Additional notes (click to expand)

Featured Plant

“Research in Germany now indicates that this plant possesses the ability to increase production of the luteinizing hormone and prolactin. It has also been shown that it can regulate periods where there is excessive bleeding, too frequent menstruation, or haemorrhage. The plant appears to stimulate synthesis of the hormone progesterone, although it may have a regulatory effect on oes-trogen since herbalists have found it useful for the symptoms of both PMS and the menopause. It has been used to treat fibroids, inflammation of the womb lining, and to reestablish normal ovulation and menstruation after discontinuation of the contraceptive pill…” (Mabey, 1988, p.125). Parts of Vitex agnus-castus have been used both inwardly and outwardly as an emblem of chastity. In the medieval period it was believed that people’s bodies were affected by what they ate. Peppers and spices had the properties of counteracting cool, wet humours. V. agnus-castus was thought to be particularly appropriate in a monk’s diet; St Anthony called it “monk’s pepper tree”, because it “makes men as chaste as lambs”. In Italy, the flowers are strewn on the ground in front of novices as they enter the monastery or convent. Nuns have been known to keep the plants’ soft leaves in their pocket to rub in order to maintain pure thoughts. REFERENCES: Mabey, R. (1988) The Complete New Herbal: A Practical Guide to Herbal Living. London, Penguin Books Ltd Twomey, L. (2013) The Fabric of Marian Devotion in Isabel de Villena’s Vita Christi. Tamsis Books

Horticulture

Open, spreading, deciduous shrub with 5- or 7-palmate leaves composed of slender, narrow elliptic, pointed, entire or slightly toothed, aromatic, dark green leaflets, to 10cm or more long. Small, tubular fragrant, lilac to blue flowers are borne in slender upright, terminal panicles, to 13-18cm long in early and mid-autumn. Height to 6m (20 foot). To propagate: sow seed at 6-12°C in autumn or spring. Take semi-ripe cuttings in summer. Grow in any well-drained soil in full sun. In frost-prone areas, shelter Vitex agnus-castus from cold, drying winds.
Brickell, C. (2003), 2nd ed. A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. Dorling Kindersley Vol. II, p.1082

Medicinal

Traditional Herbal Medicine Registration (THMR).

This buddleia-like shrub comes from Sicily but is hardy in much of the British Isles. It was known as the Chaste plant, and reported by Woodville (1790) that, being ‘especially useful to those living a monastic life these seeds have been called Monks’ Pepper’ and were sprinkled on food to prevent carnal thoughts'. Lyte (1578) says it is ‘a singular remedy for such as would live chaste, for it withstandeth all uncleanliness and the filthy desire to lechery’. Nuns carried the leaves in their pockets to keep their minds pure, believing that its virtuous properties could be absorbed – like the copper in the bangles for arthritis worn to this day. Visitors to the garden of the Royal College of Physicians in London report that it is still found growing outside the monasteries of France. It continues to be used in herbal medicine for premenstrual syndromes although clinical effectiveness is not supported by controlled trials. It does have dopaminergic activity and may lower serum prolactin levels. It is licensed as a herbal medicine for minor symptoms of the premenstrual syndrome. Severe allergic reactions have been reported. No assessment of sexual activity or interest was made. (European Medicines Agency report, November 2010). No assessment of sexual activity or interest was made, but it should be noted that raised levels of prolactin (the reverse of the effect of Vitex agnus-castus) are associated with loss of libido in both men and women. It is licensed for use in Traditional Herbal Medicines in the UK (UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Oakeley, Dr. Henry. (2011). A Year in the Medicinal Garden of the Royal College of Physicians, revised edition. Royal College of Physicians, London. p.77 link

Used since the Greeks for menstrual disorders, and as anaphrodisiacs by monks. Effects on hormone levels are currently being researched.

Nomenclature

Chaste Tree; Chasteberry; Monks' Pepper

Other use

Indication: relief of premenstrual symptoms. From Patient information leaflet for preparations licensed as Traditional Herbal remedies in the UK.
Medicines and Health Care Regulatory Authority, 2013 Licensed Traditional Herbal Remedies

Toxicity

Side effects/precautions: do not take with pituitary disorder, pregnancy/breast feeding; hypersensitivity; caution with oestrogen-sensitive cancer, dopamine agonists/antagonists, oestrogens/antiaestrogens; may cause severe allergic reactions (face swelling etc), allergic skin reactions, headache, dizziness, gastrointestinal disorders, acne, menstrual disorders. From Patient information leaflet for preparations licensed as Traditional Herbal remedies in the UK.
Medicines Control Agency (MCA), . (2002). MCA Parliamentary Report 'Saferty of Herbal Medicnes'. MCA.

Geographical distribution

  • Africa, Northern Africa
  • Asia-Temperate, Caucasus
  • Asia-Temperate, Middle Asia
  • Asia-Temperate, Middle Asia
  • Europe, Eastern Europe
  • Europe, Southeastern Europe
  • Europe, Southwestern Europe

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Vitex agnus-castus var. latifolia Mill.

Family: LAMIACEAE
Genus: Vitex
Species: agnus-castus L.
Variety: latifolia Mill.
Common names: Chaste Tree; Chasteberry; Monks' Pepper
Pharmacopoeia Londinensis name: Agnus Castus/Vitex
Distribution summary: Mediterranean, Central Asia
Habit: Shrub
Hardiness: H4 - Hardy; average winter
Habitat: Lowland, open woodland, grassland, scrub and verges
Garden status: Currently grown
Garden location: Classical Europe & Middle East (M)
Flowering months: August, September
Reason for growing: Medicinal, other use, toxic


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