- Family Verbenaceae
- Vitex agnus-castus
- Vitex millis
- Agnus Castus, Vitex, Monk's Pepper, Chaste Tree
- Spanish: Aceitunillo, Uvalama, Ahuilote
- Since chaste berry affects female hormones, it should not be taken with other endocrine therapies or hormonal medications.
- It should not be used during pregnancy or breast-feeding.
- Contraindicated for women who are taking dopamine-receptor antagonists as the herb may interfere with its action.
Native to the Mediterranean region and western Asia, the chaste tree is related to the grape (V. vinifera) and distantly to vervain and lemon verbena. This deciduous, aromatic tree grows to twenty-two feet with palm-shaped leaves and small lilac flowers. The reddish-black berries are about the size of peppercorns. The tree is cultivated in subtropical areas around the world, and has become naturalized in many regions.
The plant was well-known in ancient times, and was featured in Homer's 6th century BCE eipc, the Iliad, as a symbol of chastity capable of warding off evil.
As its name implies, it was thought to reduce sexual desire, and traditionally chewed by monks who maintained that they made their vows easier to uphold. On the other hand, the berries were also considered an aphrodisiac. However, neither of these aspects have any foundation.
The ancient Greeks also believed the same; and ladies who did not want to be disturbed, draped their couches with garlands of the leaves to dampen the ardor of their suitors.
The Greeks used the berries to treat a variety of “female” complaints. Their physicians used them to stop hemorrhages following childbirth.
In the 1930s, Agnolyt, a patented medicine made from the berries, was widely used to treat female hormone imbalances.
- increases breast-milk production
- regulates hormones
- volatile oil (cineol)
- alkaloids (viticine)
- flavonoids (casticin)
- iridoids (aucubin, agnoside, eurostoside)
Research has confirmed that it does have a hormonal action and used mainly for menstrual problems and infertility. Although researchers have been investigating chaste tree berries for over thirty years in the UK and Germany, it is still not clear as to which constituents are responsible for its distinct hormonal effect on the body. The berries are thought to inhibit the action of male androgens (sex hormones), while in women, the berries have a progesterogenic effect, acting on the pituitary gland, which regulates the menstrual cycle. By increasing the progesterogenic activity, the herb can help to balance progesterone and estrogen production by the ovaries throughout the menstrual cycle.
Although their action is largely hormonal, they do not contain any hormones. Its active ingredients include agnuside, which is thought to work on the pituitary gland to stimulate production of LH (luteinizing hormone), which in turn, increases production of progesterone helping to regulate the menstrual cycle.
It also stimulates production of prolactin, the hormone that regulates breast milk production.
A German study done in 1997 showed that daily use in capsule form was an effective treatment for symptoms of PMS. European studies have revealed up to 90% of women obtained some relief from symptoms and appeared to be more effective in women with mild to moderately low progesterone levels.
To treat PMS (premenstrual syndrome), the herb usually has to be taken for two or three months to see full benefit, which is often significant, with a reduction in bloating, breast swelling and tenderness, irritability, and depression. The herb also helps to regulate the cycle, tending to shorten a long cycle and lengthening a short one.
It has been successfully used to treat infertility if caused by low progesterone levels. It may take as long as six months for absent menstrual periods to return, and even longer to have an impact on infertility.
In Mexico, it is traditionally used to treat menstrual distress and a variety of unrelated problems, including scorpion bites, diarrhea, and respiratory infections.
Since the 1950s, European physicians have recommended dried chaste berries for irregular menstrual periods, heavy periods, and especially to relieve PMS. They have also been prescribed for a variety of other female complaints, including the regulation of ovulation after the use of oral contraceptives, endometriosis, fibroid uterine growth, menopausal symptoms, and acne related to hormonal imbalances.