Hibiscus: The Birth Control Herb for Women and Men
DISCLAIMER: CONSULT WITH A DOCTOR BEFORE DECIDING ON A TREATMENT PLAN FOR ANY DISEASE OR INJURY.
NOTE: As a contraceptive, anti-fertility herb, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis should not be used during pregnancy or if you’re trying to conceive.
NOTE: Below I primarily discuss the effects of the flowers and calyces, since these are the most accessible forms of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, but the roots and leaves of the hibiscus plant also deserve special mention, so I’ve written about them separately.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is a flowering plant known more commonly as simply hibiscus or jamaica in Latin American countries. Readers will be most familiar with the plant’s deep, reddish-purple dried flower calyces that are sometimes made into a sour, vibrantly colored tea, but not only the calyces are used medicinally; the roots and leaves can also be used. Hibiscus has a wide range of medicinal benefits, which we discuss in more depth at this link, but here we’ll focus on the effects of hibiscus on fertility and hormones.
Hibiscus has been frequently used in the traditional medicine systems of many countries in Asia (and beyond) as a treatment for a variety of women’s health complaints, including for leucorrhea (white discharge from the vagina), amenorrhea (lack of monthly periods), menorrhagia (breakthrough bleeding or bleeding between periods), and excessive uterine bleeding (heavy periods), and for regulating an irregular menstrual cycle. It can also be used as a natural herbal cure for gonorrhea, and various parts of the plant have a history of use as both male and female contraceptive options in places like Peru, India, and China.
In ancient texts from India, hibiscus was a popular contraceptive option. Women wishing to use the plant in this way were supposed to take crushed hibiscus flowers with sour gruel, followed by jaggery (a type of raw sugar), or they may have used 10-12 flower buds as an alternative herbal birth control method. In India and other South Asian cultures, the leaves and stems of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis were also commonly administered as herbal abortifacients.
One of the important ways through which hibiscus flower works as a natural female contraceptive option is by preventing uterine implantation of an embryo. Studies have shown that the administration of hibiscus flower extract after sex can reduce the chances of implantation by up to 80% in female rats, as can the administration of the hibiscus extract during days 1-4 of pregnancy. As an abortifacient herb, oral administration of benzene extracts of hibiscus flowers to female rats successfully terminated 92% of pregnancies. This herbal abortion effect is thought to be due to a significant decrease in progesterone levels and an increase in uterine acid phosphatase levels, especially on day 10 of gestation (note that alkaline phosphatases are most favorable to implantation).
Human studies have also supported the finding that Hibiscus rosa-sinensis flowers can function as a natural alternative to birth control pills. One study followed 14 women as they used an ethanolic extract of hibiscus flowers at a dose of 750 mg/kg of bodyweight, 3 times daily, from days 7-22 of their menstrual cycle. None of these 14 women who used the hibiscus extract in this way had a pregnancy over the course of 4 years. A different human study observed the effects of Vidangadi Yoga (an herbal remedy consisting of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis flowers, Embelia ribes seeds, and Ferula foetida oleo gum resin) as an herbal alternative to the pill with similarly positive results. Neither study observed any negative side effects from the use of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis as a female contraceptive.
Contraceptive Effects of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Roots
Hibiscus roots have been shown to have estrogenic actions, and therefore positive benefits in terms of uterine weight, endometrial thickness, and other measures of women’s reproductive health. In an animal study, female rats who were given an ethanolic extract of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis roots exhibited a significant increase in uterine weight, uterine diameter, and endometrial thickness. The same study observed that the extracts of hibiscus root also produced anti-implantation effects, similar to the flower extracts of hibiscus.
A different animal study indicated that not only the roots of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis had an anti-fertility effect, but that the flowers do as well. In this study, extracts from the flowers (particularly those collected in the winter) were 100% effective in preventing pregnancy when administered to female rats. Flower extracts from other related Hibiscus species and from Malvasicus grandiflorus did not exhibit any antifertility effects in this study.
In contrast, the flowers of H. rosa-sinensis have been shown to have anti-estrogenic activity. These anti-estrogenic effects have been seen in animal studies on female rats, in which administration of hibiscus flower extracts reduced the weights of the ovaries, pituitary gland, and uterus in the rats, in addition to disrupting follicle development, causing anti-fertility changes to the uterus, and interfering with the rats’ normal estrus cycle. These effects were reversed completely 30 days after the rats stopped being given the flower extracts.
Contraceptive Effects of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Leaves
Yet another animal study observed the effects of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis leaf extract in rats. The rats who were given hibiscus leaf extract exhibited fewer ovarian follicles, fewer mature germ cells, and other anti-fertility changes to the structure of the ovaries. Of the rats in this study that did get pregnant after receiving hibiscus leaf extract, impaired embryo growth was seen and the rats didn’t end up giving birth to a litter because of this. However, by the next mating session, the same rats were able to successfully get pregnant and give birth to healthy pups, thus suggesting the reversible contraceptive effects of hibiscus.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis as a Male Contraceptive
While hibiscus is perhaps more popular as a natural female contraceptive option, it has also been used successfully as a natural male contraceptive. Indeed, if you and your partner want to be very thorough in your birth control efforts, you could both consider taking a contraceptive like hibiscus. Some studies have indicated that administration of an extract of hibiscus flower to male rats decreased the production of sperm and the epididymal sperm count. Hibiscus flower extracts have even been shown to completely halt spermatogenesis in the testes and therefore dramatically decrease male fertility. The extracts from hibiscus flowers also increased the weight of the male reproductive organs, perhaps due to the androgenic effects of the plant. In other words Hibiscus is an herb that increases testosterone levels.
Another study on hibiscus as a male contraceptive has similarly shown that administration of hibiscus flower extracts can decrease the weight of the epididymis, as well as decrease the weight of the seminal vesicles and prostate gland. This particular study suggested that the anti-fertility effects of hibiscus may be due to its high presence of flavonoids and its estrogenic activity, which may inhibit the secretion of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) and the synthesis of follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone. These effects are reversible, and if a man were to use Hibiscus rosa-sinensis as a natural herbal contraceptive, his fertility levels would return to normal within a relatively short period of time after stopping Hibiscus use.
How to Use Hibiscus rosa-sinensis as a Contraceptive
Hibiscus has been used for thousands of years in local Asian and South American cultures as a contraceptive (for men and women) and as an abortion herb. Indeed, scientific studies have also acknowledged and proven the efficacy of this herb as a natural form of birth control.
One successful human study on women suggested a dose of 750 mg/kg of bodyweight of hibiscus flower extract taken 3 times daily between days 7-22 of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Doses of 400 mg/kg of bodyweight have been used successfully when using root extracts as a contraceptive.
Liquid extracts are available, as are capsules with standardized extracts. A tea may also be made from the calyx of the plant (some people like the sour flavor, but keep in mind that the taste may not be for everyone). The root and the leaves are also available for use in some places; note that the root is usually thought to have the most powerful contraceptive effect, but the flowers and leaves of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis also have significant effects.
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Other Important Links:
Vasudeva, Neeru, et. al. (2007). Post-Coital Antifertility Activity of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Linn. roots. Retrieved November 30, 2022 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2249740/
Kholkute, S.D., et. al. (1977). Studies on the antifertility potentiality of Hibiscus rosa sinensis. Parts of medicinal value; selection of species and seasonal variations. Retrieved November 30, 2022 from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/840927/
Ataman, J.E., et. al. (2015). Anti-Fertility Effects of Leaf Extract of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Linn in Female Wistar Rats. Retrieved November 30, 2022 from: https://ojs.klobexjournals.com/index.php/nisebj/article/view/74
Chandra Gupta, Prakash (2012). Contraceptive potential of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (Linn) – An update. Retrieved November 30, 2022 from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/287896922_Contraceptive_potential_of_Hibiscus_rosa-sinensis_Linn_-_An_update#:~:text=belongs%20to%20family%20Malvaceae%20and,females%20as%20reported%20by%20researchers.
Carolin, Bunga Tiara, et. al. (2019). Effects of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Linn. Flower Extract on Epididymis, Prostate and Seminal Vesicles of Male Rats. Retrieved November 30, 2022 from: https://ibbj.org/article-1-206-en.pdf