The Ancient Egyptians: Wheat and Barley Pregnancy Tests

The Ancient Egyptians: Wheat and Barley Pregnancy Tests

Home pregnancy tests hit the American market back in the 1970s. Initially, the tests were cumbersome (they involved a number of items, including sheep red blood cells), and not completely reliable. Since then, pregnancy tests have evolved and the procedure has been simplified. They are all based on detecting trace levels of the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in the woman’s urine. But you might be surprised to hear that pregnancy testing by urine is not a novel approach at all.

The first record of a homemade pregnancy test comes from Ancient Egypt. A papyrus described a test that required a potentially pregnant woman to pee on barley and wheat seeds over a period of a few days. If the seeds sprouted, she was pregnant. They even determined the baby’s gender with this method.

If it was barley that sprouted, it was a girl. If wheat sprouted, a woman was expecting a male child. As strange as it might seem, the test was actually accurate in 70% of all cases. In 1963, the laboratory test showed that urine of pregnant women did cause the seeds to sprout. The seeds probably started to grow due to the elevated levels of estrogens, which stimulate growth. But the Egyptian gender hypothesis was of course not confirmed.


Urine was also used in the Middle Ages to determine if a woman was expecting. Europe saw the emergence of so called ‘piss prophets’ that claimed to be able to diagnose many conditions by looking at the color of urine. Pregnant woman had urine that was clear pale lemon color leaning toward off-white, having a cloud on its surface, according to the text from 1552. Sometimes the woman’s urine was mixed with wine. This could actually lead to a moderate success rate, as alcohol reacts with certain proteins in urine.

In the 1920s, it was already known that a specific hormone (hCG) was present in the urine of pregnant women. The urine was injected into sexually immature rabbits and rodents, and the animals’ ovaries were examined after 5 days. On the fifth day, the animals were killed and autopsied to examine the state of their ovaries. If the pee came from a woman that was pregnant, bulging masses were found on the ovaries.


After the Rabbit Test, came the Frog Test, which worked on the same principle, but was a bit more humane, since the frogs didn’t have to be killed. The injected amphibians produced eggs within 24 hours if the lady was pregnant. It has been suggested that with the emergence of home pregnancy tests, frogs became obsolete, so they were released into the wild. They caused an ecological catastrophe and contributed to the extinction of many native amphibians worldwide.

We might not use barley and wheat for testing anymore – and it’s also not sure how GMO wheat and barley would react to urine – but it’s interesting to note how our ancestors already knew that the answer could be found in urine.

Current Homemade Pregnancy Tests

Homemade pregnancy tests work on the same principle as modern pregnancy tests and look for signs that hCG is in the urine by observing how your urine reacts with different substances.

For many women, the main advantages that homemade pregnancy tests offer are that they cost almost next to nothing and very easy to do yourself. However one of the disadvantages is that the results are not always accurate and it can be difficult to know the exact quantities of urine to use for best results.


Many homemade pregnancy tests have some degree of reliability. However, claims about the accuracy of homemade pregnancy tests are usually based on anecdotal evidence rather than scientific research. Let’s look in more detail as some of the most popular homemade pregnancy tests that you can quickly do at home.

Vinegar pregnancy test

This home test relies on a chemical reaction between your urine and white distilled vinegar. If the vinegar changes color, it could be a sign that you are pregnant.

To make a pregnancy DIY vinegar test you will need white distilled vinegar and a bowl. Pour in 1/2 cup of white distilled vinegar in a bowl. Then collect 1/2 cup of urine first thing in the morning and pour the urine into the vinegar. Wait for 5 minutes or so to see if the vinegar has changed color. If the vinegar changes color, it is a good sign that you could be pregnant.


Soap pregnancy test

Soap also contains chemicals that react to the hCG hormone to create a natural pregnancy test. To make a homemade pregnancy test with soap, you will need some soap and a small container to conduct the test in. Put a small piece of regular soap in a clean cup. Collect about 2-3 tablespoons of morning urine and add to the cup. Wait for up to 5 minutes. If you are pregnant, the urine in the cup should start foaming.

Baking soda pregnancy test

For this home pregnancy DIY test, you will need some baking soda and your urine. Put 2 tablespoons baking soda in a small bowl and pour in a sample of your morning urine to the baking soda. If the DIY test starts to bubble like soda pop, you may be pregnant.

Sugar pregnancy test

Urine that contains the hCG hormone may make the sugar clump together rather than dissolve the sugar. To make a sugar pregnancy test put 3 tablespoons of white granulated sugar in a large cup. Urinate your morning pee into the cup until it is just over 1/2 full and leave it for 10 minutes. Check the homemade pregnancy test to see if the sugar has formed into clumps. If so, you should arrange a pregnancy test at your doctors and check for the early signs of pregnancy.

For other homemade pregnancy tests please refer to my article “Homemade Pregnancy Tests: How Accurate Are They?

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