Vitex (Chasteberry) Herb Benefits & Uses for Women
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many clinical trials show chasteberry’s ability to ease PMS and menstrual-related difficulties. 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.
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 boosts 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!)