10 June 2015
Vitex: For Every Cycle of a Woman's Life
by Jessica Godino
Outside my window a lovely little shrub with silvery leaves and clusters of purple flowers is just beginning to bloom. Not only is this plant one of the most beautiful in the garden, it is also one of the most valuable herbs in my medicine chest.
Vitex, also known as Chasteberry or Monk’s Pepper, has an ancient reputation as an an-aphrodisiac for men. The leaves were strewn at the feet of novices as they entered the monastery. However neither modern science nor practical experience supports this particular use of the plant.
I use Vitex as a supreme hormonal tonic for women. Both extensive clinical studies, as well as over two thousand years of use in folk medicine, have proven the effectiveness of this remedy. It works by stimulating and normalizing the pituitary gland, which regulates the balance of estrogen and progesterone in the body. In a normal menstrual cycle estrogen is higher before ovulation and progesterone is higher after. Many women don’t realize that an imbalance of these hormones can lead to the entire range of symptoms associated with PMS and menopause! Vitex usually has the effect of enhancing progesterone and decreasing estrogen levels. Vitex itself has none of the hormonal building blocks that many of the medicinal plants used for the reproductive system contain. Instead, this herb nourishes and supports the endocrine system to find its own balance. David Hoffman, a well-known herbalist, says “Vitex will always enable what is appropriate to occur.”
Almost all of symptoms associated with the menstrual cycle can be treated with this plant. It is the single best herb for treating the many possible symptoms of PMS: cramps, flooding, headaches, depression, water retention, constipation, acne, breast tenderness, and irritability. It can help normalize irregular or scanty periods. It is especially helpful for women who are coming off the birth control pill. (For many women, cycles remain irregular for up to two years after stopping the pill. Vitex can greatly shorten that time and helps ease the body into regaining its own natural rhythm.) It is a wonderful tonic to enhance the chances of conception (through its ability to regulate ovulation), and if taken through the first trimester will reduce the chances of miscarriage. After the birth, it helps a new mother to produce plenty of milk.
Vitex also offers many benefits to women who are menopausal. It helps to relieve many of the uncomfortable symptoms of this transition time, including hot flashes, irregular cycles, depression, and flooding. Vitex is also an indispensable remedy for women with uterine fibroids, fibrocystic breasts, or endometriosis. All of these conditions proliferate under the influence of estrogen and shrink under the influence of progesterone.
This plant may be taken in tea form, although I prefer the tincture (alcohol extract). The dosage of is usually 30-50 drops, three times per day. Like all herbs, Vitex works best when combined with a lifestyle that includes pure water, whole food, gentle exercise, and plenty of self-love. Although you won’t find it in the wild, Vitex is easy to grow in our bioregion. Just remember to leave it plenty of space, since it can get up to seventeen feet tall!
Vitex is a slow-acting herb. I usually recommend allowing three full cycles for the plant to really work its magic, and many women take it for up to several years. In the thousands of years that it has been in use, there are no reports of even the mildest side effects. Vitex is a safe, gentle, and effective remedy, with something to offer women in every cycle of life.
Homebrew Vitex Extract
- Fill a quart size mason jar one third full with ripe freshly harvested Vitex berries (if fresh berries are unavailable to you, use high quality dried ones).
- Fill the jar to the top with either 100 proof vodka, or grain alcohol diluted to be 50% alcohol and 50% water. (Grain alcohol is 190 proof, which means that it is about 95% alcohol).
- Cap tightly and let the mixture sit for six weeks.
- After the brewing period is over, strain off the berries, squeezing as much of the liquid out of them as you can.
- Pour your extract into amber bottles and store it in a cool dark place. If stored properly, it will keep for years.
Congratulations, you should have a supply of Vitex to last you until next year’s harvest. If you plan to share it with friends, remember to make extra!