Agnus Castus

Agnus Castus | Vitex agnus castus

general characteristics

general characteristics

Common names include agnus castus, chasteberry, chaste tree, monks pepper, vitex.

This handsome deciduous shrub is a member of the verbena family. It is native to the Mediterranean and Western Asia where it grows in dry to damp soil. It will grow happily in the UK (I have one in my Sussex garden) and makes a very attractive shrub of between 3 and 5 metres in height. It is deciduous with silvery green lance shaped leaves arranged in groups of 5-7 and long spikes of fragrant purple flowers during September and October which progress into fleshy dark purple berries. The berries have a strong aroma and are slightly warming in their taste and nature.

 

This plant has been associated throughout history with men and women of the church to dampen sexual desire. Agnus castus leaves were strewn on the floors as new members entered their religious order and some slept with the leaves under their beds. It is paradoxical that a herb that decreases sex drive is also a great promoter of fertility.

 

Agnus castus tincture and dried herb are available to buy in our herbal shop.

 

 

 

 

 

harvesting and preparation

harvesting and preparation

The berries (the fruit) are the parts used in herbal medicine. When we refer to the 'herb' we are referring to the berries in their fresh, dried or tinctured state. The berries are harvested when ripe in the Autumn and used in their fresh or dried state in a tea or made into a tincture.

 

Agnus castus tincture and dried herb are available to buy in our herbal shop.

therapeutic actions and uses


therapeutic actions and uses

Agnus castus has been used by women for centuries as a tonic to the reproductive system and is prized for its hormonal balancing effects on the body. It has also traditionally been used by men of the cloth to dampen sexual appetite - hence the alternative names Chasteberry or Monks Pepper. It can have the opposite in women, enhancing the sexual appetite.

 It acts upon the pituitary gland, nourishing and strengthening it and helping with the normal manufacture and release of pituitary hormones. Its overall effect seems to be of normalising or re-balancing hormone levels, particularly the progesterone/oestrogen ratios.

Its hormonal effects are suspected as raising/balancing progesterone levels (the pregnancy hormone), luteinizing hormone, dopamine and luteotropic hormone and indirectly appears to have an anti-oestrogenic action. It lowers follicle stimulating hormone and lower prolactin levels. It is thought that its hormonal actions mimic the effects of the corpus luteum and that the herb is particularly therapeutic in complaints that arise before or in the early days of menstruation (such as PMS).

 

Its medicinal actions include:

regularising erratic menstrual cycles (including absent periods), especially periods that come too frequently,

reduces heavy menstrual flow, complete flooding and spotting between periods,

reduces breast pain and breast tenderness and fibrocystic breasts,

reduces dizziness and hot flushes when due to excessive oestrogen or follicle stimulating hormone,

clears endometriosis, ovarian cysts and fibroids if taken daily over several months or even years (it also has an anti-inflammatory action on the endometrium, the inner lining of the womb),

improves fertility in the older woman and increases the likelihood of ovulation taking place,

may offer protection against uterine and cervical cancers,

may help reduce the likelihood of miscarriage if progesterone levels are low,

reduces emotional distress and promotes calm,

improves digestive symptoms such as bloating and skin problems (including acne) associated with menopause and menstruation or fluctuating hormones generally,

helps ease symptoms of PMS such as headache, depression, anxietywater retention and  menstrual cramping,

helps to protect against osteoporosis,

helps to keep the vagina lubricated throughout the menopausal years.

 

It helps reduce the size of an enlarged prostate gland.

It dampens sexual desire in males and decreases sperm production.

It can be taken to help normalise hormone levels when coming off the contraceptive pill.

The seeds are an effective treatment and preventative against head lice when used as a rinse.

It has analgesic (painkilling) effects on conditions such as headache, joint pain and menstrual pain. This is thought to be due to the herbs affinity to opioid receptors in the brain.

Can help with insomnia and sleep disorders as it stimulates the release of melatonin.

It can be used externally as a poultice for paralysis, weakness of limbs and pain.

 

Here is an excellent article detailing the effects of agnus castus on the pituitary and hormone regulation.

 

 Vitex agnus-castus studies on Greenmedinfo.com

 

 

dosage and cautions


dosage and cautions

Agnus castus is a slow acting herb and may need to be taken for between 1-3 months before its medicinal effects are noticed. Many years of historical use suggest that this is a safe herb with few side effects. If needed, the herb can be taken for several years quite safely.

 

Tincture: 1-5mls in a little water, 1-4 times daily

Dried berries in tea form: up to 2g as a tea (about a teaspoon), 3 times daily

Fresh berries in tea form: up to 2g as a tea (about a teaspoon), 3 times daily

Powdered berries: 20mg daily

 

*Agnus castus has an effect on hormone levels in both men and women and therefore caution should be used when taking it as a medicinal herb. Understand the action of the herb before taking it and make sure you understand why you might need to take the herb. Consult a qualified herbalist if in any doubt.

*Side effects are generally rare but include headaches, itching and stomach upset.

*Susan Weed recommends that you do not take during the last trimester (last 3 months) of pregnancy as it lowers prolactin levels, the hormone crucial for breast milk production, even though other sources cite it as a promoter of the production of breast milk. Some sources say not to use in pregnancy at all.

*It has been known to produce a rash in some.

*Agnus castus is considered more useful in the peri-menopause and earlier stages of menopause but may increase some symptoms in the later stages.

*There are no known herb-drug interactions with agnus castus. However, it may be wise to exercise caution if you are receiving fertility treatments, using hormonal contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy or taking dopamine agonists. Consult a qualified herbalist in these cases.

 

 

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