Potential antifertility agents from plants: a comprehensive review

J Ethnopharmacol. 2012 Mar 6;140(1):1-32. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2011.12.039. Epub 2012 Jan 5.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Traditional medicines are practiced worldwide for regulation fertility since ancient times. This review provides a comprehensive summary of medicinal flora inhabitating throughout the world regarding their traditional usage by various tribes/ethnic groups for fertility regulation in females.

Materials and methods: Bibliographic investigation was carried out by analyzing classical text books and peer reviewed papers, consulting worldwide accepted scientific databases from the last six decades. Plants/their parts/extracts traditionally used for abortion, contraception, emmenagogue and sterilization purposes have been considered as antifertility agents. Research status of selected potential plant species has been discussed. Further, compounds isolated from plants with attributed fertility regulating potentials are also classified into three categories: (a) phytoconstituents with anti-implantation activity, (b) phytoconstituents with abortifacient activity and (c) phytoconstituents with contraceptive activity.

Results: 577 plant species belonging to 122 families, traditionally used in fertility regulation in females, have been recorded, of which 298 plants have been mentioned as abortifacients (42%), 188 as contraceptives (31%), 149 as emmenagogues (24%), and 17 as sterilizers. Among 122 plant families, fabaceae constitutes 49.2%, asteraceae 40.98%, euphorbiaceae 19.7%, apiaceae 16.4%, poaceae 12.3%, labiateae 11.5%, and others in lesser proportion. Various plant parts used in fertility regulation include leaves (25%), roots (22%), fruits (15%), seeds (12%), stem/stem bark (37%), and flowers (4%). Some active compounds, isolated from about various plant species, have been reported to possess significant antifertility potential.

Conclusion: This review clearly indicates that it is time to increase the number of experimental studies to find out novel potential chemical entities from such a vast array of unexploited plants having traditional role in fertility regulation. Also, the mechanisms of action by which plant extracts and their active compounds exert antifertility effects remain to be studied.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abortifacient Agents*
  • Contraception
  • Contraceptive Agents*
  • Ethnopharmacology*
  • Female
  • Fertility / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Infertility
  • Menstruation-Inducing Agents*
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Plant Structures
  • Plants / chemistry*
  • Pregnancy


  • Abortifacient Agents
  • Contraceptive Agents
  • Menstruation-Inducing Agents
  • Plant Extracts