Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)

Vitex agnus-castus: Habitus
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Botanical Name :Vitex agnus-castus
Kingdom: Plantae
Family: Lamiaceae
Common Name : Vitex, Chaste Tree, Chasteberry, or Monk’s Pepper.
Genus: Vitex
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Vitex
Species: V. agnus-castus

Habitat :This plant is native of the Mediterranean region.Southern Europe, in woodlands and dry areas

Description:
Deciduous shrub, up to 20 feet tall (6 m), 20 feet wide (6 m); palmately compound leaves, 3 to 4 inches wide (7.5-10 cm) with 5 to 7 fingerlike leaflets, reminding of Marijuana (Cannabis spp.)

Vitex leaves are hand-sized and consist of five to seven fingers that are dark green above and silvery underneath. While fairly drought resistant, Vitex grows faster and looks lovelier when watered regularly. Grape-colored flowers cover long panicles that can elongate up to 12 inches. Starting in early summer, flowers begin opening from the bottom of the flower stem and continue up the stem over the course of four or five weeks until the bush is completely blanketed in eye-popping bloom. Harvesting these flowers early in the bloom cycle is the best way to preserve them for craft use. They may be used fresh or hung upside down in small bunches for drying.
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As the flowers of summer fade, small dark purple berries follow. In the past these berries have been dried and used as a rather weak substitute for pepper and as an ingredient in Mediterranean spice mixtures. In the 6th century, the ground dried berries were touted as a must for monks trying to maintain their vows of chastity (thus, the common name Monk’s Pepper). Vitex is now considered a vital herb for regulating and relieving menstrual problems and infertility. For a good discussion of the medicinal properties of Vitex,  check in Andrew Chevalier’s book The Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. This book will guide you through the steps of  harvesting and preparing remedies from your garden.

Lavender or white flowers in the spring. They are followed by dry capsules with a peppery smell.

Dark green foliage, moderate littering. The name of Chaste Tree comes from the fact that when used as tea it was supposed to reduce sexual desire. Actually, modern studies show that some of the compounds in the leaves inhibit the action of males hormons. The species name “agnus-castus” comes from the Greek and Latine for “chast”.

Vitex, also a traditional plant in Africa, is a little-known fruit plant that has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable landcare.

Cultivation: Vitex agnus-castus is widely cultivated in warm temperate and subtropical regions for its aromatic foliage and flowers. It grows to a height of 1-5 meters. It requires full sun or partial shade along with well-drained soil.

Propagation: Seeds or cuttings, cuttings have the advantage of a known flower color.

Constituents: acubin, agnuside, casticin, chrysophanol d, alpha- and beta-pinene, isovitexin and vitexin.


Medicinal   Actions  & use

Herbal medicine
The leaves and tender stem growth of the upper 10 cm (4 inches), along with the flowers and ripening seeds, are harvested for medicinal purposes. The berries are harvested by gently rubbing the berries loose from the stem. The leaves, flowers, and/or berries may be consumed as a decoction, traditional tincture, cider vinegar tincture, syrup, elixir, or simply eaten straight off the plant as a medicinal food.A popular way of taking Vitex is on awakening as a simple 1:1 fluid extract, which is said to interact with hormonal circadian rhythms most effectively.

The berries are considered a tonic herb for both the male and female reproductive systems. The leaves are believed to have the same effect but to a lesser degree.

This plant is commonly called monk’s pepper because it was originally used as anti-libido medicine by monks to aid their attempts to remain chaste. It is believed to be a male anaphrodisiac, hence the name chaste tree. There are disputed accounts regarding its action on female libido, with some claims that it is anaphrodisiac and others that it is aphrodisiac.

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It has also been used as a carminative and an anxiolytic.

Back in the 17th century, herbalist Gerard wrote that the seeds and leaves helped with pain and inflammation of the uterus.  The hormonelike substances found in the seeds help to correct female hormonal imbalances, such as those that can occur during menopause, premenstrual syndrome, or menstruation, and also help dissolve fibroids and cysts.  German researchers suggest the berries increase production of luteinizing hormone and prolactin. Another study adds the increase of the hormone progesterone to the list.  The seeds do stimulate mother’s milk flow as shown in a clinical study when 100 nursing mothers taking chaste seeds were compared to those who were not.  Christopher Hobbs suggests its use during the first 3 months only of pregnancy to help prevent miscarriage and, with ginger, to allay morning sickness.  Chaste berries can help regulate periods when there is excessive or too frequent bleeding.  It also reestablishes normal ovulation after contraceptive pills have been used.  In women without ovaries, chasteberry appears to lessen extremes of hormonal imbalance, perhaps through indirect effects on the endocrine system, liver and circulation. Women with PMS with significant depression should probably steer clear of chasteberry.  Some research suggests that PMS with depression is caused by excess progesterone, and chasteberry is said to raise progesterone levels.  Chasteberry may help some women trying to conceive if infertility is due to low progesterone levels.  Most of the research has been done on a chaste berry extract called Agnolyt.  When 53 women with excessive bleeding and short menstrual cycles were given this product, 65% showed improvement and about 47% were cured.  Those over age 20 experienced the most improvements.  Other studies with Agnolyt found the chaste berry helps control acne in both young women and young men

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Clinical evidence

Clinical studies have shown its beneficial effects in the management of premenstrual stress syndrome (PMS). and infertility. The use of extracts of the plant is recommended in Germany.

Its mechanism of action is not well known. A study has found that treatment of 20 healthy men with higher doses of Vitex Agnus-castus was associated with a slight reduction of prolactin levels, whereas lower doses caused a slight increase as compared to doses of placebo. A decrease of prolactin will influence levels of Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estrogen in women; and testosterone in men.

Chemical analysis
Flavonoids, alkaloids, diterpenoids, Vitexin, Casticin and steroidal hormone precursors have been isolated from the chemical analysis of Vitex agnus-castus. It is believed that some of these compounds work on the pituitary gland which would explain its effects on hormonal levels. A study has shown that extracts of the fruit of VAC can bind to opiate receptors; this could explain why intake of VAC reduces PMS discomforts.

Current uses
Vitex Agnus-Castus is used as an Alternative medicine to alleviate symptoms of various gynecological problems:-

*PMS
*Galactagogue. This use is disputed.
*Potential as an Insect repellent.
*No clinical studies
*Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
*Uterine fibroids
*Menopause
*Infertility
*Luteal phase defect

It is used in some supplements for male bodybuilders as a secondary component because of its effects on testosterone levels.

Contraindications:  It is recommended that Vitex agnus-castus be avoided during pregnancy due to the possibility of complications.

Other types uses:
*Historical uses, uses outside the scope of medicine.

*Galactagogue, historical usage in very low concentrations and not advisable today. However one recent study did find “Oral administration of 70 mg/kg/day of Vitex agnus-castus extract in lactation stages, significantly increased serum prolactin, compared with the control group of rats.”

*Potential use as an insect repellent
Used in supplements for male bodybuilders as a secondary component because of its effects on testosterone levels

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Resources:
http://www.desert-tropicals.com/Plants/Verbenaceae/Vitex_agnus-castus.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitex_agnus-castus
http://www.mountainvalleygrowers.com/vitagnus.htm
http://www.anniesremedy.com/herb_detail213.php

http://www.herbnet.com/Herb%20Uses_C.htm

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