Ethnopharmacological relevance: Pregnant women in Nigeria use plant preparations to facilitate childbirth and to reduce associated pain. The rationale for this is not known and requires pharmacological validation.Aim of study: Obtain primary information regarding the traditional use of plants and analyze their uterine contractility at cellular level.Materials and methods: Semi-structured, open interviews using questionnaires of traditional healthcare professionals and other informants triggered the collection and identification of medicinal plant species. The relative traditional importance of each medicinal plant was determined by its use-mention index. Extracts of these plants were analyzed for their uterotonic properties on an in vitro human uterine cell collagen model.Result: The plants Calotropis procera, Commelina africana, Duranta repens, Hyptis suaveolens, Ocimum gratissimum, Saba comorensis, Sclerocarya birrea, Sida corymbosa and Vernonia amygdalina were documented and characterized. Aqueous extracts from these nine plants induced significant sustained increases in human myometrial smooth muscle cell contractility, with varying efficiencies, depending upon time and dose of exposure.Conclusion: The folkloric use of several plant species during childbirth in Nigeria has been validated. Seven plants were for the first time characterized to have contractile properties on uterine myometrial cells. The results serve as ideal starting points in the search for safe, longer lasting, effective and tolerable uterotonic drug leads. (c) 2012 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.