Home > About Herbs > Herbal Contraceptives?

Herbal Contraceptives?

By: Elizabeth Hinds - Updated: 1 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Herbal Contraceptives Contraception

The first thing to stress when talking about herbal contraception is that it isn’t 100% reliable. Very little thorough scientific research has been done and most evidence for it relies on word of mouth. If you absolutely definitely don’t want to get pregnant, don’t use herbal contraceptives as your sole method.

Having said that, the results of recent research (October 2010) into a male herbal contraceptive pill have been promising. Researchers in Rajasthan University are trying to develop a pill that uses widely available natural herbs. Testing is at a preliminary stage and it will be some years before a conclusive result is obtained. In the meantime we have to rely largely on folklore for our knowledge of herbal contraceptives.

Woman to woman

Mention of herbal contraception crops up comparatively rarely in old scientific papers and books. This is probably because it was usually the woman who would take responsibility for contraception, often undoubtedly, without her husband’s knowledge. She would have consulted the village wise woman, who today would be recognised as a herbalist, who would have provided her with the potion necessary to prevent pregnancy. This information was passed down through the generations orally from woman to woman, mother to daughter, herbalist to patient, and wouldn’t have found its way into any textbooks.

How herbs work

Different herbs act in different ways: some prevent conception; others stop the implantation of the fertilised egg. Some need to be taken on a regular basis; others act more like the morning after pill and can be taken as needed. But, as we said at the start, herbal contraceptives are not 100% reliable, and, even more importantly, an overdose can be extremely dangerous.

But let’s take a brief look at the history of herbal contraception.


One of the most famous herbal contraceptives is silphion, a plant that grew, about 3,500 years ago, in Cyrene in what is now Libya in North Africa. It is mentioned in the love poetry of Catullus, an ancient Roman poet, as well as in the famous cookbook attributed to the legendary first century gourmand, Apicius. It was highly prized for its properties and sold for a price greater than that of silver. In fact so great was the demand for it that it became extinct!

Attempts to farm silphion failed and today it can only be found on ancient coins from Cyrene. But in its day it appears to have been a highly effective contraceptive. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, suggested taking its juice orally or applied to a piece of wool and inserted as a pessary.

Silphion is believed to have been a member of the carrot family resembling fennel, and it’s from this same family that we find one of the herbs popular today for its contraceptive properties.

Queen Anne’s Lace

The seeds of Queen Anne’s Lace (also known as wild carrot) have long been used as a means of preventing implantation. Mentioned by Hippocrates several centuries BC, the seeds work best when taken immediately after intercourse. Queen Anne’s Lace seeds appear to be the most highly-regarded of contraceptive herbs.

Other herbal contraceptives

  • Oil and leaf extracts from the Neem tree, a native of India, have been used for thousands of years as contraceptives. Charaka, a first century Indian physician, suggested dipping a rag in the oil and leaving it in the vagina for 15 minutes before intercourse. Today commercial products based on neem oil are available in pill and spermicide formats.
  • Pomegranate was used in past times to prevent conception. Its seeds provide one of the best sources of plant oestrogen.
  • Wild yam has been used to treat a wide range of women’s health issues and, depending on how it is used, can increase or decrease fertility.
  • Research amongst Native American women indicates numerous herbs used for contraception purposes including mistletoe, antelope sage and ragleaf bahia.

A final note

When silphion became extinct its place was taken, to a certain extent, by asafoetida, a close relative from the fennel family. Asafoetida is perhaps best known for its repugnant smell: bad enough to make an effective contraceptive maybe?

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Dee
    Re: Cooking with Calendula or Pot Marigold
    Someone gave me a large bag of these petals and I need to know of s way to use them in cooking Can you also make tea…
    2 April 2020
  • Riadigur
    Re: Growing Bay Leaves
    Hi I have a large bay tree in my garden and it has 3 significant side trunks about 10 inches in diameter. We were thinking of removing one and…
    29 February 2020
  • Riadigur
    Re: Growing Bay Leaves
    We have a large bay in our garden which has been there over 20 years. From the ground alongside the main trunk we have 2 side trunks about 8…
    26 February 2020
  • Anny0
    Re: Growing Rosemary
    My rosemarinus officinalis has been in bud since late January and this morning(4 Feb 2020) I noticed a fully formed flower. I live in Lincolnshire…
    4 February 2020
  • BrianChido
    Re: Cooking with Marjoram
    great article on the uses of Marjoram. I have been visiting Germany over the past few years and discovered that the herb is quite popular…
    2 October 2019
  • MN-CY
    Re: Growing Thyme
    Please can you tell me which variety of thyme has the smallest leaves ?
    31 July 2019
  • Harry
    Re: Growing Bay Leaves
    I have an 8ft / 2.5m high established bay tree in the garden. When I prune it should I keep some of the new leaf growth or older darker leaf…
    22 July 2019
  • 4waystoyummy
    Re: Cooking with Calendula or Pot Marigold
    yes, the photo shown is another type of marigold. I think it is important to investigate the true flower you wish to…
    17 July 2019
  • Pertwee
    Re: Cooking with Chives
    Can you and how do you use chives in Thai cooking please
    11 July 2019
  • sjpmorris
    Re: Growing Rosemary
    Long shot; we have a quite large rosemary plant that has no leaves or branches on the bottom foot of the "trunk", is there any way to bring them…
    18 June 2019