Chaste Tree Herb

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Chaste Tree

The Latin name Agnus castus means “chaste lamb” in reference to the early belief that it reduced sexual desire (it does not). Monks used it in ancient times. A tincture of the fresh berries was often used by the eclectic physicians as a galactagogue and emmenagogue. The primary use of this botanical has long occurred throughout Europe with traditional use for a variety of female hormone and gynecological conditions. The German Commission E has approved the use of Chaste Tree extract for the treatment of PMS. It is widely used in Germany and in Europe.

What is Chaste Tree Used for?

Chaste Tree berry has been well studied in clinical trials to support normal hormone levels, particularly progesterone. Many studies to date have demonstrated positive clinical outcomes for conditions related to the female menstrual cycle.

General description

Chaste tree is a shrub that bears violet flowers and berries. It is also called vitex anus-castus. The medicinal parts are the dried fruit and leaves. The plant comes from the Mediterranean and western Asia. It can now be found in southeastern parts of North America.

Chaste tree contains droids, flavonoids, progestins, and essential oils. This combination may help control menstrual cycles and ease menstrual pain. It may treat some endocrine problems.

Medically valid uses

There are no proven medical uses for chaste tree.

A few studies suggest that chaste tree helps premenstrual syndrome. But the studies weren’t designed well, so the results aren’t reliable.

There is some evidence that chaste berry may help with some types of infertility. It may help with breast pain. But more studies are needed to confirm this. 

Side effects, toxicity, and interactions

Chaste tree has no serious side effects. Mild side effects can include nausea, stomach issues, diarrhea, and itchy rash.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use chaste tree. It isn’t known if chaste tree is safe for children.

This supplement should not be taken by people with hormone-sensitive cancer.

Don’t use chaste tree if you take any medicines, herbs, or other supplements. Check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist first.

It’s also touted as protection against insect bites and certain types of cancer and claimed to offer a variety of other health effects. However, not all benefits are backed by science.

Here are the science-backed benefits — as well as some myths — associated with Vitex agnus-castus.

What is Vitex Agnus-Castus?

Vitex, which is the name of the largest genus in the Verbenaceae plant family, includes 250 species worldwide

Vitex agnus-castus is the most common vitex used medicinally.

The Vitex agnus-castus fruit, also known as chaste-berry or monk’s pepper, is about the size of a peppercorn. It’s produced by the chaste tree, which acquired its name because its fruit was likely used to decrease men’s libido during the Middle Ages (2Trusted Source).

This fruit — as well as other parts of the plant — are typically used as an herbal remedy to treat a variety of ailments.

In fact, it’s been used in this way since ancient Greece (2Trusted Source).

In Turkish medicine, it’s also used as a digestive, anti-fungal and anti-anxiety aid (3Trusted Source).

Eases symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

One of the most popular and well-researched attributes of Vitex agnus-castus is its ability to reduce symptoms of PMS.

Researchers believe that vitex works by decreasing levels of the hormone protactinium. This helps re-balance other hormones, including estrogen and progesterone — thus reducing PMS symptoms

In one study, women with PMS took Vitex agnus-castus during three consecutive menstrual cycles. In total, 93 percent of those given vitex reported a decrease in PMS symptoms, including:

However, the study didn’t include a control group, and placebo effects can’t be ruled out (5Trusted Source).

In two smaller studies, women with PMS were given 20 mg of Vitex agnus-castus per day or a placebo for three menstrual cycles.

Twice as many women in the vitex group reported a decrease in symptoms including irritability, mood swings, headaches and breast fullness, compared to those given the placebo (6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source).

Vitex agnus-castus also appears to help reduce cyclic mastalgia, a type of breast pain linked to menstruation. Research suggests that it may be as effective as common drug treatment — but with far fewer side effects (8Trusted Source, 9, 10Trusted Source).

However, two recent reviews report that although vitex appears helpful in reducing PMS symptoms, its benefits may be overestimated (11, 12Trusted Source, 13).

Better-designed studies may be needed before strong conclusions can be made.

May reduce menopause symptoms

The hormone-balancing effects of Vitex agnus-castus may also help relieve symptoms of menopause.

In one study, vitex oils were given to 23 women in menopause. Women reported improved menopause symptoms, including better mood and sleep. Some even regained their period (14Trusted Source).

In a follow-up study 52 additional pre- and postmenopausal women were given a vitex cream. Of the study participants, 33 percent experienced major improvements, and another 36 percent reported moderate improvements in symptoms, including night sweats and hot flashes (14Trusted Source).

However, not all studies have observed benefits. One recent and larger double-blind, randomized, controlled trial — the gold standard in research — gave women a placebo or a daily tablet containing a combination of vitex and St. John’s wort.

After 16 weeks, the vitex supplement was no more effective than the placebo at reducing hot flashes, depression or any other menopausal symptoms (15Trusted Source).

Keep in mind that in many studies reporting benefits, women were provided with supplements that mixed Vitex agnus-castus with other herbs. Therefore, it’s difficult to isolate the effects of vitex alone (16Trusted Source).

May enhance fertility

Vitex may improve female fertility due to its possible effect on protactinium levels (17Trusted Source).

This may be especially true in women with luteal phase defect, or a shortened second half of the menstrual cycle. This disorder is linked to abnormally high protactinium levels and makes it difficult for women to become pregnant.

In one study, 40 women with abnormally high protactinium levels were given either 40 mg of Vitex agnus-castus or a pharmaceutical drug. Vitex was as effective as the drug in reducing prolactin levels (18Trusted Source).

In another study in 52 women with luteal phase defect, 20 mg of vitex resulted in lower prolactin levels and prolonged menstrual phases, while participants given a placebo saw no benefits (19Trusted Source).

Yet another study gave 93 women — who had unsuccessfully tried to become pregnant over the last 6–36 months — a supplement containing Vitex agnus-castus or a placebo.

After three months, women in the vitex group experienced an improved hormone balance — and 26 percent of them became pregnant. In comparison, only 10 percent of those in the placebo group became pregnant (20Trusted Source).

Keep in mind that the supplement held a mix of other ingredients, making it difficult to isolate the effects of vitex.

Irregular periods can also hamper women in planning a pregnancy. Three additional studies report that vitex is more effective than a placebo in improving menstrual cycles in women with irregular periods

Vitex agnus-castus tree is a shrub that is native to the Mediterranean and Central Asia. The shrub has long, finger-shaped leaves, blue-violet flowers, and dark purple berries. The fruit and seed are used to make medicine.

Vitex agnus-castus is commonly taken by mouth for conditions related to the menstrual cycle such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and more severe PMS symptoms (premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD). It is also used for many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support most of these uses.

Vitex: The Chaste Tree

Herbal medicines are the precursors of many common drugs prescribed in clinical practice in modern western industrial countries today. Further, herbs and herbal products are still an important part of the primary health care systems in many parts of the world–in countries such as China and Mexico, and throughout South America and Africa. Common use and interest in herbal medicine is also growing in some industrial countries such as the United States and Germany. Throughout recorded history, some of the same herbal medicines commonly used today were recognized and prescribed by ancient doctors–handed down from unknown antiquity.

One such plant was called agnos by the ancient Greeks, over 2,000 years ago; then agnus castus throughout the middle ages and renaissance. Today one can still buy these small spicy fruits in European herb markets by the same name.

The ancients ascribed many magical powers to this plant, and it was considered an important healing herb among the common people during the following centuries. Throughout Europe, where herbal medicine has more of an unbroken tradition than it does in the United States, agnus castus or “vitex” as it is usually called here, is often used to help relieve the symptoms associated with female hormonal imbalances such as the depression, cramps, mood swings, water retention and weight gain associated with the menstrual cycle (PMS-associated symptoms). In European herbal ism and medical practice, Vitex extracts are also prescribed for uterine fibroid cysts and to help alleviate the unpleasant symptoms of menopause.

The lack of modern controlled studies is surprising, given the herb’s extremely long history of use as a hormone balancing remedy and a legendary remedy to help subdue excited libidos among those who would remain chaste. Identification and standardization of active constituents still await interested researchers. This work may be soon forthcoming given the current re-awakening of interest in this ancient herb.

Botany and Natural Occurance of Chaste Tree

Vitex, a genus from the Verbenaceae, consists of about 60 species in the tropics and subtropics in both hemispheres. Vitex agnus castus is in the vervain family (Verbenaceae) and is a well-known aromatic shrub to small tree growing in the Mediterranean area to western Asia. The plant has long spires of pale lilac or rose colored flowers and small grey-brown, hard fruits, which is the part used medicinally. It is often found growing next to streams, and it loves water, but this author has seen it growing in very dry, rocky spots on the Greek islands.

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