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Sometimes a plant holds a lot more than meets the eye (many times, actually). I’ve written before about the health benefits of herbs and spices, and today I’d like to cover an herb we don’t hear about every day but that every woman should know about. Ever heard of vitex?
Also called chaste tree or chasteberry, vitex is a large and graceful shrub with purple flowers similar to a lilac. Gardeners love it for its striking blooms and pleasant scent, but those who know about medicinal plants prize it for other reasons.
What Is the Vitex or Chaste Tree Plant?
The vitex plant or chaste berry tree (the Latin is Vitex agnus-castus L., if you want to get technical) is native to Asia and the Mediterranean. Cultures in China, Greece, and Italy used vitex long before its introduction to the United States. Now it’s commonly found in southern gardens because of its ability to withstand warmer temperatures. Vitex is also known as “poor man’s lilac” because of the similarity of the bloom appearance.
In our case, it’s not the landscape we’re after, but the fruit of the chaste tree. This small brown berry (known as the chasteberry) is edible and has a peppery flavor.
Use of the chaste tree berry for medicinal purposes dates back over two thousand years. Many believed chasteberry could suppress libido (although there is no scientific evidence that it does.) The Greek physician Dioscorides prescribed it to soldiers’ wives so they could remain “chaste” while their husbands were away at battle. In the Middle Ages it is said that monks took it to help with the vow of chastity. This is also why chasteberry is known as monk’s pepper.
Vitex Benefits for Female Health
Basically, if you’re a woman, this herb can probably help! When it comes to easing symptoms of PMS — breast tenderness, cramps, cranky mood, and all — vitex is the queen of herbs.
Eases Symptoms of PMS and PCOS
Many clinical trials show chasteberry’s ability to ease PMS and menstrual-related difficulties. Compounds in vitex bind to certain pain receptors, which eases pain in addition to the hormone normalizing effect. In one randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study (translation: very credible), 178 women took vitex in capsule form for 3 full cycles. Compared to the control group, the women in the test group experienced 50% improvement/reduction in symptoms. These include mood swings, anger, irritability, headache, breast tenderness, and bloating.
This is good news for PMS and even PCOS sufferers, especially with the generally safe profile of this herb.
Supports Progesterone and Luteinizing Hormone
Luteinizing hormone (LH) is important to a healthy reproductive system and largely responsible for triggering ovulation in the body. Studies on chasteberry show the herb supports LH production, which in turn normalizes progesterone and the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. This is valuable if it corrects a luteal phase defect, which may contribute to infertility and even miscarriages.
For these reasons, vitex is widely prescribed by doctors in Germany and other parts of Europe for endometriosis. (Doctors prescribing natural remedies? It can happen!)
Regulates Irregular Menstrual Cycles
As I mentioned, vitex is especially helpful for those with irregular cycles since it helps balance female hormones. This applies also to those coming off of hormonal birth control, as it can take years for the cycle to completely regulate on its own. I know it’s a controversial subject, but there are many reasons to consider the switch from hormonal birth control to more natural alternatives.
May Help Memory and Brain Function Post-Menopause
Chasteberry’s balancing action on the hormones also may make it useful for some women during menopause. A 2015 study published in Basic and Clinical Neuroscience found that giving rats vitex extract orally improved memory and learning. The thought is that vitex protects against “menopause-related cognitive decline” with fewer side effects (read: cancer risk) than other forms of estrogen replacement.
Less Certain Claims
Some herbalists suggest vitex to help with fertility and even through the first trimester to help prevent miscarriage. While larger studies need to be done in regard to fertility/pregnancy to know its true impact, smaller studies suggest a connection. It is difficult to know the true effect since some of these studies were small pilot studies or used other herbals along with the vitex.
It seems that the claim that vitex can restore missing periods (amenorrhea) are overblown based on current data. At most, the research indicates it may help luteal phase defect by evening out irregular periods.
Interestingly, although many cultures have used vitex to support lactation and boost milk supply, there is little scientific data to support this at this time. This study suggests scientists aren’t really sure if it hurts or helps, so more research is needed.
How Vitex Works
How exactly does a plant accomplish these things? Current scientific understanding suggests that vitex works by regulating and supporting the pituitary gland, which is considered the master gland for hormone production.
This article explains:
There are several different theories about how it works:
- Binding dopamine receptors, which works to reduce secretion of prolactin by the pituitary gland, in turn inhibiting estrogen and progesterone.
- Binding opioid receptors, which decreases the secretion of gonadotropin-releasing hormone.
- Vitex contains many estrogen-like compounds that have an impact on the menstrual cycle.
Since vitex works by correcting hormonal imbalances, it is not a fast-acting drug but a long-term remedy. In studies participants supplemented with vitex for as long as 3-5 months before measuring results.
How to Use Vitex
Vitex is available in capsule form 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.
As I mentioned, vitex acts slowly, 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.
The University of Michigan Health website recommends 4 months of use for noticeable effects, with a daily dosage of 40 drops of tincture/concentrate or 1 capsule (powdered).
Caution/Side Effects of Vitex
Given its long historical use, vitex seems to be a very safe herb. I definitely recommend checking with a doctor before taking even natural supplements or herbs, especially when pregnant or nursing.
Mild and infrequent side effects reported include nausea, headache, stomach upset, and skin irritation. According to this article, women with a history of depression should avoid taking vitex.
Those using hormonal contraceptives should use caution when taking vitex due to its hormonal effects. There’s no evidence that vitex interferes birth control but it makes sense that there could be some interaction.
Finally, be aware that vitex may cause some changes in the menstrual cycle. This will stabilize over time, but if you chart your cycle for natural family planning purposes, expect to see some irregularities while your body adjusts.
It is not recommended for men, though maca is a great fertility-promoting herb for both men and women.
This article was medically reviewed by Jessica Meyers, MPAP, PA-C, RH(AHG), who specializes in herbal protocols and functional medicine. You can also find Jessica on Instagram. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Have you tried vitex before? Will you now? Share below!
Discussion (164 Comments)
I can take vitex and maca if a taking birth control pills?
Hey Wellness mama, I know this post is a bit old, but I have been adding supplements to my diet recently for endometriosis and fertility. We also tried to conceive for 2 years with no success. I have a diet full of organic fruits/vegetables, some pastured meats, lots of pastured eggs, coconut oil, safe pots/pans, etc. I also have completely cut out all/most toxins in the home from shampoos, cleaners. etc. I read the articles you posted about Vitex but also read several more that said to NEVER take Vitex with endometriosis or any hormone sensitive condition such as breast/ovarian/uterine cancers. It seems that everywhere I look, it says to either take it for endo or completely avoid it! I’m so confused!
I have been struggling with horrible menstrual cycles and avoiding prescriptions. I am so glad I came across this and can’t wait to give it a try
has this worked for you nicole?
Do you know if it is safe to use in combination with maca? And you mentioned that it is good for milk production so I assume it’s safe to use while nursing?
It is generally considered safe while nursing, and you can use in combination with maca, though depending on your goal, one or the other might work…
So to make a tincture you would just fill a jar 1/3 to 1/2 full of the Vitex berries and then fill the rest with alcohol (Vodka, 80 proof)?
Yep 🙂 You can also pour a tiny amount of boiling water over the berries first to pull more of the properties out and then add the alcohol but that is an optional step…
I just started on Vitex, Maca and Tribulus, so I was glad to see vitex mentioned here. I might have to look into making the tincture myself to save money, like you said. I’m hoping it will help restart my cycle (along with diet) and help me to conceive again. fingers crossed!
well, my experience with this herb was a scarring one…
Hearing that it helped with hormone issues (acne, pms, menstrual cramps) I decided to give it a try-
I made a tincture (together with Yarrow and Chamomile) and would splash a bit in a glass of water and drink it regularly. (tasted gross)
after a few weeks I noticed the reasons I had started taking it for just seemed to worsen!
My acne was worse then ever before, and I would have terrible cramps (that I had to control with pain killers). I stopped taking it and havn’t had the guts to take a tincture internally ever since.
Any ideas why this happened??
I am guessing that as our bodies regulate our hormones symptoms could worsen and then improve. I did read that that can happen.
I am taking it again and this time I’m experiencing a lot of anger and fatigue. Im taking it for low progesterone. The first time I took it a think I had increased low mood before feeling great the next month and has a 28 day cycle for first time in several months. It started to work within weeks. I became pregnant but lost it at 4 weeks because I weaned off Vitex too soon.
@Tal Rosenberg: it sounds like there is an imbalance with your estrogen more. Do you know if you produce more estrogen? I am reading Period Manual Repair book and I remember seeing something regarding your symptoms deal with estrogen levels being off. My menstrual cycle hormonal imbalances suggest I need to increase my progesterone levels to prevent my excruciatingly painful menstrual migraines/depression/anxiety. Also look into reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility it is highly recommended. Many blessings to all women dealing with any issues regarding fertility and hormonal health ?
I have been struggling with secondary infertility for three years and was diagnosed with endometriosis last year. After reading your post about fertility I was looking at adding maca as a supplement. Now I’m not sure if I should do vitex instead, or maybe both? I also started taking fclo about a month ago. Should I be taking just the fclo or the fclo/high vitamin butter? I’d really like to help my body heal or rebalance so that I can conceive again naturally, but I’ve also been waiting for so long that I find myself contemplating ivf. I already eat grain free, organic produce, pastured meat, and I use coconut oil.
I”d probably stick with the Maca for now as it works more quickly and is a little stronger. The Vitex might help more with the endometriosis, but the Maca will probably help you conceive more quickly… FCLO is probably fine on its own if you are eating enough butter and coconut oil…Best of luck!
I was useing vitex and maca root for a month along with opks for my irregular periods and I just got a postive hcg test !!! My husband took a multivitamin and maca root and this how we conceived
Your post really inspired me. I just bough the chaste tree extract and the maca. I’ve been taking the maca for almost a year now and still not conceiving. I’m hoping that taking both of them may increase my chances. How did you take those supplements? Pills, extracts..? thanks
I used vitex in capsule form to help me overcome infertility two years ago (in combination with other vitamin supplements). I can’t say for certain that any one factor helped me conceive (it was almost certainly a combination of factors), but I’m back to using it again, with the hopes that it will help me conceive a second time! Glad to see it profiled here.
PS – I found your breech home birth story yesterday SO INSPIRING! I think I help my breath through the whole thing . . . So intense! Congrats!!
How long did it take ttc
I was wondering what vitamin regimen you used to conceive?
I enjoy learning about natural methods to help with fertility, but I’m in that stage in life where you’re preventing birth. I was wondering if you could write about natural birth control methods. I’ve read that there are a few methods out there using herbs, but I would like to hear your opinion on the subject.
PLanning to write on that soon, but I don’t recommend the herbs as many of them are abortifacent and have some nasty side effects (like increased risk of some cancers, etc)
I’m looking forward to reading it. And yes, that was what concerned me about some of them.
I just bought Chastetree berry powder,to be made into a tea. I have gotten conflicting information on when I should start taking it.During menstruation or after?How ,any days after?Or it does not matter at all? I’m taking it for a slight hormonal imbalance.
Check out the book “Fertility Awareness Method”.
Use Natural Family Planning (NFP). The female body is actually quite hostile to conception, except for a handful of days out of a woman’s cycle. If you avoid relations with your husband during that time you have a better chance of remaining unpregnant than with any other known method. There are even apps for tracking your cycle….And BONUS! You’re not loading your body up with drugs that not only impede conception, but also change behavior and have been linked to cancer, yada, yada…
Also….chastberry will help your hubby remain chaste during that time