemongrass can lead to unwanted side effects during pregnancy, after already having eaten lemongrass-containing foods or drinks, is certainly worrisome for many women.

Rest assured that toxic effects from eating lemongrass are not a common occurrence. These negative effects were seen after consistent daily lemongrass consumption, something that eating a few days of Thai takeout with lemongrass seasoning does not provide.

It is also important to keep in mind that these studies have only been done on animals, and the effects may not be the same in human mothers. 

If you are worried that you have had more than the occasional lemongrass-containing food or drink, be upfront and discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider. 

Because of the risk to the baby’s growth and development, it is safest to avoid lemongrass while pregnant. There are plenty of similarly citrus-flavored alternatives available, and hopefully this article inspired you to give some of the alternates a try.