Is It Safe to Eat Parsley in Pregnancy?

Jillian O Keeffe

Parsley is a common herbal addition to foods, and it generally seems to be safe for most people to eat. Scientists question the safety of very high amounts of parsley in pregnancy, however, as the herb contains oils that are known to have effects on the uterus. As of 2011, it is unknown what the safe limit of parsley is for pregnant women, although levels normally found in food appear to be safe.

A doctor's approval should be sought before consuming large amounts of parsley during pregnancy.
A doctor's approval should be sought before consuming large amounts of parsley during pregnancy.

Less than 1% of parsley leaf is the oil component, and it is the oil that contains the potentially dangerous substances to the pregnant woman. These substances, myristicin and apiol, are known to have biological effects; in high quantities, they can trigger contractions of the uterine muscle, which can theoretically produce premature labor and present a danger to both mother and child. Historically, the herb has been used to promote the onset of menstruation, which also involves uterine contractions.

Parsley oils and extracts may be riskier to consume during pregnancy than the plant's leaves.
Parsley oils and extracts may be riskier to consume during pregnancy than the plant's leaves.

Myristicin is also able to affect the baby, by traveling across the placenta and into the baby's body. Once the chemical has got into the baby's body, the substance can raise the rate at which the baby's heart beats. Parsley is available in various extract forms, such as the oil, the seeds and the juice, and these substances may be more risky than the natural leaf form.

Historically, parsley has been used to promote the onset of menstruation.
Historically, parsley has been used to promote the onset of menstruation.

Parsley in pregnancy can cause allergic reactions on rare occasions, especially if the woman is already sensitive to plants like carrots and fennel. Apart from the potential effects on the uterus, parsley oil extracts are also capable of producing issues like kidney damage or seizures as side effects. Herbal teas that contain parsley may also give the woman too high a dose of apiol and myristicin for safety. Another possible effect of parsley in pregnancy is that the woman can suffer from diuretic effects, which can result in the loss of more water during urination than normal.

Myristicin can affect pregnant women by crossing the placenta and entering the fetus's body.
Myristicin can affect pregnant women by crossing the placenta and entering the fetus's body.

Pregnant women should be aware than the recommendations for food avoidance are continually updated as more scientific research is published, and more is known about specific foods. Therefore, a woman should always ask a doctor about taking parsley in pregnancy, or any other foods or herbs, in case the recommendations have been changed. Foods like tabbouleh, which can often contain very high levels of parsley, may be unsuitable for eating during pregnancy, so a doctor's advice should be sought for these foods in particular.

Historically, parsley has been used to promote the onset of menstruation.
Historically, parsley has been used to promote the onset of menstruation.
Pregnant women with questions about which foods are safe to eat should consult a healthcare professional.
Pregnant women with questions about which foods are safe to eat should consult a healthcare professional.

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Discussion Comments

turquoise

My sister is pregnant right now, it's her first and she's paranoid about what she puts in her mouth. She will not eat anything with parsley in it because she read somewhere that it can cause uterine contractions. She refused to have pizza last night because of the parsley in the tomato sauce. I think she's exaggerating.

Obviously, any herb in excess can be harmful, but I highly doubt that some cooked or dried parsley in sauce is going to cause any harm.

donasmrs

@ysmina-- Have you heard of parsley being used in some parts of the world to induce miscarriage or labor?

I've read that parsley oil can do this, but you are probably right that small amounts of fresh parsley is okay. I would steer clear of parsley supplements or teas though.

ysmina

My family is from the Middle East and we eat a lot of parsley. We put it in most salads, pastries and dishes. I did not know about the danger of parsley oil when I was pregnant, so I ate everything with parsley in it throughout my pregnancy. I didn't have any problems and my baby was born very healthy. I know that back home, most pregnant women are the same way.

As long as one doesn't sit down and eat a large bowl of parsley or drink five cups of parsley tea, I think it's fine. The amount of parsley used in recipes for flavor shouldn't be a problem for any pregnant woman. I'm not a doctor though, so it's a good idea to ask a gynecologist to make sure.

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