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Chaste Tree
Overview
Chaste tree is a large shrub (up to twenty-two feet tall) native to the Mediterranean and southern Europe. Although it flourishes on moist riverbanks, it is easily grown as an ornamental plant in American gardens, where its attractive blue-violet flowers arChaste tree is a large shrub (up to twenty-two feet tall) native to the Mediterranean and southern Europe. Although it flourishes on moist riverbanks, it is easily grown as an ornamental plant in American gardens, where its attractive blue-violet flowers are appreciated in midsummer.e appreciated in midsummer.

The Greeks and Romans used this plant to encourage chastity and thought of it as capable of warding off evil.
Medieval monks were said to use the dried berries in their food to reduce sexual desire. As a result, it was also referred to as "monks' pepper."

Although Hippocrates used chaste tree for injuries and inflammation, several centuries later Dioscorides recommended it specifically for inflammation of the womb and also used it to encourage milk flow shortly after birth.

Current use of chasteberry is almost exclusively for disorders of the female reproductive system.

Oddly, the conditions for which it is most commonly recommended, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and peri- or postmenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, are associated with completely different hormone imbalances.

Two authors publishing the results of a survey of medical herbalists were led by this observation to suggest that chaste tree should be considered an adaptogen, possibly affecting the pituitary gland.

Usually the dried berries are the part of the plant used. In some Mediterranean countries, leaves and flowering tops are also harvested and dried for use.

What is Chaste Tree Berry?
Vitex agnus-castus, also called Vitex, Chaste Tree, Chasteberry, Abraham's Balm or Monk's Pepper, is a native of the Mediterranean region. In modern times, chaste tree is used primarily as a women's herb for menstrual complaints. The flavonoids in chaste tree exert an effect similar to the hormone progesterone, although the plant contains no hormonal compounds. Chaste tree acts on the pituitary gland in the brain, normalizing the release of both follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).

Benefits & Uses
Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) got its name from the anaphrodisiac quality purported since its early use. Monks used to chew the berries and leaves of this tree to reduce the urges of the flesh. This use has not been scientifically proven, but it has deep roots traditionally. Syrup of the berries was even given at convents, to nuns, to reduce the chances of succumbing to sexual desires.

The berries may also be dried and used as a spice, similar to black pepper.
Modern uses of chaste tree berry include reduction of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menstrual cramps and pre-menopausal symptoms. Studies have shown a reduction in breast tenderness and pressure, headaches, bloating and fatigue in women who took the herb regularly.

This plant has been used for menstrual difficulties for over 2500 years, with its earliest uses documented during early Roman and Greek history.

This herb has also been used to increase stimulation of breast milk production.
Chaste tree berries are used as an herbal treatment for infertility associated with mild corpus luteum insufficiency.
This plant may also be beneficial in combating breast cancer.

Chaste tree berry has been shown to help balance the progesterone-estrogen balance. This is why it has been referred to as a “female” herb. It also has a negative effect (antiandrogenic) on male hormones. In males it reduces the sex drive and therefore is seldom used by males.

Doses
The usual dose is 20 to 40 mg of the herb, or its equivalent.
If using a tincture, take 20 drops one or two times a day. Capsules or tea (one cup) may be used instead if it is more convenient.

Taking chasteberry shortly before bedtime may increase early morning melatonin secretion and improve sleep.
Chaste tree berry is slow acting. Two or three menstrual cycles, or a similar amount of time, may be needed to evaluate the effects.

A standardized product from Germany is available in the United States under the brand name Femaprin.

Special Precautions
Pregnant women should not take chaste tree berry.
Although one study indicated that this herb does not affect the composition of breast milk, nursing mothers are advised to avoid it. Despite its traditional use to increase milk production, the likelihood that the herb suppresses prolactin could make nursing more difficult.

Herbal practitioners may recommend that chaste tree berry not be used by women with hormone-sensitive cancers (breast, uterus). Anyone with such a serious condition should certainly be consulting an expert for advice before self-treating with any herb. Pituitary tumors also come into this category.

Side Effects
Side effects are uncommon, but itchy allergic rashes have been reported.
A few patients may experience mild nausea or headaches, especially when starting treatment.
A few women have complained that the length of their cycle changed, and in rare cases women experience heavier menstrual periods.

Possible Interactions
In general, chaste tree berry should not be combined with exogenous hormones such as oral contraceptives or menopausal hormone replacement therapies (Premarin, Prempro, Premphase, Provera, etc.).

Animal experiments indicate that compounds that act on dopamine in the brain may affect or be affected by the herb. Such drugs include Haldol, a medication for psychosis, L-Dopa or Parlodel for Parkinson's disease, Wellbutrin for depression, or Zyban for quitting smoking.
No clinical consequences of interactions have been reported.

Reference & Research
arw Blumenthal, M., et al., Eds. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Austin, Texas: The American Botanical Council, 1998.
arw Böhnert, K.-J. and G. Hahn. Phytotherapy in Gynecology and Obstetrics - Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste Tree). Acta Medica Emperica. 1990, 9:494-502.
arw Brown, D. Vitex agnus-castus Clinical Monograph. Quarterly Review of Natural Medicine 1994 (Summer):111-121.
arw Coeugniet, E., E. Elek and R. Kühnast. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and its Treatment. Ärztezeitschr. für Naturheilverf. 1986, 27(9):619-622.
arw Duncan, A. The Edinburgh New Dispensatory. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: C. Elliot and T. Kay, 1789.
arw Feldmann, H. U., et al. The Treatment of Corpus Luteum Insufficiency and Premenstrual Syndrome: Experience in a Multicentre Study under Practice Conditions. Hgyne 1990, 11(12):421.
arw Foster, S. Herbs for Your Health. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press, 1996.
arw Gerarde, J.. The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes. 1633 (revised and enlarged by Thomas Johnson) Reprint. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1975.
arw Jones, W. H. S. Pliny Natural History with an English Translation in Ten Volumes. Vol. VII. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966.
arw C. H. Lauritzen, et al. Treatment of Premenstrual Tension Syndrome with Vitex agnus-castus - Controlled, double-blind Study Versus Pyridoxine. Phytomedicine, 1997 4(3):183-189.
arw Schilcher, H.. Phytotherapy and Classical Medicine. Journal of Herbs, Spices, and Medicinal Plants 1994, 2(3):71-80.
arw Thorton, R. J.. A Family Herbal. London: B.&B. Crosby and Co., 1814.
arw Tyler, V. E. Herbs of Choice - The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals, Binghamton, New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press, 1994.