The Contraceptive Properties of Carrots
Caution the information contained in this page may not be suitable for minors. If you should not be reading this page click here to go back to the Museum foyer.
PLEASE NOTE: The Carrot Museum does not recommend self diagnosis or self medication. The information contained in this web site has not been verified for correctness. Some of the information contained herein is hearsay and may not be correct. Use the information from this page only at your own risk! If in doubt consult a doctor.
IMPORTANT Disclaimer: If you try any methods used on this page you do so at your own risk.
The first oral contraception consisted of potions made from plants and bark. One of the oldest known plants used for contraception was silphium, a member of the giant fennel family, described in the 4th century BC. The extract was purportedly very effective, causing the plant to be used to extinction by the 3rd or 4th century AD. More than 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates described the use of Queen Anne's lace or wild carrot as an oral contraceptive and abortifacient.
Dioscorides knew about Wild carrot and stated that it brought forth the menses and aborted an embryo. to do this he said take its seed. Scribonius Largus (ad 47) (a physician who accompanied the Emperor Claudius to Britain) and Soranus (a Greek physician in Rome) one of the earliest writers to talk about carrot seed and fertility and was the first to include wild carrot seeds in a recipe for contraception. His concoction for inducing sterility included cabbage, rue, mint, dittany, birthwort (!), wild carrot, silphium, myrrh and pepper. Scribonius was in fact opposed to abortion, as was Pliny.
Recent concerns about the Hippocratic Oath with regard to abortion have an early precedent. In the first century A.D., Scribonius Largus considered Hippocrates's provision that forbade giving a woman an abortive pessary.
Scribonius Largus cited the Hippocratic principle that medicine is the art of healing, not harming, to support his position in favour of the prohibition of all abortions. Soranus, meanwhile, decided that the Oath prohibited only abortive pessaries and that other abortions were permitted if the life of the mother was in danger. He added, however, that he would never prescribe an abortive agent to preserve a woman's beauty or to cover up her adultery.
Romans used an alleged wonder plant of the carrot and parsley family called silphium, a plant which looked very similar to Wild Carrot. It was a sort of giant fennel that grew wild near Cyrene, an ancient coastal city in North Africa. Silphium had many uses — perfume from its flowers, food from its stalk, and medicine from its juice (or resin) and roots. The Romans didn't discover the plant's properties — there's evidence the Greeks and Egyptians used it as a contraceptive as early as the seventh century BC on the advice of physicians, who recommended a monthly dose that mixed a lump of resin the size of a chickpea with water. The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder described use of the resin (called laser or laserpicium) "with soft wool as a pessary to promote the menstrual discharge." Menstrual discharge, of course, means no pregnancy. One physician in the second century AD named Soranus claimed a special recipe using silphium had been used to terminate pregnancies. In Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance (1992), medical historian John Riddle claims that modern studies show the recipe and others like it would work.
When herbal lore such as this survives the test of time, there is a good
chance there is some truth behind it.
There has not been a lot of research done on fertility inhibiting herbs, especially in this country. But there has been some in other countries. In Chinese laboratory tests, the seeds have been shown to block progesterone synthesis in pregnant animals. Which deprives the uterine tissues of the progesterone needed to make a nutritive bed for the fertilized egg. This gives scientific credence to the actions our ancestors. Robin Bennet conducted an experiment, in which 12 women from New York City used 1 teaspoon of QAL seeds chewed well for 12 months for contraceptive purposes. "During the study there were three women apparently conceived; one confirmed her pregnancy with a laboratory test and terminated it clinically. She had been using the carrot seeds daily until the month she conceived when she used them on only three of the recommended 7-8 days around ovulation. The others felt pregnant but did not confirm their suspicions. The both used herbal emmenagogues and menstruated. One of the two women used seeds for 7-8 days around ovulation. The other women used them daily. None of the other women in the study became pregnant, and half were using QAL as their only method of birth control."
Based on the results her conclusion was the seeds were a very good method of contraception for those women who were willing to pay close attention to their cycles. The majority of women in the study reported no side effects. A few women have noticed an occasional side effect of slight constipation, from the seeds being a bit too drying in the colon, which can be remedied by increased water consumption.
It is possible that you experience a very annoying side effect of inflammation
and irritation of the inner and outer lips of the vagina. Accompanied with
a very painful itch, which at first looks like a yeast infection, but it
is not. It may begin two days after taking a tsp of seeds a day and disappears
two days after you stop taking them. Based on this experience it may take
two days for the herb to circulate through the body.
Women with a history of kidney or gallstones should consult with an herbalist
before using Queen Anne's Lace seeds. QAL contains estrogen and can cause
estrogen-like side effects, and may encourage the growth of estrogen dependent
tumors. Estrogenic herbs should be avoided by anyone taking birth control
pills, other estrogen medications, or blood pressure medications.
Modern wise women recommend one tsp of Queen Anne's Lace seeds chewed daily
during ovulation and continued for up to one week. This dosage has worked
effectively for women of average height and build. If you are above average
height and/or build you might find the seeds more effective if you slightly
raise the dosage. Consult with your herbalist.
If you try this you do so at your own risk. The seeds, collected from the flower head in fall are thoroughly chewed, swallowed and washed down with water or juice. The taste is heavy and oily, not very pleasant, but doesn't taste terrible. It is the volatile oils contained with in the seed that prevent implantation. Chewing them releases the oils. If you simply swallow them they will pass right through your system, with out releasing their oils and not be effective. One teaspoon is taken per day. The most important time to take them is just before ovulation, during ovulation and for a week following. In Ms Bennet's study, women took the seeds orally and chose from three different time frames, depending on which fits their situation. Some took them every day through out the cycle (though this might not be good on a long term basis, but should be ok for the first few months).
While others, who might have unprotected sex infrequently might take them only after intercourse and for the following week. Then those who are sexually active and familiar enough with their cycles to know when they are fertile, might take them before, during and after the fertile time, which would mean taking them for 10 to 14 days in the middle of the cycle around the time of ovulation. It is very important to use a back up method of contraception particularly during the first two months of using the QAL. It takes time for the body to adjust, as well as for you to develop confidence in such an unconventional method.
Read and interesting article and by Robin Rose Bennett "Wild Carrot (Daucus carota): A Plant for Conscious, Natural Contraception" which reveals the final case study here - open in new window.