In Melbourne, there was a little abandoned herbal garden next to Edinburgh Gardens. It used to be a community garden for a local naturopathic college, but it had been a little forgotten and was overgrown and a little wild. There were two beautiful abundant Vitex bushes there. I would often sit under them. They were such markers of the seasons. In winter they would look like twiggy skeletons, really not that impressive to look at, then come spring burst into an array of dark green foliage and royal purple flowers that would become a flurry with butterflies. The Vitex flowers would later be replaced by constellations of brown seeds towards the end of summer, and swell to peppercorns before losing their leaves again.
I like to think of Vitex’s natural cycles as teaching us a thing or two about our own cycles. There are times we are going to feel bare and vulnerable, but with the next season, beautiful abundance is just around the corner, which will not last forever but will not be without its gifts for the next round. The distinct cyclical nature of this plant is precisely the gift it imparts to us, re-establishing our own cycles.
Part used: Berries
Flavour: bitter, pungent, sweet and aromatic. Slightly peppery with a light aroma.
Energetic: Slightly warming and drying.
It is a popular herb and easy to find in health food stores and pharmacies, but it is a strong medicine, and it should be taken with this in mind.
- Hormone regulator
- Uterine tonic
- Galactogogue (stimulates breast milk)
- Anaaphrodisiac (males – a.k.a male mojo de-amplifier)
Vitex Medicine Uses
- Menstrual irregularities especially due to low progesterone (short luteal phase) including lack of period, irregular, short, long, heavy, light or painful.
- High prolactin
- PCOS – however there are some types of PCOS that it is not appropriate for (so best check with a herbalist or naturopath).
- Breast pain
- Premenstrual acne
- Infertility – which is associated with low progesterone
- History of recurrent miscarriage
- Insufficient breast milk
- Hormone-related headaches, migraines and depression.
- Clear hormone-related skin problems.
** not suitable for under the age of 18
Spirit of Vitex
Vitex has a kind but unyielding nature. It is a plant that will not step in for you if you’re not stepping in for yourself. If you commit to self-care and are genuinely ready to heal, she is an excellent ally, and the restoration of your cycles can be a gentle process. If you are hoping for a magic pill that will sort everything out while you continue to run around like a mad chook, this herb has a funny way of making you listen. Vitex does have a reputation for making things worse before they get better.
In Indian Ayurvedic medicine, vitex is seen as having the quality of anulomana – which translates to “putting in the right direction”. I see it as the great aligner. But be warned, patience and openness are essential. Sometimes the process of alignment brings shadows, suppressed emotions and wastes to the surface. It can exacerbate depression and acne. If you are prone to either of these, I advise to have support in place before you begin this medicine.
Vitex & Mood
For depression, plants such as oats, lemon balm, scullcap and st john’s wort bring resilience and fortify the mind and psyche. Starting with these, combined with a counsellor or psychologist you resonate with, exercise and cultivating a meditation practice are essential groundwork. That way, if vitex does stir up some shadowy heaviness or darkness, you’ll have a place for it to land.
Vitex & Acne
If you are prone to acne, make sure your diet is free of sugar, dairy and gluten for a while. A good quality zinc (as glycinate or citrate – 30mg daily) and vitamin A supplement are both very useful. And cleansing herbal teas featuring nettle, dandelion root, figwort, burdock root, red clover, cleavers and/or calendula should regularly feature in your teapot.
How Vitex Works
In scientific terms, vitex is know and a hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian regulator. The hypothalamus and pituitary are glands in the brain that regulate the hormonal system. I often refer to them as the CEO or The Queen; they oversee all the hormonal workings of the body.
These glands regulate the all-important FSH, LH and GnRH, which are the hormones responsible the development and release of eggs from the ovaries and production of oestrogen.
A significant outcome of ovulation is the formation of a little gland called ‘the corpus luteum’, without this gland, menstrual cycles can get up to all sorts of strange behaviour. The corpus luteum produces progesterone, which is involved in preparing the womb for a fertilised egg.
Which is why if you do some research into vitex it is also called a “progesterone promotor”. While this is correct in one sense, the herb itself does not promote progesterone directly, it helps regulate the system as a whole SO that the corpus luteum is produced.
Vitex is useful for hormone-related symptoms such as acne and migraines (when they are triggered pre-menstrually) due to this progesterone and estrogen harmonising affect.
I prefer to prescribe vitex as a tincture. Although you can take it as a tablet or a tea. You need to be clever with what other plants you combine it will as it’s not going to win the finest-flavour-of-the -year award.
I am quite particular with my dosing of vitex and have found that the following has worked the best in most cases.
Take 20 drops in a little water (or 1 tablet – specifics) upon waking. Keep it in your bathroom, and it will be easy to remember. It is best to try to take it around the same time each morning. After ovulation increase to 40 drops (or 2 tablets). If you’re not sure when this is, make the switch around the halfway point of your cycle. When you begin bleeding, stop taking. Once bleeding has stopped, resume again. It may sound complicated, but once you’re in the swing, it’s nice and easy. Occasionally some women can get frontal headaches, in these cases decrease the dose to 5-10 drops.
For capsules: 1-2g of a regular extract. For an extract, such as Premular, the dose is 200-400mg.
How long does Vitex take to work?
If you haven’t noticed any change in symptoms within three months, this isn’t the medicine for you. If she does help you, stick with her for up to 6 months. If you feel your cycle has an established a regular rhythm before then, continue for an additional month and then stop.
There are no major safety concerns. However, it should not be combined with fertility or IVF medications, dopaminergic medications, progesterone, oral contraceptives or HRT.
Vitex when pregnant or breastfeeding
Vitex is considered contraindicated during pregnancy, though may be used during the first trimester for the prevention of miscarriage when there is progesterone insufficiency (until the placenta takes over). Make sure you are under the care of a naturopath or herbalist for this.
There is controversy about the effects of vitex during lactation, in small doses vitex increases in breast milk production. In larger doses it inhibits it. Again check with your naturopath or herbalist.
Blooming Chasteberry bush – image from gardenia.net
Regulating your cycle with Vitex after coming off birth control.
It is very common for women who have just come off birth control to want to dive straight into the beautiful hormone regulating effects of vitex. Please hold back for three months. The pill closes down the communication between your pituitary and your ovaries. It is after-all hormone suppressive therapy.
Allow your body the time to re-establish these lines of communication first. Your body knows what to do, so give it a good chance. Instead, herbs like dandelion root, red clover tea and raspberry leaf as well as ensuring your diet are supporting you are more appropriate places to begin. Also using a method like Fertility Awareness is not only a very good natural birth control option, it will deepen your connection with your cycle also.
If after three months you haven’t yet had a period or your periods are difficult or irregular, then welcome vitex in. If you have an IUD (copper or Mirena) it is safe to take vitex.