In this episode of the Essential Oil Revolution Podcast, we discuss how to use herbs and essential oils safely in children and through all the phases of motherhood, including pregnancy, breastfeeding, and postnatally. To accomplish this expansive topic, we are joined by an internationally sought-after naturopathic doctor, herbalist, botanical advocate, midwife, formulator, and innovator, Dr. Mary Bove.
In this post, I’ll provide an overview of the safety concerns and the appropriate usage of herbs and essential oils for the prenatal to postnatal periods and in little ones. Most importantly, I’ll provide some additional, detailed show notes from the latest episode of the Essential Oil Revolution podcast on these subjects with women’s health and pediatric natural health expert, Dr. Mary Bove.
The Safe Use of Herbs in Pregnancy and Through Motherhood
The use of herbs and essential oils in pregnancy and in children is quite controversial, both in conventional and integrative medicine. This is due to the ethical considerations of research in pregnancy and the lack of robust studies on natural products in these populations in the medical field. Yet, evidence and traditional knowledge of using botanicals safely does exist for both kids and moms-to-be.
Most of what is currently known about botanical use during pregnancy is based on historical, empirical, and observational evidence, with some pharmacologic and animal studies. As a result, some herbs and essential oils are an accepted go-to for minor symptoms and discomforts. In fact, some plants can be gentler and safer than over-the counter (OTC) medications and prescriptions.
Yet other herbs and aromatics may need to be avoided during vulnerable periods. This is because if they are not taken properly, specific botanicals and essential oils could potentially lead to complications in pregnancy and postnatal. Furthermore, some plants contain certain compounds and/or have modes of actions that could interfere with development. Theoretical or actual risks with herbs include premature birth, uterine contractions, lactation disturbances, and/or negatively impacting the fetus and growing child. (R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R)
Still, beyond the theoretical contraindications and inference from their modes of actions, the reported adverse events of herbs and essential oils in pregnancy have most frequently involved the consumption of known toxic herbs, botanicals that had been adulterated, and/or the inappropriate and excessive use or dosage amounts.
Reference tables, such as those found online and within various herbalists’ books can be used to offer some guidelines of safe herbs to use during the preparation for motherhood. These list herbs that have been validated safe in human use for pregnancy and breastfeeding and others which have theoretical evidence, limited evidence, or robust evidence of harm. However, please note that these resources do not replace medical advice by specialists.
Essential Oil: Additional Safety Concerns in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Because essential oils are considered to be more concentrated than herbals, they have been under additional scrutiny for use during critical periods of development. According to Herbal Academy:
Some experts say the main concern with using lipophilic substances like essential oils during pregnancy is exposing the fetus via absorption into the placenta. For this reason, many doctors advise not using essential oils during the first trimester of pregnancy.
After the first trimester, certain essential oils can be used topically during pregnancy. Properly diluted, exposure to the fetus does not necessarily mean a risk of toxicity (Tisserand & Balacs, 1995). In fact, aromatherapy expert Jane Buckle says that essential oils have been used safely countless times during pregnancy in the form of perfume and bath products (Buckle, 2003). …
Some chemical components found in certain essential oils, such as phenol constituents, are too strong and risk the safety of baby and mom. Other essential oils may contain constituents with a potential estrogenic effect…
As with botanicals, there are various expert sources with lists of essential oils to avoid and use during pregnancy. The article in Herbal Academy states:
Avoid These Essential Oils During Pregnancy
- Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum)
- Basil CT estragol (Ocimum basilicum)
- Bay (Pimento racemosa)
- Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora)
- Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia)
- Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
- Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea)
- Clove (Syzgium aromaticum)
- Cumin (Cuminum cyminum)kc
- Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
- Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
- Parsley (Petroselinum sativum)
- Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
- Sage (Salvia officinalis)
- Sweet Birch (Betula lenta)
- Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
- Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
- Thuja (Thuja occidentalis)
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris CT thymol)
- Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
- Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
Please note: This is not an all-encompassing list, and there may be additional essential oils to avoid. Contact your doctor if you have any questions before use.
Jade Shutes, a world-renowned clinical aromatherapist, founder of the School for Aromatic Studies, and herbalist wrote an impeccable overview of using essential oils during pregnancy. In her article, she highlighted various constituents in oils and why they could be a cause for concern when used in pregnancy. As with herbs, many claims of harm are based on rodent studies and theoretical interactions. However, some essential oils that are recommended to be avoided can be toxic for all humans and should not be used, while high levels of compounds in other oils could be potentially damaging to a growing fetus. The article states:
- Monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes do not present significant rick to pregnancy and are generally well tolerated. Alcohols are usually non-irritating to the skin and non-toxic.
- Oxides are generally well tolerated, but can lead to skin irritation when administered topically.
- Essential oils containing furanocoumains are phototoxic so one needs to be cautious of topical application to sun exposed skin.
- Esters and ethers have many similar properties and characteristics, but while esters only occur in small quantities in essential oils, ethers are much stronger. One should not use essential oils with ethers for a prolonged period of time and use of these oils should be given careful consideration during pregnancy.
- Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum), Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and Anise Star (Illicium vernum) all contain phenyl menthyl ethers and should be avoided during pregnancy.
- Ketones are not easily metabolized by the liver and can be toxic. Therefore, oils containing high levels of aromatic ketones should be avoided because they can be stored in the body and could cause problems after prolonged daily use. These oils include Sage (Salvia officianalis), and Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis).
- Essential oils rich in aldehydes or phenols can cause skin sensitivity. Phenols can be burning or warming to the skin and should be avoided due to skin sensitivity during pregnancy unless there is an infection present. Oregano (Origanum compactum), Thyme (Thymus vulgaris ct thymol), Savoury (Satureia montana), Clove (Syzygium aromaticum), and Cinnamon (Cinnamomum camphora), contain high levels of phenols and should be avoided during pregnancy. Cinnamon (Cinnamomum camphora) also contains aldehydes along with Cumin (Cumimum cyminum) so these oils are contraindicated during pregnancy….
Thankfully, some essential oils, such as lavender, geranium, chamomile, rose, and peppermint have been used in clinical studies and show not only safety, but effectiveness for use in pregnancy to relieve common conditions. Jade Shutes lists the following as safe essential oils during preconception and pregnancy:
Though this is not a comprehensive list, essential oils that appear to be safe to use during pregnancy include Benzoin (Styrax tonkinensis), Bergamot (Citrus bergamia), Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus smithii), Frankincense (Boswellia carteri), Geranium (Pelargonium x asperum), German Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita), Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi), Juniper (Juniperus communis), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Lemon (Citrus limon), Mandarin (Citrus reticulata), Marjoram (Origanum majorana), Neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amara), Orange (Citrus sinensis), Petitgrain (Citrus sinensis), Peppermint (Mentha x piperita), Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), Rose (Rosa damascena), Sandalwood (Santalum album), Spearmint (Mentha cardiaca), Tangerine (Citrus reticulata) Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata), and other non-toxic essential oils.
NAHA, the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, also provides a useful chart of pregnancy-friendly oils here.
Essential Oils and Herbal Safety in Children
Previously, we reviewed some of the controversies, myths and caveats of safety of essential oils and herbs with children in our episode with Dr. Elisa Song. We addressed the nuances in statements such as the ones in this article:
Newborn babies should not be exposed to essential oils. Avoid using essential oils in a diffuser or topically near babies three months or younger.
Young children under the age of 12 years can be sensitive to aroma and affected by chemicals found in certain essential oils. Avoid using all essential oils that should be avoided during pregnancy around young children as well. Dilute essential oils more heavily both in diffusers and topically, in proportion to a young person’s size compared to an adult.
Additionally, avoid essential oils containing in 1,8-cineole, menthol, and methyl salicylate content, as children are susceptible to negative reactions (Tisserand & Young, 2014).
Many experts who use essential oils with children have found more of an individualized approach is best vs. black and white statements. Furthermore, many physicians have discovered that not all aromatics contraindicated in pregnancy need to be avoided in children.
As with herbs, it’s important to keep in mind caveats to studies reporting toxicity with essential oils in children. These include: they often don’t take into account quality of the oil, standardization, common sense use (overdoses resulting in toxicities), medication interactions, and dosages and dilution that are appropriate for these populations.
The Antidote to the Safe Use of Aromatics and Botanicals in Delicate Life Stages
As you can see, finding trustworthy advice about aromatics and botanicals during these critical life stages is hard to decipher.
Thankfully, we are blessed to have the brilliant Dr. Mary Bove on this week’s show. She literally wrote An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants and a book on Herbs for Women’s Health, which offers authoritative and evidence-based guidance for women across all stages of their lifespan.
Dr. Bove has been a practicing herbalist for over 50 years and a licensed Naturopathic Doctor for over 30 years. She also has a diploma in phytotherapy from England and is certified in midwifery.
Dr. Bove currently consults, lectures, writes, and teaches internationally for Heartwood Institute on various topics regarding naturopathic medicine, botanical medicine, pediatrics, women’s health, and mind-body healing. She has also been in formulation research and product development for over 35 years.
Dr. Bove is a modern-day herbalist pioneer who merges the art, heart, and science of medicine. She believes in the synergism and holism of plants and their divine capacity to draw humans into their world. Dr. Bove empowers patients, parents, mothers, the public, and practitioners on how to use botanicals safely and effectively in a way that is accessible, evidence-based, practical, and without fear. Since starting her herbal journey, she is noted to hold firm three tenets which she exemplifies to others daily: “Walk your talk, believe in the plants, and practice herbalism every day in your life.”
Her incredible passion and love of plants combined with her training, education, and encyclopedic knowledge will awe you!
I encourage you to listen to the full episode and to share it with others.
Below are some detailed show notes and resources for you from my talk with Dr. Bove.
Dr. Bove’s Journey into Natural Health and Herbalism
- Initially, Dr. Bove studied psychology, but her love of plants was ignited at 18 years old when the book “Common Herbs for Natural Health” opened up her world.
- After graduation, Dr. Bove went on quite an adventure across the seas to find teachers to educate her about herbal medicine.
- Her passion for the healing power of plant medicine led her to study in British Columbia with Norma Myers and some of the most esteemed pioneer herbalists.
- This manifested into the creation of her herbal apothecary, Hippocrates Herbarium, in her home state of Maine.
- She then moved to Great Britian to pursue more education about plant medicine and received her diploma in phytotherapy from the National Institute of Medical Herbalist’s School of Phytotherapy. She gained membership with the institute shortly after.
- Dr. Bove next returned to the U.S. to attend Bastyr University, where she received her doctorate of naturopathic medicine and a certificate of midwifery.
- Today herbalism is much more accepted, accessible, and integrated into the Western world than back when Dr. Bove started.
- The waning and comeback of plants as medicine demonstrates that they are stewards to our health and timeless.
- We should be aware of the dangers of herbs becoming a commodity and the importance of maintaining herbal tradition and plant sustainability as we embrace their role in our wellness.
The Importance of Dosage and Preparation of Herbs and Essential oils, Especially During Critical Time Periods
- In the United States, herbs and aromatics are often more concentrated than in Europe and put into pills and supplements vs. being used more traditionally in teas and extractions.
- It’s important to have some basic knowledge of what is and isn’t safe regarding what herbs and essential oils to use for your specific condition and their proper use.
- Practitioners schooled in herbal medicine can individualize and guide people during more vulnerable and critical times in their lifespan, such as in pregnancy and infancy.
- Essential oils used in a spray offer gentle yet powerful medicinal properties to support mood and relieve nausea during pregnancy.
- One can look for children’s friendly preparations which are pre-formulated to ensure safety.
- We need to be more cautious at critical time periods with plant medicine for important reasons:
- Pregnancy – herbs and oils could impact the outcome of the pregnancy or the fetus. For example, plants that cause contractions (emmenagogues) may impact delivery.
- Lactation – herbs could enter from the breastmilk to the fetus and may negatively interfere with growth. Plants may also impact breastmilk production. Many herbs used in lactation that are safe are often also safe in babies and infants.
- Children – certain herbs and oils could cause problems with growth, nerve development, or the digestive tract.
Considerations of Herbs and Essential Oils Contraindicated in Critical Times
- Herbs and essential oils from the same plant may not share contraindications based on their different constituent profile and potency.
- Some herbs from the same plant as essential oils that are contraindicated may be safe to use as spices or in lower dosage forms in extractions or teas.
- It’s important as a practitioner to have some understanding of why herbs and essential oils are contraindicated so we can be flexible about what to use therapeutically.
- If one can’t find a knowledgeable practitioner straight away, they can start with the list of known safe herbs and essential oils for common concerns. If there is a pathological condition, it may be best to seek a professional.
- A plant that is considered unsafe in vulnerable times may have been confirmed to cause harm. However, many listed as dangerous may be based on theoretical mechanism, have not yet been studied and proven safe, or the toxicity reports didn’t take into account proper dosage and use.
- Some essential oils (see above) and herbs have been studied and proven to be clinically safe and effective to use during these critical times. For example, saffron tea was found to relieve postpartum depression in a clinical trial. Essential oils like lavender and citrus oils can also be diffused safely to further boost mood.
- Dr. Bove shared a personal story that exemplifies the power of essential oils. She successfully used a mist of lemon balm and lavender essential oils for relieving the agitation and wandering of her father with dementia.
Herbs for the Stages of Motherhood
- Preparatory phase – preconception wellness should start at least three months prior to pregnancy. This may help with fertility challenges.
- At this phase, foods high in polyphenols, fiber, essential fatty acids, fruits, and vegetables should be eaten and inflammatory foods avoided.
- Turmeric and milk thistle can help with liver detoxification and set up a safe and less toxic environment in utero.
- Bitter herbs and high fiber herbs (e.g., powdered mushrooms) can aid with digestive discomfort.
- Early pregnancy – many women deal with fatigue and nausea and vomiting at this time.
- Ginger, at a dose of 250 mg once or twice daily, can help with nausea. Ginger oil can be used as well at low dosages (1-2 drops at most).
- Fennel herb can help with digestive issues and mild constipation.
- Second and third trimester – this is a time to really nourish and support the baby’s growth and the mom’s health.
- Nutritional plants and using foods as medicine can be helpful.
- Nettle tea can help with building iron.
- Horsetail and alfalfa are high in minerals and can also be sipped in tea.
- Pregnant friendly adaptogens, holy basil and chamomile, can be used for additional support. They can help with mom’s stress and sleep issues. Don’t be excessive with their dosage, drink 1-2 cups of tea a day max.
- Deglycerized licorice can aid in heartburn which often occurs at this time.
- Taking fennel and anise seed and eating smaller meals can be helpful with digestive discomfort at this phase as well.
- Shea butter mixed with rose and chamomile oils can help soothe the belly as it stretches.
- 2 TBSP of pureed pumpkin, 1 Tsp Carob powder, ½ tsp cinnamon, and ½ tsp of flax seed can be taken as a nutritive.
- Raspberry tea can be used at this point to help with uterine tone and to minimize bleeding at birth and to avoid postpartum hemorrhage.
- Peri wash- A tea of calendula, rose, and lavender flowers can be combined in a peri bottle and squirted on the perineum to help with postpartum tenderness and healing.
- A peri wash can also be prepared with rose, yarrow, and lavender oils. Add a total of 5-6 drops of essential oil in a 16 oz bottle and shake well.
- Lavender, clary sage, and rose oils can be used with 1 tbsp of Epsom salt in a sitz bath to sooth the perineum as well.
- Galactagogues are plants that impact lactation through influencing the dopamine system, sweat glands, or improving circulation.
- The fennel family (e.g., fennel, dill, and caraway), goat’s rues, milk thistle, holy basil, and nettles are all galactagogues.
- Fennel seed can work in a few hours and milk thistle takes a few weeks to help with lactation. Combining fast and slow galactagogues can help with instant and slow and steady production of breastmilk.
- Holy basil is both a galactagogue and adaptogen. It is good for respiratory issues, blood sugar, mood (improving outlook), and sleep problems.
- Adaptogens are herbs that help with resiliency and to adapt to stress and environmental stimulants. They enhance energy production and work with the body to restore it and optimize its function.
- Essential oils act as amphoterics, they bring balance to the body.
It’s important to note when to use the herb vs. essential oil. For example, in pregnancy anise seed is safe but not the oil. If using fennel in children, it should be diluted within a formulation.
Using herbs daily, in food doses, can build health and are safe in all phases of life. They provide antioxidants and phytonutrients that nurture our body. You can even add herbs to baking to make turmeric muffins and sugar cookies!
Safe Herbs and Essential Oils for Children
- Six kid-friendly herbs are elderberry, chamomile, valerian, echinacea, propolis, and ginger.
- Ginger is good for an upset stomach. The dosage is a few drops from a combination of 5 ml of ginger tincture diluted in a 1 oz bottle of water.
- Good quality echinacea given frequently in a short duration can help with an acute viral or bacterial infection and enhance the immune response of our littles. It can be combined with elderberry.
- Kids prone to sinus issues and stuffy noses can take elderberry daily.
- Anxiety and restlessness that can lead to sleep issues and digestive problems can be aided with lemon balm and valerian. These oils can be diffused as well. Lemon balm (Melissa) is great for focus.
- You can use essential oils as an ointment or diffusing in infants. If applied topically, essential oils should be heavily diluted and placed in a carrier oil.
- Rosemary oil can be helpful with cradle cap. You can infuse fresh rosemary with the essential oil and apply it topically and place a cap on the baby’s head overnight. Then remove the infusion with a cloth or a brush the next day.
- Colic, which is most common between 3-6 weeks of age, can be alleviated with fennel, chamomile, and spearmint herbs. They can be given in a bottle or mixed in a baby formula. Grip water is made from them.
Unless a child is small for their age, around age 12-13 years old and/or once a teenager reaches 100 lbs., adult dosage can be used. At 16 years old, Dr. Bove has everyone on adult doses. Still, be mindful of those who are sensitive.
Essential Oil DIY and Closing Questions:
- Dr. Bove’s favorite DIY consists of a rose water base (2 oz) combined with lemon balm oil (10 drops), rose oil (10 drops), and valerian oil (10 drops). It can be used to spray linens in hotels and/or to refresh and help one relax anywhere.
- Dr. Bove shares what she does daily for self-care and what she feels we can ditch and replace with instead for a more nourishing life.
You can learn more about the herbal certification program with Dr. Bove and additional offerings at: https://www.ecoversity.org/herbalism-certification.
Please support the show by subscribing and providing a rating and feedback on your favorite podcast player. This is a no-cost way to spread the word and to help us stay in alignment with what you want. It also ensures we keep providing you with the best guests, like Dr. Bove.
Links to learn more about Dr. Mary Bove and her offerings:
- IG: @drmarybovend
- Facebook: @MaryBove
- CEUs for Physicians at Botanical.org
- Lecturer for Herbal Certification for Ecodiversity
Books by Dr. Mary Bove, ND:
- An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants
- Herbs for Women’s Health: Herbal Help for the Female Cycle from PMS to Menopause (Good Herb Guide Series)
Resources for Herbs and Essential Oils to Avoid and To Use During Critical Time Periods:
- Essential Oils and Pregnancy – Healthline Overview
- Essential Oils and Pregnancy- The Herbal Academy
- Aromatherapy and Pregnancy – Article by Jade Shutes from The School of Aromatic Studies
- Safe Herbs in Pregnancy – Holistic Matters
- Herbal Safety Breastfeeding
- An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants (Dr. Bove’s Book)
- Ep. 387: Using Essential Oils for Healthy, Thriving, Happy Kids with Integrative Pediatrician Dr. Elisa Song, MD
- Essential Oils and Children- Herbal Academy
Bio of Dr. Mary Bove, ND:
Dr. Mary Bove has been a practicing herbalist for over 50 years and a licensed Naturopathic Doctor for over 30 years. She is a brilliant, powerful, passionate, and sought-after botanical advocate, integrative medicine educator, formulator, international speaker, and innovator. Dr. Bove’s love of botanical medicine goes deep. It was ignited at 18 years old when the book “Common Herbs for Natural Health,” opened up her world. Her studies and passion for the healing power of herbs first manifested into an herbal apothecary in her home state of Maine before she moved to Great Britian to pursue more education about plant medicine. There, Dr. Bove received her diploma in phytotherapy from the National Institute of Medical Herbalist’s School of Phytotherapy and gained membership with the institute shortly after. She then returned to the U.S. to attend Bastyr University where she received her doctorate of naturopathic medicine and a certificate of midwifery.
Dr. Bove served as the chair of botanical medicine and midwifery co-chair at her alma mater for several years before starting the Brattleboro Naturopathic Clinic in VT. There, she practiced general family medicine, specializing in naturopathic pediatrics, botanical medicine, natural prenatal care, and homebirth. She left clinical practice in 2014 to educate, write, teach, consult, formulate herbal products, and research integrative medicine modalities and botanical medicine. Dr. Bove now has over 35 years’ experience working in formulation research and product development. She has previously worked as Gaia Herbs’ Director of Medical Education and served on their Scientific Advisory Board. She currently consults, lectures, writes, and teaches internationally for Heartwood Institute on the topics of naturopathic medicine, botanical medicine, pediatrics, natural pregnancy and childbirth, traditional food medicine, and mind-body healing.
Dr. Bove has been published in many prestigious magazines, journals, and collaborative books. She is the author of Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children, which is a timeless authoritative herbal reference book for children. She also co-authored Herbs for Women’s Health, which offers evidence-based guidance for women across all stages of their lifespan.
Dr. Bove is a modern-day herbalist pioneer who merges the art, heart, and science of medicine. She believes in the synergism and holism of plants and their divine capacity to draw humans into their world. Dr. Bove empowers patients, parents, mothers, the public, and practitioners on how to use botanicals safely and effectively in a way that is accessible, evidence-based, practical, and without fear. Since starting her herbal journey, she is noted to hold firm three tenets which she exemplifies to others daily: “Walk your talk, believe in the plants, and practice herbalism every day in your life.” As plants become more mainstream and accepted, Dr. Bove continues to merge their traditional use with modern day medicine in a respectful, unique way that reconnects us to nature and builds our confidence in their healing capacity. You can learn more about the herbal certification program with Dr. Bove teaches in and additional offerings at: https://www.ecoversity.org/herbalism-certification and her social media.
Naturopathic Medicine and Holistic Resources for Hormonal, Mood, and Digestive Support
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- An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants (Dr. Bove’s Book)
Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.