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Vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree

Summary

Not truly a poisonous plant, in the Alnwick Garden Poison Garden, it was grown next to the mandrake in order to offer visitors a choice.

Blog Entries

Read more about Vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree, in these blog entries;
Growing Vitex agnus-castus and its use in treating PMS symptoms

Family

Verbenaceae

Meaning of the Name

Vitex
From the Latin ‘vitus’, ‘vine’ or ‘vimen’, ‘twig’ or ‘shoot’.
 
agnus–castus
From the Greek ‘agnós’, ‘pure’ or ‘chaste’ and the Latin ‘castus’, ‘chaste’ or ‘pure’.


Vitex agnus - castus, chaste tree

Vitex agnus - castus, chaste tree

Common Names and Synonyms

chaste tree, chastetree, monk's pepper, sage tree, hemp tree (This last because its appearance is somewhat like cannabis.)

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

Volatile oils which stimulate the pituitary gland thus increasing the production of progesterone.

It is widely used to alleviate symptoms of PMS and by menopausal women to help regulate hormone levels and avoid hot flushes but, for a man, an excess of a female hormone would be expected to reduce libido, justifying its common name, 'chaste tree'.

Incidents

No reported incidents but, given its alleged affect on men, its effects are not the sort of thing most men would want reported.

Folklore and Facts

Given the choice between hearing more about the aphrodisiac mandrake and the chaste tree, visitors to the Alnwick Garden Poison Garden chose the mandrake; with one exception when two women had dragged their husbands away from the cafeteria for paying too much attention to one of the attractive young ladies working there.

Used by ancient Greeks to reduce sexual desire and adopted by Christian monks for the same purpose. According to Pliny, Vitex was highly revered as one of the most useful medicines of the times.

Because of their hot nature, the seeds of Vitex were taken to dispel "wind" or flatulence from the bowels, to promote urine, check diarrhoea and greatly benefit dropsy and splenic diseases.

Pliny mentions two kinds of agnus-castus - one that is small and shrubby and the other a small tree with speckled flowers. He wrote that the smaller one was the more effective for snake bites. One drachma of the seed, or two of the most tender leaves, were taken in wine, or in vinegar and water. Generally taken as a wine or tincture.

In Malta, it was thought to combat sinful thoughts rather than having a physical effect on sexual desire.

Trials have found that Vitex agnus castus offers no greater efficacy for PMS than currently available medications. This explains why it remains an 'alternative remedy' rather than a medicine.