Originating in the Mediterranean region, agnus castus was called the “chaste tree,” while its berries were known as “monk’s pepper”—a reference to their medieval use as an anaphrodisiac to weaken the libido of celibate monks. The plant has the opposite effect on women, encouraging the production of female hormones, and is used for various gynecological problems.
Parts used: Fruit.
Main constituents: Iridoid glycosides (including aucubin and agnuside), volatile oil (including cineol), flavonoids, alkaloids (including viticine), bitter, fatty acids.
Effect: Galactagogue, hormone regulator, progesterogenic.
HOW TO USE
Tincture: Take up to 40 drops (2ml) as soon as you wake up in the morning during the second half of a menstrual cycle to encourage hormone production in irregular menstrual cycles or PMS. It’s easy to overdose, so begin with a low dose and slowly increase the amount if there are no side effects (see Caution). It will also relieve migraine or acne connected to the menstrual cycle.
Tablets/capsules: Available commercially; read the dosage directions on the package and take to relieve PMS.
HOW TO GET
Grow: Agnus castus likes well-drained soil in full sun and a warm site. Sow seeds in a cold frame in autumn or spring; transplant to 4in (10cm) pots when established enough to handle. You can also take semi-ripe cuttings in summer. Grow until well established before transplanting to final growing positions. Protect from cold, dry winds and severe winters. Prune in spring while still dormant.
Forage: In general, it’s mainly cultivated; however you can find it growing wild in southern Europe and in other sub-tropical regions. Don’t confuse it with Vitex negundo (Chinese chaste tree), which has paler leaves and flowers and originates in China, India, and Taiwan. In cooler climates, it doesn’t always set seed to form berries.
Harvest: Collect ripe berries in autumn.
Caution: Too high doses may cause formication—a sensation like ants crawling over the skin. Avoid if taking progesterone drugs. Don’t use if pregnant except under professional guidance.