If you’re passionate about gardening, it’s likely that you’ve seen the chaste tree, possibly in a sunny part of the garden. A spreading plant that can grow from the size of a small bush to an impressive tree with striking white, pink, or lavender flowers. However, beyond simply being a decorative plant, the chaste tree may offer a number of potential health benefits, including support for women’s health, men’s health, and more. Read on to learn more about the history of the chaste tree, and whether it could make a difference to your health.
What is Chaste Tree?
Chaste tree is sometimes called Vitex chaste tree, chasteberry, Abraham’s balm, lilac chaste tree, monk’s pepper, or is referred to by its scientific name; Vitex agnus-castus. It grows roughly 10-20 feet and is multi-trunked with a broad spreading habit. The tree itself is native to Asia and Europe and grows primarily along the Mediterranean coast.
Vitex is a genus from the Verbenaceae family (vervain/verbena), which includes about 60 species in the tropics and subtropics and is related to mint. It can grow anywhere from 3-9 feet, although some vitex trees can grow up to twenty feet. Chaste trees have compound leaves with five to seven compound leaflets that are dark green above and lighter green and hairy beneath. The length of the leaflets (about 6 inches long) can give the plant a lacy look.
Chaste tree produces upright stems with lilac-like flowers that range in color from white to rose to purple. It has an aromatic, peppery aroma and flavor and is often planted in gardens to attract butterflies. In the fall, chaste trees produce fleshy, dark brown fruits with four seeds called chasteberries, which are often used to support health. (1)
History of the Chaste Tree
The chaste tree has a long history of use, from Ancient Greece and Rome to Europe during the Renaissance. It was used for a variety of purposes, including support for women’s health, a healthy internal response, and bowel health. It also has a history of being used to support chastity and also may support lactation.
Chaste Tree in Ancient Greece and Rome
Chaste tree is native to Greece and the Mediterranean, and so it was widely cultivated and used by the Ancient Greeks and during the Roman Empire. The chaste tree was considered sacred to Hestia/Vesta, the Greek and Roman goddess of home and hearth, and women often wore the blossoms as a wreath during various festivals. The Romans referred to it as vitex, which is derived from the Latin “vieo,” or “vei” which means to weave, bend, twine or tie up — a reference to the tree’s use in basket-weaving, wattle fence construction (woven lattice), and furniture making.
The Greeks referred to the plant as agnus-castus (meaning “pure”) since it was associated chastity. According to the historian Pliny, “Athenian matrons, preserving their chastity at the Thesmophoria, strew their beds with its leaves.” The seeds were also used to support spleen health and promote healthy elimination and were sometimes brewed into a wine-like drink that was thought to support a healthy internal response and promote perspiration. The herbalist Dioscorides, in his De Materia Medica wrote that vitex “fruit, when drunk, helps those who are poisoned by poisonous animals, spleen and water-seekers, and those who do not have a long period of time.” (2)
The famed Greek physician Hippocrates also recommended chaste tree to support women’s health and wrote “If blood flows from the womb, let the woman drink dark wine in which the leaves of the chaste tree have been steeped. A draft of chaste leaves in wine also serves to expel a chorion held fast in the womb.” (3) It was also thought that the branches of the chaste tree could protect against wolves.
Chaste Tree in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance
While the middle ages in Europe offered very few texts on herbalism, there are mentions of vitex in some Arabian medical texts from the ninth century, as well as in The Medical Formulary of Al-Samarquandi, which is dated around 1200 A.D. Chaste tree was used to “cure insanity, the stroke of madness and epilepsy,” although it’s unclear if using this herb was widely practiced.
Vitex became a popular herb in the late seventeenth century, as it was thought to suppress libido and promote chastity. Monks and nuns often chewed the leaves, drank them as a tea, and sometimes carried the leaves with them in order to subdue sexual desire, although it is unclear whether this was an effective practice. In fact, Andrew Duncan, in the 1789 edition of the Edinburgh Dispensatory wrote that “These seeds have been celebrated as anti aphrodisiacs and were formerly much used by monks for allaying the venereal appetite, but experience does not warrant having any such virtues.” However, this led to the nickname “chaste tree,” or “monk’s pepper.” Today, the practice of strewing vitex chaff in sleeping quarters is still practiced by some orders in Italy.
The berries (chasteberries) were sometimes combined with fennel and drunk as a tincture to support spleen health and promote healthy energy levels. It was around this time that chaste tree became a supplement that was taken to support women’s health.
Chaste Tree in Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Homeopathy
While vitex agnus-castus isn’t used in the Ayurvedic or Traditional Chinese Medicine system, another member of the vitex family, Vitex negundo, is often used. Vitex negundo was used in the Ayurvedic tradition to support a number of health issues. It was made into a poultice that was applied to the head and neck to relieve pain. The essential oils of the chaste tree was used to offer support for sexually transmitted diseases, and the bark was used to support bladder health and other health issues. It was sometimes brewed into a bitter tea to support a healthy internal response.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Vitex negundo is used to support eye health, to relieve head pain, and to support joint health. (4)
Chaste tree is also part of the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States and has been used as a homeopathic preparation for a number of issues. It is thought to support spleen health, dental health, and promote male sexual function, among other issues. It is suggested that those experiencing mood issues may choose to take chaste tree supplement in order to promote overall health and wellness. (5)
Chaste Tree in the 20th Century
One of the first scientists to study the potential benefits of chaste tree was the German researcher Madaus in 1938. He designed a series of experiments to determine which part of the plant offered potential health benefits and discovered that the leaves, bark, and fruit supported hormone balance in female rats, without adverse side effects.
During WWII, German medical practitioners discovered the use of chaste tree fruit to support healthy lactation, which was later confirmed by a 1990 study. (6) Since then, researchers have discovered other potential benefits that chaste tree may have for your health.
Potential Chaste Tree Benefits
Today, chaste tree is found in a number of homeopathic preparations, and it is also being studied as a supplement that may have a number of potential benefits. One of the most well-known potential benefits of chaste tree is support for women’s health, and more specifically, support for a healthy monthly cycle.
According to a 2014 study, chaste tree can be used to offer health support for pre-menopausal women in Japan. In the study, women 18-44 who experienced PMS received 20 mg of vitex once daily for three cycles. After studying the effects, researchers concluded “VAC extract improved PMS symptoms in Japanese patients, with no substantial adverse events. This is the first study to report the effect of VAC extract in Japanese patients.” (7)
In another study, researchers examined the effects of vitex on 128 women experiencing symptoms related to PMS. In the study, “All patients answered to a self-assessment questionnaire about their headache, anger, irritability, depression, breast fullness and bloating and tympani during the premenstrual period before the study. Forty drops of Vitex Agnus extract or matching placebo, administered for 6 days before menses for 6 consecutive cycles.”At the end of the study, the researchers concluded, “Vitex Agnus can be considered as an effective and well-tolerated treatment for the relief of symptoms of mild and moderate PMS.” (8)
Chaste tree may also offer antioxidant support, as it is a source of ten flavonoids, including luteolin, kaempferol, and more. Flavonoids are sources of antioxidants, which are substances that work to protect cells from free radicals that cause damage to healthy cells. Some people choose to take an antioxidant supplement, as they are thought to support cardiovascular health and promote healthy looking skin. (9)
Additionally, chaste tree is sometimes considered a galactagogue, which is a substance that may promote healthy lactation in women. According to a German study, 15 drops of a vitex tincture three times daily “could increase the amount of milk produced by mothers with or without pregnancy complications compared with mothers given vitamin B1 or nothing.” (10) It should be noted that various literature remains divided about chaste tree’s efficacy in this area, and as one article mentions, “theoretical and expert opinion conflict as to whether chaste tree increases or decreases lactation.” (11)
However, chaste tree isn’t just used to support women’s health — it may also offer potential benefits to support men’s health. It is thought that chaste tree may offer support for prostate health in men. In one study, researchers studied the effects of vitex agnus-castus fruits on prostate epithelial cells that represented different disease stages. It was found that the “extract inhibited proliferation of all three cell lines in a concentration-dependent manner...These data suggest that VACF contains components that inhibit proliferation and induce apoptosis in human prostate epithelial cell lines. The extract may be useful for the prevention and/or treatment not only of benign prostatic hyperplasia but also of human prostate cancer.” However, it should be noted that research into this topic is ongoing.
Potential Benefits of Chaste Tree
- May support fertility
- May support healthy looking skin and hair
- May support a healthy hormone balance
- Seeks to support lactation
- Promotes healthy aging
- Supports a healthy monthly cycle
- May offer support for symptoms associated with PMS
- May support prostate health
While research into chaste tree supplements are ongoing, studies indicate that this herbal supplement may have potential benefits to support a number of health issues, particularly related to women’s health.
Potential Side Effects of Chaste Tree Supplement
Although rare, taking a chaste tree supplement can occasionally cause negative health effects in some individuals. Some people may experience an allergic reaction to chaste tree that may result in an acne-like rash, dizziness, an upset stomach, issues with elimination, weight gain, inability to sleep, headache, hair loss, and heavy periods. More severe issues include hives, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the mouth and face. If you experience any of the symptoms, consult your physician immediately. Chaste tree supplements should not be taken by children or pregnant women.
Should You Try a Chaste Tree Supplement?
If you decide to take a chaste tree supplement, you have a number of options available. The first and most popular method for experience chaste tree for yourself is through a traditional veggie cap. These convenient vegetarian capsules make it easy to get the potential benefits of chaste tree wherever you go. You may also choose to take a liquid supplement, which can be taken alone, or added to water or juice.
Another option is choosing a supplement that contains chaste tree in addition to other herbal extracts. For example, a maca supplement that contains chaste tree may offer support for healthy energy levels, sexual health, and may promote a healthy monthly cycle for women. A blend with eleuthero, astragalus, saw palmetto, and prickly ash bark may offer support for a healthy endocrine.
Whatever supplement you choose, there are lots of options here at Natural Healthy Concepts. Choose a liquid option, veggie caps, or a blend of herbs that includes chaste tree to support your health. Check out our selection today!