Vitex, also known as Chaste Tree or Monk's Pepper, was said to be used as herbal remedy by monks in the Middle Ages to diminish their sex drive, and its common names stem from its use by monks to maintain celibacy. Although it does seem to occasionally reduce sex drive in women, the effects are less pronounced than the name of this plant suggests.
Uses for Chaste Tree
In modern times, chaste tree is used primarily as a women's herb for menstrual complaints. The flavonoids in chaste tree exert an effect similar to the hormone progesterone, although the plant contains no hormonal compounds. Chaste tree acts on the pituitary gland in the brain, normalizing the release of both follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).
The overall effect is to regulate the menstrual cycle and slightly increase the production of progesterone in women who otherwise have irregular cycles. Many menstrual complaints are known to result from a relative lack of progesterone. When progesterone levels are low relative to estrogen, the result is often infertility, heavy bleeding, lack of periods, too-frequent periods, irregular periods, and premenstrual syndrome. Because it helps normalize LH levels, chaste tree alleviates these complaints. It can normalize and regulate menstrual cycles, reduce premenstrual fluid retention, and treat some cases of acne that flare up during menstruation.
Chaste tree's berries also can be used for menopausal bleeding irregularities, such as frequent or heavy bleeding; it is often combined with hormonal herbs such as black cohosh or soy. Therapy of six months to one year is usually recommended.
Chaste tree is a slow-acting herb and can take months to produce effects. When treating infertility, chaste tree is continued for one to two years; it is discontinued if pregnancy occurs. Because the constituents in chaste tree -- including flavonoids, iridoid glycosides, and terpenoids -- gradually normalize FSH and LH levels, it helps allow for normal ovulation and pregnancy. Chaste tree also lowers the hormone prolactin, produced during stressful periods, which also may cause tender breasts and uterine cramps associated with PMS.
Side Effects of Chaste Tree
The strong bitterness of chaste tree may be nauseating to some, but it is usually well tolerated. Chaste tree may occasionally cause heavier menstrual flow, but this is rare.
Chaste Tree Preparations and Dosage
Chaste tree berries are typically tinctured or powdered and used in capsule form. The flavor is unpleasant, so chaste tree is not a popular tea.
Tincture: Take 1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon, one to three times daily, and reduce the dosage when effect is noted. Although effects can be more rapid, it may take three months before you see improvements.
Chaste Tree Precautions and Warnings
Because of its complex hormonal actions, chaste tree is not recommended for use during pregnancy. When used to treat menstrual complaints, there are no known dangers, but do not use it unless necessary. There is little information about the physiologic activity of chaste tree in men.
To learn more about treating common medical conditions at home, try the following links:
- For an overview of all of our herbal remedies, go to the main Herbal Remedies page.
- To learn more about treating medical conditions at home, visit our main Home Remedies page.
- One of the best things you can do for your health and well being is to make sure you are getting enough of the vital nutrients your body needs. Visit our Vitamins page to learn more.
Jennifer Brett, N.D. is director of the Acupuncture Institute for the University of Bridgeport, where she also serves on the faculty for the College of Naturopathic Medicine. A recognized leader in her field with an extensive background in treating a wide variety of disorders utilizing nutritional and botanical remedies, Dr. Brett has appeared on WABC TV (NYC) and on Good Morning America to discuss utilizing herbs for health.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies. Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.