Four Science-based Traditional Herbs for Fertility

In this modern time of in-vitro fertilization, hormone treatments, and genetic tests, it is easy to forget that the struggle to conceive is an age-old problem.

From ancient Hindu writings about fertility customs to Old Testament stories of infertility and miracle births, history shows that women have struggled with conceiving for eons.

Herbal remedies and traditional practices have long been used to improve fertility.  While some traditions are now laughable, such as eating the parings from mule hooves to prevent pregnancy, many traditional herbs are now shown by researchers to increase fertility in various ways.  (article)

Modern Reasons for Traditional Herbal Fertility Solutions

Whether as a complementary tool or last resort after everything else has failed, many women turn to herbal medicines as a way of taking control of their body.

Modern science shows that several traditionally used plants are quite effective for treating some of the different reasons for failing to get pregnant.

One common cause of infertility is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which can cause women to ovulate at the wrong time or miss their periods altogether.

Another vital component of pregnancy success is that the uterine lining, the endometrium, thickens at the right time for the fertilized egg to implant.

Yet another cause of failing to conceive, especially as women age, is egg quality, which can depend on antioxidant status in the ovary.

Outlined here are four of the herbs that modern research has shown to be effective for some women trying to conceive.

  • Black Cohosh – Cimicifuga racemose
  • Chasteberry - Vitex agnus-castus
  • Fennel seed – Foeniculum vulgare
  • Black seed oil - Nigella Sativa

For all of these, both historical use and modern studies have shown them to be non-toxic and safe for most people to use.

Caution should always be used with any herbal supplement if you have had a hormone-related cancer such as breast cancer. Talk with your doctor about any interactions if you are currently on a hormone treatment or other medications.

Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemose)

Native American tribes used Black Cohosh for both enhancing fertility and as a ‘remedy for female problems’. In fact, cohosh is the Algonquian word for pregnancy. (study)(study)

There have been many clinical trials over the past five decades that show black cohosh is both safe and effective for several different conditions. (study)(study)

Quite a few clinical trials have focused on using black cohosh for estrogen-related problems associated with menopause and perimenopause. The trials show that it helps to balance estrogen and progesterone levels, which can be out of balance as women get older. (study)

Black cohosh has also been shown to optimize luteinizing hormone levels and to be a selective estrogen receptor modulator. The plant contains high levels of triterpenes that have been shown to inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells. (study)(study)

Several clinical trials of black cohosh show that it helps increase endometrial thickness and pregnancy rates in women with PCOS. The women in the black cohosh group also showed improved estradiol and luteinizing hormone levels. (study)(study)

Studies have even shown that black cohosh is as effective as clomiphene citrate, a medication given to women with PCOS who are trying to conceive. Black cohosh increased progesterone levels, endometrial thickness, and pregnancy rate. (study)

Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus)

Chasteberry is the fruit of the chaste tree, a small tree native to Central Asia and the Mediterranean region.  It has traditionally been used as an herbal remedy for reproductive disorders including menstrual problems and infertility.

The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that chasteberry is safe when used in limited amounts but cautions that it should not be used by women with breast cancer or people taking dopamine-related medications. (study)

Prolactin is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. Too much prolactin can decrease estrogen levels in women, thus causing problems with conception. Too much prolactin can also interfere with dopamine production.

A clinical trial of women with high prolactin levels found that supplementing with vitex for 3 months reduced prolactin levels and normalized menstrual cycles. The trial used 20 mg of chasteberry per day for three months.  Specifically, the chasteberry helped to normalize the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, allowing the uterine lining to thicken enough for the fertilized egg to implant.  (study)  A second study had similar results and showed an increased pregnancy rate for women taking a liquid chasteberry supplement three times a day for three months. (study)

A research study found that chasteberry binds to the dopamine receptors in the brain, which causes a decrease in prolactin secretion. (study) This interaction with dopamine receptors, though, is why women who are taking a dopamine-related medication are cautioned not to take chasteberry.

Fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare)

Fennel seed has been historically used both as a spice and as a medicinal plant in the Mediterranean area. While very effective for gastrointestinal issues and flatulence, it has also been used for promoting menstruation and curing other ‘female problems’. In Iran, it is traditionally used for increasing fertility. (study)(study)

Fennel seed has been shown in studies to be an:

  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antimicrobial
  • Antidiabetic

Animal studies show that fennel seed increased serum estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin level. (study)

Fennel seed is used traditionally in Arab cultures in aromatic waters that women drink to promote menstruation. Research shows that it contains thymol, carvone, and carvacrol as its active components. (study) A recent study found that it is effective in reducing the severity of painful periods.(study)

Animal studies show that fennel seed extract increases the number of growing ovarian follicles, which release the mature egg during ovulation. (study)

Black seed oil (Nigella Sativa)

The history of using black seed oil for increasing fertility goes back thousands of years. It is mentioned in ancient Persian texts and is also part of traditional Ayurvedic treatments for women struggling with irregular menstrual cycles. The historical descriptions match with current diagnoses of PCOS. (study)(study)

Black seed oil was even described by Hippocrates as ‘the Melanthion’.  Recent research shows that it contains thymoquinone, alkaloids, and flavonoids. (study)

Black seed oil has been shown in research studies to be:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Antimicrobial
  • Anti-cancer

Animal research shows that it improves both ovarian function and ovulation in PCOS. (study)

Studies on women going through menopause show that it balances estrogen levels. One study found that 1600 mg/day of powdered black seed not only improved hormone levels but also improved quality of life. (study)(study)

Black seed oil has also been shown in studies to protect against some of the toxins we encounter every day.  It is protective against heavy metal toxicity as well as estrogen-disruptors such as BPA and tamoxifen. (study)

The benefits of black seed also apply to male partners when trying to conceive.  Studies show that it improves male fertility through balancing hormone levels and increasing sperm count. (study)(study)

Studies show that black seed oil is safe to take, even during pregnancy. (study)

When to try a traditional herbal solution

While all of the herbs listed here have a long history of safety with clinical trials to back up that history, it is important to check with your health care practitioner if you are currently undergoing fertility treatment.

In addition to any supplements, a healthy diet and lifestyle are still foundational when trying to conceive.

Quality matters in plant-based remedies! Choose a brand that you feel comfortable with, and look for organic options when possible.  Be sure to follow the directions on the label.