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List of herbs with known adverse side effects

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This is a partial list of herbs and herbal treatments with known or suspected adverse effects, either alone or in interaction with other herbs or drugs. Non-inclusion of an herb in this list does not imply that it is free of adverse effects. In general, the safety and effectiveness of alternative medicines have not been scientifically proven[1] and remain largely unknown.[2] Beyond adverse effects from the herb itself, "adulteration, inappropriate formulation, or lack of understanding of plant and drug interactions have led to adverse reactions that are sometimes life threatening or lethal."[3]

Most of the adverse effects stated in this list are associated with only a small percentage of cases; they should be understood as potential risks rather than as certainties.

Herbs, treatments, and constituents with known or suspected adverse effects

Name Other common names Scientific name Adverse effects
Aconite monkshood, wolfsbane, aconitum[4] Aconitum spp. Heart palpitations and arrhythmias, hypotension, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, respiratory system paralysis, death[4][5]
Aloe vera juice medicinal aloe Aloe vera "abdominal pain, diarrhea, potentially carcinogenic, with others can potentiate cardiac glycosides and antiarrhythmic agents"[3]
Anthroid laxatives "abdominal pain, diarrhea, potentially carcinogenic, with others can potentiate cardiac glycosides and antiarrhythmic agents"[3]
Areca nut Betel nut Areca catechu "deterioration of psychosis in patients with preexisting psychiatric disorders";[5] known carcinogen contributing to cancer of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus and stomach when chewed.[6]
Aristolochic acid (contained in herbs in the genus Aristolochia e.g. Aristolochia serpentaria (Virginia snakeroot), Aristolochia reticulata (Texas snakeroot) and in Chinese herbs such as Aristolochia fangchi and Aristolochia mandshurensis (banned in China and withdrawn from Chinese Pharmacopoea 2005; Stephania tetrandra and Magnolia officinalis do not contain aristolochic acid). Kidney toxicity[5] associated with kidney failure; associated with development of cancer, particularly of the urinary tract, known carcinogen[7][8]
Atractylate Atractylis gummifera Liver damage,[3] nausea, vomiting, epigastric and abdominal pain, diarrhoea, anxiety, headache and convulsions, often followed by coma[9]
Ayurvedic Herbo-mineral (Rasashastra) Medicines Heavy metal contamination[10]
Bitter orange 'Fainting, arrhythmia, heart attack, stroke, death'[4]
Broom Broom Flower, Dyers Broom, Dyer's Greenwood, Dyer's Weed, Dyer's Whin, Furze, Green Broom, Greenweed, Wood Waxen[11] Genista tinctoria[11] Uterotonic properties,[5] nausea vomiting, and diarrhea,[11] contraindicated for pregnancy and breast feeding[11]
Buckthorn bark and berry Rhamnus frangula "abdominal pain, diarrhea, potentially carcinogenic, with others can potentiate cardiac glycosides and antiarrhythmic agents"[3]
Cascara Sagrada bark Rhamnus purshiana "abdominal pain, diarrhea, potentially carcinogenic, with others can potentiate cardiac glycosides and antiarrhythmic agents"[3]
Chaparral creosote bush, gobernadora, larreastat[4] Larrea tridentata, Larrea divaricata[4] Liver damage,[3][4][5] kidney problems,[4] Hypotension in cancer patients[3]
Chinese herbal mixtures Heavy metal poisoning[5]
Coltsfoot coughwort, farfarae folium leaf, foalswort[4] Tussilago farfara Liver damage, cancer[4]
Comfrey comphrey, blackwort, common comfrey, slippery root[4] Liver damage,[4][5] cancer[4]
Country mallow heartleaf, silky white mallow Sida cordifolia "Heart attack, heart arrhythmia, stroke, death"[4]
Dan Shen Red sage, Chinese sage, tan shen Salvia miltiorrhiza Potentiates warfarin activity, leading to excessive anticoagulation and bleeding[3][12]
European Mistletoe Viscum album Toxic to cardio and central nervous systems, gastrointestinal bleeding[3]
Ephedra ma huang Ephedra sinica Agitation and palpitations,[3] "hypertension, irregular heart rate, insomnia, nervousness, tremors and seizures, paranoid psychoses, heart attacks, strokes, and death",[1][13] kidney stones[13]
Flavonoids (contained in many medicinal plants)[5] Vitamin P, citrin Flavonoids, bioflavonoids Hemolytic anemia, kidney damage[5]
Germander Teucrium Liver damage[3][5]
Ginger May alter bleeding time[14]
Ginkgo biloba Bleeding[13][14]
American Ginseng American Ginseng, Canadian Ginseng, Ginseng, Ginseng Root, North American Ginseng, Occidental Ginseng, Ontario Ginseng, Panax quinquefolium, Panax quinquefolius, Red Berry, Ren Shen, Sang, Shang, Shi Yang Seng, Wisconsin Ginseng[15] Panax quinquefolius "Hypertensive and chronotropic activities, may increase digoxin levels",[3] diarrhea, itching, insomnia, headaches, nervousness, rapid heartbeat, hypertension or hypotension, breast tenderness, vaginal bleeding. Very rarely Stevens–Johnson syndrome, liver damage, severe allergy has been reported[15] May lower blood sugar excessivley in combination with diabetes medication.[15] Contains a chemical linked to possible birth defects.[15] May worsen hormone sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids.[15] Insomnia.[15]
Goldenseal Orange-root, Orangeroot, Hydrastis canadensis Uterotonic[3]
Greater celandine celandine Chelidonium majus Liver damage[4]
Guarana Paullinia cupana Agitation and insomnia[3]
Guar gum guaran Obstruction of gastrointestinal tract[5]
Gugulipid Guggal, Guggul, Mukul myrrh tree Commiphora mukul "Headache, nausea, hiccups, diminished efficacy of other cardiovascular drugs including diltiazem and proranolol"[3]
Hawthorn Common hawthorn, may, mayblossom, maythorn, quickthorn, whitethorn, motherdie, haw Crataegus monogyna "Potentiates digitalis activity, increases coronary dilation effects of theophylline, caffeine, papaverine, sodium nitrate, adenosine and epinephrine, increase barbiturate-induced sleeping times"[3]
Horse chestnut Conker Aesculus hippocastanum Liver toxicity, allergic reaction, anaphylaxis[3]
Kava awa, kava-kava[4] Piper methysticum Potentates CNS sedatives,[3] "sedation, oral and lingual dyskinesia, torticollis, oculogyric crisis, exacerbation of Parkinson's disease, painful twisting movements of the trunk, rash",[13] liver toxicity[4][14]
Khat Catha edulis Chronic liver dysfunction[3]
Liquorice root Glycyrrhiza glabra Hypokalemia, hypertension, arrhythmias, edema[5]
Lobelia asthma weed, pukeweed, vomit wort Lobelia Inflata Toxicity, rapid heartbeat, hypotension, coma, death[4]
Milk thistle Silybum marianum Mild laxative, allergy[5]
Pennyroyal Mentha pulegium Liver damage[3][5]
Peony Bai Shao, Chi Shao, Chinese Peony, Common Peony, Coral Peony, Cortex Moutan, European Peony, Jiu Chao Bai Shao, Moutan, Mu Dan PI, Peony Flower, Peony Root, Piney, Radix Peony, Red Peony, Shakuyaku, Shao Yao, Tree Peony, Ud Saleeb, Udsalam, Udsalap, White Peony[16] Radix Paeoniae, Radix Paeoniae Alba, Radix Paeoniae Rubra, Paeonia, Paeonia alba, Paeonia lactiflora, Paeonia mascula; Paeonia obovata; Paeonia officinalis; Paeonia suffruticosa, Paeonia veitchii, Paeoniae Flos, Paeoniae Radix[16] May slow clotting; contraindicated for people with bleeding disorders and before and after surgery. May induce uterine contractions; contraindicated when pregnant or nursing.[16]
Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (contained in comfrey, borage, senecio, coltsfoot, and others) Liver damage[5]
Reserpine Rauvolfia serpentina "Sedation, inability to complete tasks, mental depression, nasal congestion, increased gastric secretion and mild diarrhea"[3]
Safrole Sassafras albidum Liver damage[3]
Saw palmetto Serenoa repens "rare and mild gastrointestinal upset, headaches, diarrhea, gynecomastia, paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, ventricular rupture and death in one patient"[3]
Senna Senna alexandrina (Cassia senna) "abdominal pain, diarrhea, potentially carcinogenic, with others can potentiate cardiac glycosides and antiarrhythmic agents",[3] liver damage[3]
St John's wort Tipton's weed, Klamath weed Hypericum perforatum Photosensitization,[3][13] GI disturbances, "allergic reactions, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, dry mouth"[13]
Valerian garden valerian, garden heliotrope, all-heal Valeriana officinalis "drowsiness, GI upset, headache, palpitations, insomnia",[3] oversedation, overstimulation[14]
Vasambu sweet flag Acorus calamus Vomiting and nausea[17]
Yohimbe yohimbine Corynanthe yohimbe rapid heart rate, hypertension, hypotension, heart problems, death[4]

Herbs with adverse drug interactions

Name Other common names Scientific name Drug Adverse effects
Cinchona bark Cinchona pubescens Warfarin Possibly addictive[3]
Devil's Claw grapple plant, wood spider Harpagophytum Warfarin Addictive effects[3]
Ephedra Caffeine, decongestants, stimulants[13]
Feverfew Tanacetum parthenium Aspirin Addictive effects[3]
Garlic Allium sativum Warfarin Addictive effects[3]
Ginger Zingiber officinale Warfarin Addictive effect, causes iris bleeding[3]
Ginkgo biloba Aspirin, warfarin, ticlopidine, clopidogrel, dipyridamole, garlic, vitamin E[13] With aspirin - retards aspirin absorption[3]
Ginseng Panax ginseng Warfarin[13]
Papaya extract Carica papaya Warfarin Damage to GI tract mucous membranes, Possibly addictive, purpura[3]
Kava Sedatives, sleeping pills, antipsychotics, alcohol[13]
Pineapple enzyme Ananas comosus Bromelain "Diarrhea, increased tendency for bleeding if used simultaneously with anticoagulants and inhibitors of thrombocytic aggregation due to modulation of the arachidonate cascade"[3]
Psyllium seed Plantago spp Coumarin derivates Retards absorption of drug[3]
St John's wort Tipton's weed, Klamath weed Hypericum perforatum Antidepressants,[13][14] warfarin, protease inhibitors for HIV, birth control, some asthma drugs, and many other medications[14]

Herbal plants associated with allergic reactions

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 PMID 11242573 (PubMed)
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  2. PMID 9214254 (PubMed)
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  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 3.23 3.24 3.25 3.26 3.27 3.28 3.29 3.30 3.31 3.32 3.33 3.34 3.35 3.36 3.37 PMID 11297844 (PubMed)
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  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 "Dangerous Supplements: Twelve Supplements You Should Avoid". Consumer Reports Magazine. September 2010. 
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 5.16 5.17 5.18 5.19 5.20 5.21 5.22 5.23 5.24 5.25 5.26 5.27 5.28 5.29 5.30 5.31 5.32 5.33 5.34 5.35 5.36 5.37 5.38 5.39 5.40 5.41 5.42 5.43 5.44 5.45 5.46 5.47 5.48 5.49 5.50 PMID 9528737 (PubMed)
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  6. "Betel chewing causes cancer". SciDev. 
  7. "Natural Does Not Mean Safe". Slate Magazine. 2012. 
  8. "Aristolochic Acid: FDA Concerned About Botanical Products, Including Dietary Supplements, Containing Aristolochic Acid". FDA. 2001. 
  9. PMID 15707749 (PubMed)
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  10. Saper, RB; Phillips, RS; Sehgal, A; Khouri, N; Davis, RB; Paquin, J; Thuppil, V; Kales, SN (27 August 2008). "Lead, mercury, and arsenic in US- and Indian-manufactured Ayurvedic medicines sold via the Internet.". JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association 300 (8): 915–23. PMID 18728265. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 "Broom". WebMD. 
  12. PMID 11302416 (PubMed)
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  13. 13.00 13.01 13.02 13.03 13.04 13.05 13.06 13.07 13.08 13.09 13.10 PMID 10088878 (PubMed)
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  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 "Herbal Medicine". University of Maryland Medical Center. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 "American Ginseng". WebMD. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 "Peony". WebMD. Retrieved 2011-12-31. 
  17. "Vasambu". 1 April 2013.