The world does not stand still: everything changes each second. However, some things seem to be timeless and everlasting. One of such things is a herb, called Vitex.
Besides the botanical name Vitex Agnus-Castus has many traditional or colloquial names: Chaste tree, Monk’s pepper, Chasteberry, Indian Spice, etc.
The plant grows in Mediterranean countries and central Asia, preferring much sunlight and moisture, and well-drained soil. A deciduous shrub, having an airy and spreading habit, grows up to 10 feet. It has five-fingered leaves, which begin to bud as late as June, and eight-inch lilac flower spikes. Flowers are hermaphrodite and are pollinated by insects. Vitex is in bloom from September to October, forming then pepper-scented seeds. By the way, the leaves and the stems of the plant are also strongly aromatic.
Since ancient times people used Vitex mainly for medical purposes. Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and Theophrastus mentioned in their works that sitz baths for treating the diseases of the uterus and other female disorders were made of Vitex. Besides, even our ancestors knew about the plant’s ability to suppress libido. Women covered their beds with Vitex leaves in order to inspire chastity; monks either chewed the ripe fruits of the plant, or prepared tea from them with the same aim. No wonder that Homer called Vitex a symbol of chastity in his Illiad.
In spite of the fact that curative abilities of Vitex were slightly forgotten in 17-18th centuries, the plant has now returned its status of one of the most important herbal remedies in phytotherapy.
Many different trials had been conducted to prove the possibility of using Vitex with medical aim nowadays. They all showed that this plant has a unique force to regulate the levels of hormones (especially estrogen and progesterone) in the organism.
The extract of all the Vitex fruit constituents affects the activity of the pituitary gland. It helps increase progesterone production, which can be beneficial for women’s health in many cases, as it gives the opportunity to regulate menstrual cycles, reduce the symptoms of menopause and PMS (irritability, breast tenderness, mood switches, menstrual cramps), and even fight women infertility, caused by hormone imbalance. (Vitex has acquired the name “women’s herb” not in vain!) Furthermore, such problem as acne, both in men and women, can be solved or, at least, partially solved with the help of the same plant.
These days the dried herb is available in capsules or in liquid preparations. It is reported that the patients have no side effects if they do not overdose the remedy during the treatment (30-40 mg a day). In rare cases, though, minor stomach upset and mild skin itching is observed. Overdose manifests itself through formication, a sensation of insects crawling over the skin.
Besides medical use Vitex fruit can also serve as pepper substitute, and leaves are used as a spice. Since the whole plant is very aromatic, especially flowers, the latter stand high esteem of perfumery. Young stems are used in basket making. At last, this universal plant is a source of yellow dye, which is obtained from the leaves, seeds, and roots.