Sometimes called monk's pepper, lilac chastetree or simply vitex, 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."1 However, men can also rely on this herb to help correct certain health issues. Not many people are familiar with chasteberry, though. Learn all about this herb and the potential benefits it can deliver for your well-being.
What Is Chasteberry?
Chasteberry, also known as Vitex agnus-castus, is the fruit of the chaste tree, a member of the mint family. It is native to central Asia and southern parts of Europe, but is now also found in places with temperate and subtropical climate worldwide.
The plant has an interesting history. During the ancient times, people believed that it helped promote chastity, hence its name. The Greek physician Dioscorides prescribed it to wives of soldiers to control their sexual urges while their husbands went out to battle. Athenian maidens, according to Pliny the Elder, would sleep with the plant's leaves under their bed during the festival of Thesmophoria. This is believed to help preserve their chastity.2
In the Middle Ages, monks used chasteberry to suppress their sexual desire,3 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.4
Today, chaste tree is grown both for its medicinal uses and as an ornamental plant. It is woody, and can grow 15 to 20 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide. The leaves consist of 5 to 7 lance-shaped leaflets with serrated edges. On the upper surface, the leaves are dark green, but grayish on the bottom. They are arranged oppositely on the branches.
Flowers of the chaste tree are showy, and can be purple, white, pink or blue colored. They are arranged in elongated clusters, and bloom during late spring to early autumn.5
Chasteberry's Uses Are Mostly Related to Reproductive Health
As you can guess, majority of the uses for chasteberry are connected to libido and sexual health. 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.6 After using chasteberry, however, do not expect to see immediate results. It's actually a slow-acting herb and several months may pass (typically between three to six months) before you experience any noticeable effects.
Chasteberry's Many Benefits: Can It Help Address Your Reproductive Health Issues?
The health benefits of chasteberry are mostly related to reproduction and, in women, to menstrual health. 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.7 Some of the other potential benefits of chasteberry include:
• Alleviating PMS symptoms, such as bloating, depression and irritability. The herb works by normalizing the ratio of progesterone to estrogen, which then soothes monthly discomforts.8 In one study of premenstrual women, it was found that 90 percent of those who took the herb reported a reduction in PMS symptoms.9
• Relieves menstruation pain. According to the American Family Physician, chasteberry may help ease painful menstruation, uterine bleeding and breast discomfort in menstruating women.10
• 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.11
• May help regulate menstrual cycle. It may be helpful for women with irregular periods or those who are coming off of hormonal birth control.12
• Promote men's reproductive health. Despite being called "the women's herb," chasteberry may have benefits for men's health as well. It can help increase urine flow, alleviate benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and turn off sexual desire.13
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.14
How to Grow (and Harvest) Your Own Chasteberry
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:15
• 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 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 – they can regrow quickly from the roots.
Chasteberry Recipe: Take a Sip of Chasteberry Tea
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.16
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.
Chasteberry Oil Has Health-Promoting Effects, Too
Using chasteberry oil, or vitex oil, is another efficient way to reap the benefits of this herb. The oil is steam distilled from the fruits, and has an herbaceous, spicy medicinal scent and a pale yellow or brown hue. Just like the actual herb, its uses are mostly for female reproductive health, such as:17
• Helping relieve cramps and nervous tension
• Easing breast pain and swelling typically associated with menstrual discomfort and menopausal effects.
Chasteberry oil also has calming effects on the intestines, liver and uterus, and may even have a decongestant action. However, as with other herbal oils, make sure to consult your physician before using this oil. If applying it topically, always dilute with a safe carrier oil and make sure to do a skin patch test prior to use.
Before Using It, Make Sure You Know the Potential Side Effects of Chasteberry
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.18,19 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.