The species Vitex agnus-castus is a deciduous, aromatic and medicinal shrub that belongs to the Lamiaceae family. Known as chaste tree, chaste tree, chasteberry, trigger willow, chastity herb or monk’s pepper, it is a plant native to the Mediterranean basin.
It is a highly branched, medium-sized shrub with greenish-gray lanceolate leaves and thin, compact-looking branches. The small violet or white zygomorphic flowers are arranged in terminal panicles. The fruit is a globose, blackish nucula.
Its natural habitat is located in gallery forests on the banks of rivers and streams, on slightly limestone soils at full sun exposure or half shade. It is used as a windbreak forming aromatic hedges or as unique specimens, both in Mediterranean parks and gardens along the coast.
Flowers and fruits have been used since ancient times for their medicinal properties, especially for the treatment of various gynecological disorders. In fact, during the Middle Ages it was considered the plant of chastity, since it reduced the libido and appeased the sexual desire of the monks.
Shrub or tree of low growth, stems with a quadrangular section and grayish bark, highly branched from the base, reaching 4 to 6 m in height. The dense, rounded and compact crown is made up of thin branches of whitish bark covered by abundant ash-colored villi.
Opposite, petiolate and finger-like leaves, composed of 5-7 lanceolate leaflets 5-15 cm long, entire or finely serrated margins and acute apex. Leaflets glabrous green on the upper surface and grayish-gray pubescent on the underside, short petiole 2-5 cm long.
Flowers zygomorphic, sessile or on short pedicels. Tomentose bell-shaped calyx and tubular-bell-shaped corolla of slightly pubescent blue, purple or white color. The flowers are arranged in cyymose, straight and apical inflorescences, 8-20 cm long, with numerous verticillasters and oblong bracts 2-3 cm long.
After pollination, a small fruit or globose drupe 3-4 mm in diameter, black in color at maturity, is formed, surrounded by a persistent calyx. Inside there are four aromatic seeds with a strong spicy flavor. Flowering occurs during the summer.
The flowers and fruits contain a wide spectrum of bioactive compounds, including essential oils (cineol and sesquiterpenic hydrocarbons) and flavonoids (casticin, isovitexin and penduletin).
As well as monoterpenic or iridoid glycosides (agnusid and aucuba or aucubine), alkaloids, flavones (vitexin), terpenoids (rotundifuran) and steroidal hormonal precursors.
At a clinical level, it is considered that some of these compounds act on the pituitary gland, hence their action on hormonal levels. In fact, laboratory studies have determined its effect on opiate receptors, which explains the reduction in premenstrual symptoms.
– Kingdom: Plantae
– Subkingdom: Tracheobionta
– Division: Magnoliophyta
– Class: Magnoliopsida
– Subclass: Asteridae
– Order: Lamiales
– Family: Lamiaceae
– Gender: Vitex
– Species: Vitex agnus-castus L.
– Vitex : the name of the genus comes from the Latin «vitex-icis» which means «basket weaving». All this in reference to the soft, thin and flexible shape of the branches of the bush.
– agnus-castus : the specific adjective derives from the Greek terms “agnos” and “castus” which mean “lamb” and “chaste”. Its meaning is related to its anaphrodisiac property, that is, the ability to eradicate or reduce sexual desire.
– Vitex latifolia Mill. (1768).
– Vitex verticillata Lam. (1779).
– V. integra Medik. (1783).
– V. lupinifolia Salisb. (1796).
– Vitex agnus Stokes (1812).
– Vitex robust Lebas (1869).
– Agnus-castus robusta (Lebas) Carrière (1871).
– Agnus-castus vulgaris Carrière (1871).
– Vitex pseudonecond (Hausskn.) Hand. – Mazz. (1913).
– Vitex hybrida Moldenke (1941).
Habitat and distribution
The typical habitat of the chasteberry is located in the desert or semi-desert regions from the Mediterranean basin to Central Asia and northwestern India. In the Iberian Peninsula it is located on the Mediterranean coast, being occasional in continental regions, and the Balearic Islands at less than 200 meters above sea level.
It grows in coastal environments, near streams, river beds or humid depressions, from sea level up to 500 meters above sea level, even at 1,000 meters above sea level. It adapts to soils of limestone or siliceous origin, loamy-clay or loamy-sandy substrates. In addition, it tolerates slightly saline and low fertility soils, provided they have good drainage.
The tender branches, roots, leaves, flowers and mature seeds are used in herbalism due to their therapeutic and medicinal properties. The traditional mode of consumption is as a decoction, infusion, tincture, apple cider vinegar, elixir or syrup, the fruits can be consumed fresh.
In general, the leaves have aromatic, analgesic, antiparasitic and vermifuge properties. The roots are diuretic, febrifugal expectorant and tonic. The fruits have an emmenagogue effect, promote menstruation and stimulate blood circulation in the uterus and pelvis.
Since ancient times it has been considered a medicinal plant conducive to the treatment of discomfort caused by premenstrual syndrome. It is indicated for cases of infertility, menopause, polycystic ovarian syndrome, premenstrual syndrome and uterine fibroids or fibroids.
The presence of several bioactive components is considered to reduce the levels of the peptide hormone prolactin, which regulates estrogen levels in women. In the same way, it allows to adjust the men’s testosterone levels.
In fact, the fruits are considered to have a tonic effect on the male and female reproductive systems. Its name “chaste tree” comes from its anaphrodisiac action, since in the Middle Ages it was used to help monks control celibacy.
On the other hand, it is recommended to cure acne problems associated with the menstrual cycle, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, endometritis, menopause, menorrhagia and fibrocystic breasts.
It is also used to treat colic, diarrhea, nausea, ulcers, dyspepsia, skin problems, fever, ear disorders, headache, liver and heart problems.
The aromatic fruits with a pungent and pungent flavor are often used as a substitute for pepper in the production of sausages. Similarly, the dried and ground seeds are used as a dressing for salads, sauces or roasts.
It is cultivated as an ornamental species in parks and gardens, in pots it can be placed on terraces and balconies, as long as it is pruned regularly. Its aromatic and showy summer flowers are very decorative, as is its dense gray-green foliage.
From the combustion of stems and branches, an ash used to make soap is obtained, in the same way it is used for the manufacture of gunpowder. From the leaves, branches and flowers, an amber-colored essence with a high content of essential oils used in perfumery is obtained by distillation.
The wood of brownish heartwood and grayish-yellow sapwood, heavy and hard, is used in cabinetmaking and turnery. The thin and flexible branches are used in basketry to make baskets, chairs, mats, ornaments and crafts in general.
Like any medicinal plant with various bioactive compounds, often unidentified, its consumption is restricted in pregnant and lactating women. Likewise, its intake is not recommended in children under 6 years of age, patients close to operations and chronically ill patients.
People ingesting chasteberry potions have reported nausea, headache, upset stomach, itching, or mild skin rashes. In case of doubt, it is advisable to consult a doctor.
This species multiplies by fresh seeds during the spring or by cuttings during the fall. The seeds do not require pre-germination treatment, they are sown in coconut fiber seedbeds and germination takes 30-45 days.
Planting / transplanting
The best time to transplant to a permanent site or change to a larger pot is at the end of winter. In fact, at this time the temperature begins to rise and the cool spring environment favors its adaptation.
Chasteberry is an easy plant to grow, it requires full sun exposure or semi light shade, as well as hot and dry environments. In the case of growing in pots, it should be located in a bright place, since continuous shade limits its development.
Soil / substrate
It is an undemanding plant in terms of soil quality. You just need a texture that makes it easy to drain. The ideal substrate for pots requires black soil, perlite, river sand, and clay balls that facilitate drainage and thus prevent root rot.
The frequency of irrigation must be regular in order to always keep the soil moist. It is generally recommended to water 2-3 times a week during the summer and 1-2 times a week the rest of the year.
It is recommended to fertilize the plants in the field once a year with organic fertilizers and worm humus or guano during the spring or summer. For potted plants, the application of liquid fertilizers is recommended so as not to hinder the drainage of the pot.
It is only appropriate to carry out maintenance and sanitation pruning during the spring. In the case of branches that have grown too much, intense pruning is recommended.
Plagues and diseases
It is a very resistant plant to attack by pests or diseases. Rots have been reported at the level of the root system when the soil has excess moisture.
It is a fast growing shrub that tolerates temperatures down to -4 ºC.
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