Chaste Tree

Chaste Tree


Chaste Tree or Agnus castus

Vitex agnus-castus

Family:  Verbenaceae, or verbena, or vervain
Genus:   Vitex
Species:  Agnus castus


Synonyms and Common names:   agnus castus, chaste berry, hemp tree, monk's pepper, Abrahams balm, and vitex.

Chaste tree has the effect of stimulating, and normalizing, the pituitary gland function.  It may be called an amphoteric remedy, as it can produce apparently opposite effects, although, in truth, it is simply normalizing.

It has, for instance, a reputation as both an aphrodisiac and an anaphrodisiac.

It will always enable whatever is appropriate to occur.  The greatest use of Chaste Tree lies in normalizing the activity of female sex hormones, and it is therefore indicated, for dysmenorrhea, pre-menstrual stress, and other disorders related to hormone function.  It is especially beneficial during menopausal changes.  In a similar way, it may be used to aid the body, to regain a natural balance, after the use of the birth control pill.

Description and Habitat:
Chaste Tree is a native of the Mediterranean region. It is one of the few temperate-zone species of Vitex, which is on the whole, a genus of tropical, and sub-tropical, flowering plants.

It is a deciduous shrub of free spreading habit, with young shoots that are covered with a fine grey down.  The leaves grow opposite each other and are composed of five, to seven, radiating leaflets, which are borne on the main stalk one to two and a half inches long.

The leaflets are lance-shaped, toothed, and dark green above, and grey underneath, with a very close grey, felt.

The flowers are fragrant, and are produced in September, or October, and are in a flower cluster, with the separate flowers attached by short equal stalks, at equal distances along a central stem.

The berries are a little like peppercorns, they are dark purple, and are half covered by their sage-green calyces.  Berries are yellowish within, are hard, and have an aromatic scent, they taste warm, and it has been said, taste peculiar.

Parts used, are the fruit, or berries.

Collection and preparation:  The very dark berries should be gathered when ripe, which is between mid and late Autumn.  They can be dried either in sun or shade and they are kept tightly covered in a jar where it is cool and dark.

Constituents of the fruit or berries are diterpenes, iridoid glycosides, flavonoids which include casticin, triglycerides, and volatile oil.

Actions on the human body are emmenagogue and tonic.

Chaste tree berry is indicated for the treatment of premenstrual syndrome, irregular or absent periods, breast tenderness.

Therapeutics, or to help as follows.
Increased levels of the hormone prolactin, are often responsible for menstrual irregularities, and pre-menstrual syndrome.  Chaste berry has been shown to inhibit its production, and clinical trials have demonstrated that this can help regularise the menstrual cycle, improving symptoms such as breast tenderness, mood swings, fluid retention, and headache. Chaste berry may also be used to treat acne, especially acne with a hormonal cause.

Contraindicated in pregnancy and when breast-feeding.

Preparation and dosage:
Decoction, pour two cups of boiling water into a pan, add one teaspoonful of the ripe dried berries, and leave to infuse for ten to fifteen minutes.  Drink the decoction three times a day.

Tincture Take one to two millilitres of tincture three times a day.

The problems that Chaste berry help are those that demand three months of dosage to give relief, so carry on with the dosage for three months.

Additional comments and Folklore:

Theophrastus mentioned the shrub several times, and according to Pliny the Elder, it’s Genus name of Vitex, is derived from the Latin, vieo, meaning to weave, or to tie up.

Monks used Chaste berry as an anaphrodisiac, to curb sexual desires, hence the common name, chaste berry.

Egyptians used bandages with crushed berries, barley, and red ochre, to reduce swelling, and mixed it with water to strengthen teeth.  They also used it internally, with other herbs, to treat constipation. It is said to represent the virginity of the maiden, and the wisdom of the crone.

The seeds or berries of Chaste berry were once held in high repute for securing chastity, and the Athenian matrons, in the sacred rites of Ceres, used to string their couches with the leaves.

The tree was associated with ancient Greek festivals. In the Thesmophoria, a festival held in honour of Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture, fertility, and marriage.  Women who remained “chaste” during the festival, used the blossoms for adornment, while bows of twigs and leaves were strewn around Demeter’s temple during the festival.

In Rome, vestal virgins carried twigs of the chaste tree, as a symbol of chastity. According to Greek mythology, Hera, sister, and wife of Zeus, regarded as the protectress of marriage, was born under a chaste tree. Ancient tradition associating the shrub with chastity was adopted in Christian ritual.

Novitiates entering a monastery, walked on a path strewn with blossoms of the chaste tree, a ritual that continues to the present day in some regions of Italy.

The shrub’s ancient association with chastity later led to the use of the fruits as an anaphrodisiac, quieting the desires of the flesh, especially of celibate clergy.

This has given rise to the seed's name of Monk’s pepper because monks would fly to the herb when the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.

It has also been called Indian-Spice, and Wild-Pepper, referring to the use of the fruits as a pepper substitute. The small round fruits (seeds) have a pungent scent, and a flavour reminiscent of black pepper. The fragrant leaves have also been used as a substitute for hops in brewing beer.

Through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the fruits were little used by European medical practitioners. In the late nineteenth century, Felter and Lloyd (1898) suggested the use of a tincture of the fresh berries, to Eclectic medical practitioners, to increase milk secretions, and to be useful as an agent in menstrual disorders. In small doses, it was said to be useful in the treatment of impotence, and perhaps useful for nervousness or mild dementia.