Vitex is a flowering deciduous shrub native to the Mediterranean in the Lamiaceae family that is found worldwide in milder climates. It’s typically seen as a shrub, but can be trained to grow into a single-trunked small tree up as tall as 30 ft. It has aromatic narrow compound leaves whose radiating leaflets are lanceolate and dark green with silver undersides. The fragrant spike-like loose panicles of tubular lavender colored flowers attract many species of butterflies. These give way to dark, fragrant, small berries, ripe in October to November, whose seeds can be used as a condiment, imparting a lemon-pepper flavor. It grows best in full sun to partial shade in a range of well drained soils and cannot tolerate winter temperatures.
The berries of the chaste tree are a tonic for the reproductive organs. They both normalizes and stimulates the pituitary glands and their functions. As a restorative, normalizing herb, Chaste tree has a reputation for being both an aphrodisiac and an anaphrodisiac, “enabling what’s appropriate to occur”, however, the dried fruits contain a hormone mimicking substance that reduces sexual desire in men. The seeds stimulate progesterone production, and ease both menopausal transition and dysmenorrhoea. It’s also useful for normalizing the reproductive system after the use of birth control pills. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the root, leaves, and fruits are used as a malaria preventative and to treat wheezing, colds, coughs, and bacterial dysentery. The berries are used as an emmenagogue and vulnerary herb, aiding PMS symptoms and normalizing the menstrual cycle. Externally, the berries are used as a poultice to relieve paralysis and limb weakness.
In Ancient Greece and Rome, temple priestesses used the berries to lessen sexual desire. The leaves were also used medicinally, steeped in wine, as a galatogogue, increasing nursing mother’s milk flow, and to expel afterbirth and control bleeding after delivery. Different ancient naturalists write conflicting information of whether it is an anaphrodisiac or an aphrodisiac. In Indonesia, the leaves are used to treat abscesses and ulcers. In Nepal, the leaves are smoked to cure headaches, the juice of the leaves is used to cure rheumatic joint pain, the flower buds for pneumonia, the dried fruits as a dewormer, and the roots as an expectorant and tonic. The fruits have often been used as a pepper substitute.
An infusion of 1 teaspoon of berries per cup of water, let stand for 10-15 minutes, drunk three times daily. As a tincture, 1-2 ml three times a day. Chaste tree berries should not be given to girls who have not reached puberty yet.
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