Sometimes called monk's pepper, lilac chastetree or simply vitex, 1 chasteberry is an herb with a long history of use. It's specifically believed to benefit female fertility and hormone health, hence its moniker "the women's herb."2 However, men can also try this herb to help correct certain health issues, such as helping increase the flow of urine.3
Not many people are familiar with chasteberry, though. Learn more about this herb and the potential benefits it can deliver for your well-being.
Chasteberry, also known as Vitex agnus-castus, is the fruit of the chaste tree, a member of the mint family.4 It is native to western Asia and southewestern European territories, but is now also found in southeastern United States.5
The plant has an interesting history. During the ancient times, people believed that it helped promote chastity, hence its name.6 The Greek physician Dioscorides prescribed a beverage made from this herb's fruits to lower men's libido, while at least one modern-day natural health doctor recommends it to heighten a woman's sexual satisfaction.7
Hippocrates recommended women to take it after childbirth.8 Athenian maidens, according to Pliny the Elder, would sleep with the plant's leaves under their bed during the festival of Thesmophoria. This was believed to help preserve their chastity.9
In the Middle Ages, monks used chasteberry to suppress their sexual desire,10 which is why it's also called monk's pepper. "Pepper" refers not just to the spicy flavor of the fruits but their appearance as well, which is similar to peppercorns.11
Today, chaste tree is grown both for its medicinal uses and as an ornamental plant. It is woody and can grow 8 to 20 feet tall and 5 to 20 feet wide.12 The leaves are dark green and aromatic, and consist of five to seven lance-shaped leaflets.
Flowers of the chaste tree bloom in late summer up until mid-autumn, and are violet-blue and fragrant.13
As you can guess, the majority of uses for chasteberry are connected to libido and reproductive health, particularly menstruation problems in women.14 Today, this herb is taken as a dietary supplement (available in capsule, tablet, liquid extract or essential oil form) to help alleviate menstruation-related problems.15
After using chasteberry, however, do not expect to see immediate results. It's actually a slow-acting herb and several months may pass before you experience any noticeable effects.16
The health benefits of chasteberry are mostly related to reproduction and, in women, to menstrual health.17 Despite containing no hormones or hormone-like compounds, this herb can actually influence your hormonal activity by stimulating the pituitary gland to create more luteinizing hormone (LH).
By doing this, the ovaries are triggered to increase their production of progesterone.18 Some of the other potential benefits of chasteberry include:
- Alleviating PMS symptoms,19 such as bloating, depression and irritability — The herb may help normalize the ratio of progesterone to estrogen,20 which then soothes monthly discomforts. In one study of premenstrual women, it was found that 93 percent of those who took the herb reported a reduction in PMS symptoms.21
- Relieves menstruation pain — According to a 2005 study in the American Family Physician, chasteberry may help ease painful menstruation, uterine bleeding and breast discomfort in menstruating women.22
- Ease endometriosis symptoms — Taking standardized chasteberry extract for hormonal support may be helpful in easing the pain caused by this condition. The herb should be taken long-term, around 12 to 18 months, to be fully effective in this manner.23
- May help regulate menstrual cycle — In her book, "Life Is Your Best Medicine," Dr. Tieraona Low Dog says she recommends chasteberry for women with irregular periods or those who are coming off of hormonal birth control.24
- Promote men's reproductive health — Despite being called "the women's herb," chasteberry may have benefits for men's health as well. According to EMedicineHealth, it may help increase urine flow, alleviate benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and turn off sexual desire.25
Chasteberry may also have benefits for other health issues, such as colds, headaches and migraines, joint conditions, eye pain, spleen problems, and inflammation and swelling. It may help prevent insect bites, alleviate acne and promote the healing of stings.26
Because of its fragrant flowers and attractive foliage, the chaste tree is becoming popular as a garden plant. To successfully cultivate it in your yard, remember these tips from Gardening Know How:27
- Chaste tree needs well-drained soil and full sunlight — Ideally, refrain from placing it in soil that has high levels of organic matter, as there will be too much moisture in the roots. Once it's growing healthy, you may never need to water the plant.
- Do not use shredded wood, straw, bark or straw or any other organic mulch for a chaste tree — Instead, put in inorganic mulch like stones or pebbles to allow the soil to dry in between rains.
- Prune the tree annually to control its size and shape and encourage branching — When the blossoms fade, make sure to remove the flower spikes as well. If you allow the seeds that come after the flower to mature, the amount of flower spikes will be reduced late in the season.
- During severe weather, the tree can freeze and die back to ground level — But don't worry, because they can regrow quickly from the roots.
Unlike other herbs, chasteberry does not have culinary uses. However, you can always make delicious tea using the berries. Here's an easy recipe adapted from Hormones and Balance — it blends chasteberry with other pleasant-tasting herbs and spices for a truly enjoyable brew.28
Chasteberry and Rose Tea
- Steep all the herbs and spices in 4 cups of hot water for 10 minutes.
- Add the honey or stevia and enjoy the drink, either hot or cold.
Using chasteberry oil, or vitex oil, is another efficient way to reap the benefits of this herb. The oil is steam distilled either from the seeds or the leaves, and has a spicy, slightly sweet and woody scent and a golden yellow color.29
One area that chasteberry essential oil may help with is oral health, as its antimicrobial properties are believed to help reduce dental caries and dental plaque. Researchers from Brazil studied the effects of chasteberry essential oil against cariogenic bacteria like S. mutans, and found that it "displayed some activity against all the investigated oral pathogens."30
As with other herbal oils, make sure to consult your physician before using this oil. Always dilute with a safe carrier oil and make sure to do a skin patch test prior to use.
Most people do not experience any side effects after using chasteberry, although some do encounter mild issues, such as dizziness, tiredness, headache and nausea, dry mouth and gastrointestinal problems. Weight gain, itching and rashes, acne, difficulty sleeping and changes in menstrual flow may also be experienced after using chasteberry.31 If you notice these effects, it may be better to stop using the herb immediately.
In addition, people who are taking medications for Parkinson's should avoid using chasteberry as it has dopaminergic effects that can meddle with their medications. Pregnant women, children and breastfeeding mothers are also ill-advised to use this oil.32
Source: mercola rss