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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.

IMPORTANT NOTE

The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.

 

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Introduction to the A to Z section
Abrus precatorius, rosary pea
Aconitum lycoctonum, wolfsbane
Aconitum napellus, monkshood
Actaea racemosa, black cohosh
Actaea spicata, baneberry
Aesculus hippocastanum, horse chestnut
Amanita muscaria, fly agaric
Aquilegia atrata, columbine
Aristolochia clematitis, birthwort
Artemisia absinthium, wormwood
Arum italicum, Italian cuckoopint
Arum maculatum, cuckoopint
Aspergillus fumigatus
Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade
Brugmansia suaveolens, angel's trumpet
Bryonia dioica, bryony
Buxus sempervirens, common box
Camellia sinensis, tea
Cannabis sativa, marijuana
Catha edulis, khat
Chelidonium majus, greater celandine
Cimicifuga racemosa, black cohosh
Claviceps purpurea, ergot
Clematis vitalba, old man's beard
Colchicum autumnale, naked ladies
Conium maculatum, poison hemlock
Convallaria majalis, lily of the valley
Cynoglossum officinale, hound’s tongue
Daphne mezereon, spurge olive
Datura stramonium, thorn apple, jimsonweed
Datura suaveolens, angel's trumpet
Delphinium, larkspur
Digitalis spp., foxglove
Dracunculus vulgaris, dragon arum
Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss
Eranthis hyemalis, winter aconite
Erythroxylum coca, cocaine
Euonymus europaeus, spindle tree
Euphorbia x martinii, red spurge
Euphorbia pulcherrima, poinsettia
Fritillaria spp., fritillary
Galanthus nivalis, snowdrop
Hedera helix, common ivy
Helleborus spp., hellebore
Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed
Hyacinthoides non-scripta, bluebell
Hyoscyamus niger, black henbane
Ilex aquifolium, holly
Jacobaea vulgaris, ragwort
Juniperus communis, common juniper
Laburnum anagyroides, laburnum
Lactuca serriola, prickly lettuce
Leucojum aestivum, snowflake
Lithospermum officinale, gromwell
Lolium temulentum, darnel
Malus 'John Downie', crab apple
Mandragora officinarum, mandrake
Mercurialis perennis, dog’s mercury
Narcissus, daffodil
Nepeta faassenii, catmint
Nerium oleander, oleander
Nicotiana sylvestris, tobacco
Oenanthe crocata, hemlock water dropwort
Papaver somniferum, opium poppy
Pastinaca sativa, parsnip
Polygonatum odoratum, angular Solomon's seal
Prunus laurocerasus, cherry laurel
Pulsatilla vulgaris, pasque flower
Ranunculus acris, meadow buttercup
Rheum x hybridum, rhubarb
Rhododendron spp.
Rhus radicans, poison ivy
Ricinus communis, castor oil plant
Rosmarinus officinalis, rosemary
Rumex obtusifolius, broad-leaved dock
Ruta graveolens, rue
Salix alba, white willow
Salvia divinorum, sage
Scutellaria laterifolia, Virginian skullcap
Senecio jacobaea, ragwort
Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade
Solanum melongena, aubergine
Strychnos nux-vomica, poison nut
Symphoricarpos albus, snowberry
Symphytum spp., comfrey
Taxus baccata, yew
Toxicodendron radicans, poison ivy
Thevetia peruviana, yellow oleander
Urtica dioica, stinging nettle
Veratrum album, white hellebore
Verbascum olympicum, Greek mullein
Vinca major, greater periwinkle
Viscum album, mistletoe
Vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree