Chasteberry (Vitex rotundifolia)

Chasteberry Identification: The leaves are round, silvery-green, 1 to 2 inches long, and have a spicy fragrance when bruised. The flowers are purplish-blue, 1 inch in width, and produced in small clusters at the ends of the branches.

Chasteberry Flower: The round fruits are 1/4 inch in diameter and purplish-black when ripe. The plant typically grows up to 12 feet or more in diameter, and can produce rooting runners up to 60 feet long. Perennial.

Habitat: Indigenous to the Mediterranean region, but is now found in sub-tropical regions around the globe. It is a very prolific seed producer. Seeds float and can be carried on waves to other beaches. Brittle stems can break off during high tides, float away, root, and colonize other beaches. It grows quickly and is drought and salt tolerant.

Family: Verbenaceae (Vervain family)

Other Names: Monk’s pepper, cloister pepper, agnus castus, roundleaf chastetree, Abraham’s balm, vitex, beach vitex, and pohinahina.

Flowers: Midsummer.

Parts Used: Fruit.

History: Its tart and peppery fruit has been used for over two thousand years, at least since the time of the Greek physician, Dioscorides, who recommended it in beverages intended to help the wives of soldiers remain chaste while their husbands were in battle. During the Middle Ages, chasteberry’s supposed effect on sexual desire led to it becoming a food spice at monasteries, where it was called “monk’s pepper” or “cloister pepper”.

In tradition, it was also known as an important European remedy for controlling and regulating the female reproductive system. Long used to regularate monthly periods and treat amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea, it also helped ease menopausal problems and aided the birth process.

Recent investigations show the presence of compounds which are able to adjust the production of female hormones. It is thought to contain a progesterone-like compound and is now thought to be useful in the following conditions: Amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, PMS, and endometriosis. A German study has found that extracts of this herb can stimulate the release of Leutenizing Hormone (LH) and inhibit the release of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH). This herb is also found to be useful as an aid in premenstrual tension. A work done in England has shown that 60% of women who participated in a study reported reduction or elimination of PMS symptoms such as anxiety, nervous tension, insomnia, or mood changes.

Constituents: Acubin, agnuside, casticin, chrysophanol D, alpha- and beta-pinene, isovitexin, and vitexin.

Medicinal Properties:

Properties: Diaphoretic, antipyretic, regulatory, and uterine tonic.

Specifically, chasteberry may help to:

*Reduce PMS symptoms – Before their periods, many women find themselves irritable, depressed, and bloated. These typical PMS symptoms may occur because of an insufficient production of progesterone in the two weeks prior to menstruation. Chasteberry helps to normalize the ratio of progesterone to estrogen, thus providing relief from these monthly discomforts. In a recent study of premenstrual women, 90% of those who took the herb reported that they experienced a reduction in PMS symptoms. Chasteberry may be as effective as another common PMS supplement–vitamin B6, which clears excess estrogen from the body–in controlling symptoms. While a German study actually found chasteberry to be superior to vitamin B6 for resolving PMS symptoms, it’s worth trying the two together for maximum relief.

*Minimize fibrocystic breast symptoms – Many women suffer from the premenstrual breast tenderness and pain associated with fibrocystic breasts. Chasteberry’s ability to lower prolactin concentrations as well as to restore the estrogen-progesterone balance may offer significant relief.

* Regulate ovulation and promote fertility – A woman with too much prolactin and too little progesterone in her body may not ovulate regularly. It would be difficult to become pregnant under these conditions. Chasteberry can help to lower prolactin levels and aid in the normal functioning of the ovaries, thus providing opportunities for conception. The herb works best for women whose progesterone levels are mildly or moderately low. High prolactin levels can also cause amenorrhea (absent menstrual cycles). In such cases, chasteberry may be useful in reestablishing a normal monthly cycle.

*Treat menopausal difficulties – Declining hormone levels in the years up to and after menopause can cause hot flashes, sweating, vaginal dryness, and even mild depression. Chasteberry (alone or combined with herbs such as black cohosh or dong quai) works to stabilize these hormone levels and can be beneficial in controlling symptoms.

*Relieve the pain of endometriosis – Chasteberry acts to restore hormonal imbalances responsible for endometriosis-related pain, which can be severe. It’s commonly taken in combination with the herb Dong Quai for this purpose. Both herbs help to relax the uterus.

*Contol menstrual-related acne – Monthly periods involve hormonal shifts that can lead to acne. By helping to stabilize hormone levels, chasteberry may help to keep skin clear.

Preparation and Dosages:

Infusion: Pour a cup of boiling water onto 1 teaspoonful of the ripe berries and leave to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes. This should be taken once in the morning.

Tincture: [1:5, 65% alcohol] 30-60 drops, once in the morning. As it strengthens the progesterone phase of the estrus cycle, it usually works best the two weeks before menses.

Dry chasteberry extract: 20 mg taken 1 to 3 times a day.

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