One of the few herbal medicines known to have a progesterone-type activity within the body, the chaste berry is specific for menstrual and perimenopausal problems. Vitex increases the production of progesterone, luteinizing hormones, and prolactin and inhibits the release of follicle stimulating hormone. It helps to reregulate the menstrual cycle for women coming off birth control pills. It can help normalise the menses, shortening a long period or lengthening a short one. It also helps normalise the functions of the pituitary gland.
Agnus castus, Chaste Berry, Chaste Tree, monk’s pepper, Vitex
Chaste Berry is a time tested herbal therapeutic going back so far as 600BC where it’s mentioned in Homer’s Iliad as a symbol of chastity. As the name implies, it was thought to reduce libido and was used for that purpose by medieval monks throughout the centuries as a pepper substitute or as a tea. This peculiar hormonal modulating property has been empirically observed by herbalists and scientifically confirmed by modern science, making Chaste Berry a primary botanical in the herbal medicine chest. But before we get to the uses let’s look at how to grow and keep it.
A deciduous, aromatic tree growing to 7 meters with palm-shaped leaves and small lilac flowers in dense clusters to 6 inches followed by little red-black fruits. It blooms in Summer. The entire plant is aromatic, especially the flowers and fruits. Native to the Mediterranean region and western Asia. It is cultivated in subtropical areas around the world and has become naturalised in many areas.
It is grown from seed in spring or autumn. For best seed germination prefers soil temperatures of 15 – 22°C on average, well-drained dry soil. Very drought tolerant. Soil pH of 5.5-8.5. Full sun or partial shade. Can also be propagated by cutting or layering from young woody cuttings. A dip in a rooting hormone and misting cuttings is suggested for optimum propagation. Bottom heat also helps. Cuttings taken once flowering starts do not take as easily. Plant on 6-8 foot centers with a small amount of balanced slow release fertilizer.
Prune back old growth in the late winter since leaves will sprout on new growth. The ripe berries are collected in autumn. The berries are already dry on the plant and can just be stripped with the fingers. To process clean out the few leaves and stems that might be included: only the dried berries are used for therapeutic purposes
Essential oils (cineol, limonene, pinene, sabinene), flavonoids (casticin, isovitexin, orientin), alkaloids (vitticine), iridoglycosides (agnuside, aucubin, eurostoside)
The seeds can be ground into a peppery condiment.
Hormonal modulator, uterine tonic, galactagogue
- Flavour: sweet, bitter, pungent
- Temperature: neutral
- Moisture: Moist
- Polarity: yin
Dopaminergic, Prolactin inhibitor
Amenorrhea, cysts (in the breasts, ovaries, and uterus), depression (related to menopause), dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, fibroids (in the breasts, ovaries, or uterus), infertility, herpes (related to menses), menorrhagia, migraines (related to menstrual cycle), polymenorrhea, premenstrual acne, premenstrual syndrome, and threatened miscarriage. It can also be beneficial after hysterectomy.
Chaste Berry is sometimes called “the women’s herb.” It is used for menstrual cycle irregularities, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), a more severe form of PMS called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and symptoms of menopause. It is also used for treating “lumpy” (fibrocystic) breasts, female infertility and preventing miscarriage in women with low levels of progesterone
Men use Chaste Berry for increasing the flow of urine, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), and for reducing sexual desire.
The most critical therapeutic application comes from its ability to normalise the activity of female sex hormones. It is thus indicated for dysmenorrhea (painful periods), pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), and menopause. Similarly, it may help the body regain hormonal balance faster after discontinuation of oral contraceptives.
Chaste Berry not only eases symptoms of PMS but also, over time, may actually cure the disorder. PMS has been linked to abnormally high levels of estrogen and has proved especially helpful for cases in which symptoms tend to disappear when menstruation begins. Positive results may be perceived as early as the second to the third menstrual cycle, but permanent improvement may take up to one year or longer.
Combination idea: Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis)
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
Chaste Berry is about as effective as the prescription drug fluoxetine (Prozac) for relieving symptoms of PMDD. However, it seems to be somewhat more effective for physical symptoms such as breast tenderness, swelling, cramps, and food cravings. Fluoxetine appears to be slightly more useful for psychological symptoms such as depression, irritability, insomnia, nervous tension, and feeling out of control.
Combination idea: St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) or Vervain (Verbena spp.) could be a compelling choice for a complete address to those issues.
Chaste Berry is the traditional first herb to consider for women who are trying to get pregnant as it may effectively regulate the ovulatory cycle as well as stimulate the growth of the uterine lining. There is some evidence that taking it can help some women get pregnant. However, it does not seem to work quickly and can take from 3 – 7 months of treatment to achieve pregnancy.
Combination idea: Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) is a common herb used in Ayurvedic medicine to facilitate fertility.
Dosage (Divided Daily)
Dried Berries: 500 – 3000mg
Dried Berry Tea: 1 tsp in 1 cup twice daily
Tincture: 1.0 – 2.5mL (1:2)
Should be avoided by women taking an oral contraceptive, during pregnancy and, because of the inhibitory effect on prolactin secretion, during lactation (reduces/interferes with milk supply). Small doses, however, may increase lactation.
Occasional mild gastrointestinal disturbances or skin reactions.
Interactions with other drugs
Interaction with progesterogenic (enhance effect), Estrogenic (decrease effect) and dopamine receptor antagonists (decrease effect) appears possible. Concurrent use with contraceptive pill, fertility treatment, or hormone replacement therapy is not advisable.
Bradley, P. R., & British Herbal Medicine Association. Scientific Committee. (1992). British herbal compendium: a handbook of scientific information on widely used plant drugs. Bournemouth: British Herbal Medicine Association.
British Herbal Medicine Association. Scientific Committee. British herbal pharmacopoeia. London: The Committee.
Chevallier, A. (2000). Encyclopedia of herbal medicine (2nd American ed.). New York: DK Pub.
Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.
Ulbricht, C. E., & Natural Standard (Firm). (2010). Natural Standard Herb & supplement guide: an evidence-based reference (1st ed.). Maryland Heights, Mo.: Elsevier/Mosby.
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