What is Vitex/Chaste Tree?
Vitex, or Chaste Tree or Chasteberry, is native to Greece and Italy and has a long history of use for supporting fertility and hormone balance.
The chaste tree is a small shrub with lance shaped leaves and purple flowers. It is native to the eastern Mediterranean and has since been cultivated in temperate climates around the world. Its peppery fruit has been used for over two thousands years; at least since the time of the Greek physician Dioscorides who recommended it to help the wives of soldiers remain chaste while their husbands were in battle. The berry was used by both men and women in ancient Greece and Rome, and by monks during the Middle Ages in order to suppress sexual desire. Pliny the Elder noted that Athenian maidens would put the leaves under their beds during the festival of Thesmophoria to help preserve their chastity.
How Vitex Works
Current scientific understanding suggests that Vitex/Chaste Tree works by regulating and supporting the pituitary gland, which is considered the master gland for hormone production.
In studies it has been shown to support the body’s natural progesterone and luteinizing hormone production. In other countries it is used (even my doctors) to help reduce endometriosis. It is often prescribed by herbalists to help ease PMS, menstrual difficulties and infertility.
As it helps regulate the menstrual cycle, Vitex is especially helpful for those with irregular cycles or those coming off of hormonal birth control (as it can take years for the cycle to completely regulate).
Some herbalists suggest it to boost fertility and even through the first trimester to help prevent miscarriage. It is said to help new mothers increase milk supply and regulate hormones. Its balancing action on the hormones also makes it useful for some women during menopause.
How to Use Vitex:
Vitex is considered a slow-acting herb, so it often takes several months to see its full effect. Since it supports the body’s own hormone cycle rather than providing any hormones itself, it works more slowly while the body adjusts to normal hormone production.
Often, the most noticeable effect is seen after 3-6 months of use.
Vitex is available in capsule, dried berry or tincture form. It has a bitter taste, so often capsules or a tincture with other herbs is the best option. The most inexpensive option is to grow or order the dried berries and make a tincture at home. To make a tincture, the proportions from this recipe can be used with just Vitex in place of the other herbs.
Caution/Side Effects of Vitex
“Vitex has been used for over 2,000 years with no significant side-effects reported. Some minor and infrequent side-effects (1-2% of users may experience) have been nausea, gastrointestinal upset, skin reactions, and headache. Women with a history of depression taking vitex for menstrual irregularity may experience an exacerbation of depressive symptoms.
Even though it has been shown to have no interference with oral contraceptive vitex should not be used in conjunction with prescribed progesterone containing medication such as birth control pills in case it may interfere with their activity.
Some women do experience a shift in their cycle when they first begin using vitex. The length of the menstrual cycle may shorten or lengthen temporarily before it finally stabilizes. This is just the body balancing itself out and is completely normal.”
Some herbalists recommend using it during early pregnancy to keep progesterone levels high, though there is no research on this (just lots of historical use) and with any herb, I would recommend talking to a doctor or health care provider before taking any herb, especially during pregnancy. More often a natural progesterone cream is used instead.
It is not recommended for men, though Maca is a great fertility-promoting herb for both men and women.
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