The scoop on fertility tea: does it really work?
LAST UPDATED: Aug 27, 2021
9 MIN READ
HERE'S WHAT WE'LL COVER
Teas that claim to support fertility (sometimes called "fertiliteas") are popular in wellness circles and can be found all over the internet. But before you skim through all of those customer reviews and hit checkout on those tea sachets, do they actually work? What do we know from the research?
While there are anecdotal accounts that the ingredients in popular fertility teas affect the fertility of both people with ovaries and people with sperm, there's limited clinical evidence of their effectiveness in this respect — though many of the ingredients may have other health benefits (like antioxidants). The one ingredient with the most evidence to support its fertility-boosting claims is chasteberry (aka Vitex agnus-castus).
Evidence aside, some of the herbs found in fertility teas aren't safe during pregnancy and may interact with other medications or supplements (just because they're herbal doesn't mean they're automatically safe) — and the dosage and quality of the herbs used might not be high enough to actually have a positive effect. That's why talking to your healthcare provider about any herb use (or any kind of supplement) is so important, and why herbalists recommend consulting with a trained herbalist (along with your healthcare provider) rather than buying fertility teas online.
What are fertility teas exactly?
Some nutritionists with a special interest in fertility, holistic practitioners, and midwives are proponents of herbal fertility teas for boosting chances of conception. These herbs, when steeped in hot water, are thought to release fertility-aiding or enhancing compounds: from boosting libido (which could increase chances of conception) to "toning" the uterus to "balancing" hormone levels. Many of the ingredients in these fertility teas are also touted for their richness in essential minerals and nutrients.
Medical literature has documented the use of herbal remedies (and sometimes toxic chemicals), called "uterine tonics," to treat a wide variety of gynecological issues — with reports from as early as the 15th century. Colonial scientists and healthcare providers first “borrowed” the idea of botany for reproductive health from Indigenous American medicinal culture, where herbs like blue cohosh were taken to treat menstrual cramps, relieve pain during childbirth, and sometimes induce labor. This practice continued in the lead up to the 20th century as people with ovaries turned to midwives and medicinal plants for their reproductive health.
These herbal remedies take many more forms than just fertility teas. "There are tinctures, extracts, powders, granules, and of course, the raw herb material that one cooks oneself that can be administered as a single herb or in combination with other herbs in a formula (the preferred way to administer herbs in East Asian Medicine)," explains herbalist, clinical researcher, and acupuncturist Dr. Lee Hullender Rubin, DAOM, MS, LAc, FABORM. "In China, herbs can also be formulated for injection or infusion."
Today, some of the more popular fertility teas available include the following ingredients (though this list is by no means exhaustive):
Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus)
Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa)
Red raspberry leaf (Rubis idaeus)
Stinging nettle leaf (Urtica dioica)
Green tea (Camellia sinensis)
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Tribulus (Tribulus terrestris)
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis)
Fertility teas online versus recommendations from a trained herbalist
"Herbalists typically customize tea blends for their clients based on a number of factors, including current medications, fertility protocols, allergies, and personal preferences," explains herbalist Camille Freeman, LDN, RH. If herbs aren't purchased from reputable sources, Freeman says that some may be contaminated or adulterated. "We need to make sure that the people who produced the tea properly identified the herbs before harvest, grew or harvested them ethically, processed and stored them properly, and so forth," she adds. This is why buying the least expensive option you can find online isn't always the best idea.
Before we dive into efficacy… are there any downsides to using fertility teas?
The main safety concerns regarding the ingredients in fertility teas are the ones you should avoid while pregnant — and those that might interact with any medications or supplements you're already taking. Most of these ingredients have only mild side effects associated with them.
Why does it matter if ingredients could have adverse effects during pregnancy (sometimes while breastfeeding/chestfeeding) when you're only taking them preconception? Knowing exactly when you'll get pregnant is often a challenge. So, in the case of fertility tea ingredients, there's a risk-benefit balance of taking what could have fertility-boosting effects while you're trying to conceive and taking something that could have adverse impact after conception.
There are a few other considerations when taking pre-packed fertility teas versus fertility herbs recommended by an herbalist, according to Freeman:
Extraction in tea form: "Roots like ashwagandha, for example, need to be decocted (boiled gently for 20-30+ minutes) to extract their key constituents, and vitex is generally best taken as either a capsule or a tincture for similar reasons, although you can get some benefit from the tea."
Steeping time: "To get therapeutic benefit from most herbal infusions, you'll want to steep them for much longer than people are used to doing. We usually recommend steeping for at least 20-30 minutes before straining."
Dose: "The therapeutic range for most [individual] herbs is 2-4 grams/day. Your standard tea bag usually has just over a gram of tea (this varies widely, depending on how fluffy the plants are). Taking a small dose of some of these herbs won't really do much, whereas taking doses in the therapeutic range can make a difference." Dr. Hullender Rubin adds that recommended herb dosage could be as high as 15 grams per day, on average, depending on the herbal formula.
Storage: "If herbs aren't stored properly, they can lose their potency and even (rarely) grow bacteria. Exposure to light/heat is particularly damaging to our teas, which typically stay fresh between 3-12 months from the time they're dried."
As with all over-the-counter fertility supplements, which aren't as tightly regulated by the FDA, it's crucial to talk to your healthcare provider about what's right for you before starting anything new.
Can fertility teas actually help you get pregnant? Here's what the science says
Before we get into the findings we have around fertility teas, there are a few important limitations to the research:
Fertility teas as proprietary tea blends don’t have much research behind them — but there’s a wider body of literature behind the individual ingredients present in some of them (and why those ingredients might be helpful).
Research in this area is also complicated by the exact words used. "The term fertility teas encompass a broad swath of herbs that originate from many cultures (Chinese, Ayurvedic, Native/Indigenous, etc.) and can be administered in a variety of ways," including blended herbal teas sold online or in stores that are often low in dose and quality, explains Dr. Hullender Rubin.
Dr. Rubin adds that herbal medicine in general is uniquely difficult to study because of rapid changes in its practice, no clear proof in what method of administration has the highest efficacy, the need for standardization in herb potency and testing, and the overall complexities in mapping symptom patterns to specific herbal treatments.
Despite all of these limitations, research in this area is growing. Below, we’ve broken down the key ingredients included in the most popular fertility teas and examined the research we do have around their potential impact on fertility. We'll start with the ingredients that have the most evidence for their fertility-boosting claims (which are also the ones that have been studied the most), and end with the ones that have the least.
Though clinicians don't recommend it yet for fertility, chasteberry (aka Vitex) has had promising results
Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus), from the chaste tree, is known for its role in improving aspects of reproductive wellness (including premenstrual stress syndrome), but most of the research in this area looked at chasteberry as an ingredient in a supplement rather than a fertility tea specifically:
One 2014 review of 33 studies found that herbal extracts of chasteberry are effective in improving the length of the luteal phase, suggesting increased progesterone production and menstrual cycle regularity — both of which are helpful for fertility in people with irregular cycles (though it might make it harder for the body to absorb iron if it's taken with meals).
All of this said, there still isn't enough evidence for a formal clinical recommendation of chasteberry as a fertility enhancer. There's also a possible risk for chasteberry if used while undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF): One case report showed it could lead to ovarian hyperstimulation. Taking chasteberry may also be unsafe for pregnant people and those with hormone-sensitive conditions.
"Given that there is not a lot of evidence and it does seem to have an effect on hormone-sensitive conditions, and without a clear understanding of what roles it plays in hormone regulation," explains OB-GYN and Modern Fertility medical advisor Dr. Eva Luo, MD, MBA, "I'm very hesitant to recommend it for anything."
(Interesting side note: Chasteberry allegedly got its name because Monks in the Middle Ages used it to decrease sexual desire. That's what may have put the "chaste" in chasteberry.)
Black cohosh could also have a positive effect on fertility
Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), which has historically been used to ease menopause and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, as well as inducing labor, and may have some effect on fertility.
One 2021 systematic review found that black cohosh improved hormone regulation and endometrial (aka uterine lining) thickness when compared to clomiphene citrate in patients managing infertility with PCOS, with three randomized controlled trials (the "gold standard" in research) finding higher pregnancy rates for people using black cohosh in addition to clomiphene citrate. The researchers noted, though, that there were concerns of bias in several of the included studies. These same effects were not demonstrated by high-quality clinical evidence for people with PCOS.
Red raspberry leaf tea and fertility
Red raspberry leaf (Rubis idaeus), which is packed with nutrients (like iron) and sometimes called "the women's herb" by herbalists, has been used to treat gynecological issues since as early as the sixth century in Europe. There's anecdotal evidence of its possible role in fertility, but there's no well-established clinical evidence proving that.
One 2021 systematic review focusing on red raspberry leaf and pregnancy identified a few studies (some that are pretty old and only used animals) that spoke to red raspberry leaf's possible impact on the uterine muscle, but the evidence demonstrating an effect on human, nonpregnant uterine tissue was lacking. The researchers also found no clear benefits for pregnant people — in fact, red raspberry leaf may not be recommended at all during pregnancy.
Nettle leaf might be helpful for managing high testosterone levels
Stinging nettle leaf (Urtica dioica), which is also rich with nutrients, is used by some traditional women’s health practitioners to improve fertility, though there’s little demonstrated clinical evidence to support this:
While there are claims that taking nettle leaf may decrease testosterone levels (which could help improve fertility for people with polycystic ovary syndrome), to our knowledge, there's no research to back this up.
A small study from 2014 investigated the above claim and found that nettle supplementation (not explicitly with nettle leaf, which is what's often found in teas) was no more effective than typical treatment for high androgen ("male" sex hormones like testosterone) levels. The researchers said the herb could have the potential to be helpful here, but more research is needed.
Whether or not you choose to take nettle leaf tea, an important note: It should not be taken while you're pregnant (even though you might see claims to the contrary).
The antioxidants in green tea could be beneficial for fertility
Since antioxidants can be good for fertility, green tea (made from the plant Camellia sinensis), which notably isn't caffeine-free, could play a role in improving outcomes for people with ovaries and people with sperm:
According to one 2018 review, green tea may be helpful for fertility by reducing oxidative stress. But the same polyphenols and other antioxidants could actually be harmful at higher doses.
But, per one 2017 review, green tea may also impact vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a substance in your blood that promotes the growth of new blood vessels. Dr. Hullender Rubin explains that decreasing VEGF is a good thing when limiting blood flow to tumors, but not for the maturation of ovarian follicles (the fluid-filled sacs that develop and release eggs).
We don't know the ideal dosage for fertility benefits from the antioxidant properties of green tea.
Ashwagandha could prove beneficial for fertility — but it could also have the opposite effect
A 2018 systematic review that looked at ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) — a key herb in the practice of Ayurveda — and fertility found some pretty conflicting evidence: While the herb may improve semen quality for people with sperm and luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels for people with ovaries, animal studies show possible spermicidal effects (which could contribute to infertility). The researchers wrote that further studies should examine how the herb is extracted and the ideal dosage for increased fertility.
Ashwagandha is likely unsafe during pregnancy.
Tribulus might be good for the fertility of mice… but we're not sure about humans
The findings around the herb tribulus (Tribulus terrestris), an ingredient found in fertility teas, show some promise in animal studies — but we don't know for sure how effective it might be for humans:
Animal studies have demonstrated increased sperm motility for mice.
Evidence in human subjects has also noted a marked enhancement, but whether it’s as significant as in mice remains unclear.
There's no evidence that peppermint leaf can improve chances of conception, but spearmint might be beneficial for people with PCOS
To our knowledge, there's no evidence to support the claim that peppermint (Mentha piperita) increases sex drive, and in turn increases chances of conception. However, spearmint has been found to have properties that can lower androgens in women with PCOS based on monitored hormone levels and subjective assessments of hair growth — though the small study that came to this conclusion warned that the clinical application of these findings isn't clear (given no change in objective evaluations of hair growth).
While lady's mantle tea is sometimes recommended for fertility, there are no published studies evaluating the connection
The herb lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis) has been used for a long time in traditional European medicine and Ayurveda. Though there are claims that it can be helpful for fertility (as well as general menstrual disorders), we weren't able to find any published studies showing a link between the herb and fertility — or even overall menstrual health.
Lady's mantle may not be recommended for use while pregnant.
The bottom line: Whether you take fertility teas or not is up to you and your healthcare provider
We've said it before and we'll say it again: What you choose to do with your body is between you and your healthcare provider. The clinical evidence around fertility teas is pretty limited, but there's a possibility that some ingredients may provide benefits — and few ingredients (if taken prior to pregnancy) pose anything more than mild side effects. That said, like we mentioned earlier, some herbs may interact with other medications or supplements you're taking. But if you and your healthcare provider don't see any harm in you trying out a fertility tea, the decision to go for it is 100% yours to make. If you're really interested in the benefits of certain herbs for fertility, it's worth it to also connect with a trained herbalist alongside your provider.
"You should always be open with your healthcare team on what you are taking," says Dr. Luo. "How to incorporate any of these alternative treatments requires some careful consideration so that it doesn't interfere with your fertility goals — and certainly not with current medical plans already in place." And, as the herbal medicine experts we spoke with explain, using herbs from reputable sources and consulting with a trained herbalist are also recommended.
If methods of increasing your chances of conception that are backed by lots of clear-cut research are what you're looking for, tracking ovulation and timing sex or insemination around your most fertile days are wonderful places to start.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Eva Marie Luo, MD, MBA, OB-GYN at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Clinical Lead for Value at the Center for Healthcare Delivery Science at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.