Chaste Tree


In northern climates lilac makes a beautiful large shrub to small tree. It has showy cone-like fragrant inflorescences in spring. Lilac struggles in our climate but we have a great alternative in Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus).

Also called chaste tree it has flowers that look somewhere in between a lilac and a butterfly bush. They are also aromatic like lilac. Finger-like foliage has a sage-like aroma and the open airy growth habit makes for a delicate specimen plant.

Vitex, native to the Mediterranean region, blooms a little later in spring and will continue if old flowers are removed. If berries are allowed to develop they resemble peppercorns. Few pests bother Vitex but a fungal leaf spot can often nearly defoliate a tree. This plant also doesn’t tolerate extremely wet soils, but it handles the heat with ease.

So where did the name ‘chaste tree’ come from? As its name implies, its foliage and fruit were thought to reduce sexual desire, and traditionally chewed by monks to make their vows easier to uphold. Another name for the plant is monk’s pepper.

The ancient Greeks also believed the same. Ladies who did not want to be disturbed slept with Vitex leaves to deter any male company. No concrete scientific evidence has been established for these ancient claims, but the legend lives on.

Modern uses abound, however. In Europe, particularly Germany, research is flourishing. Vitex is sometimes called the woman’s herb. It is used for menstrual cycle irregularities, PMS, and menopause symptoms. It is also prescribed for treating fibrocystic breast growths and female infertility.

Chemicals in the plant stimulate the production of luteinizing hormone in the pituitary gland, which boosts levels of progesterone and prolactin. A better progesterone-estrogen balance results. This helps reduce miscarriages and boosts milk production particularly in women with low fertility. Many sources state discontinuing use if already pregnant or nursing, however.

If you are expecting immediate results, you’ll likely be disappointed. It may take several weeks to significantly change hormone levels, but slow change is not always bad. Rapid hormonal changes can be part of the problem in the first place.

Vitex extracts can cause upset stomach, diarrhea, dizziness, dry mouth and skin rashes in some people. Some complain of headaches and insomnia but no serious side-effects have been reported.

Research has shown Vitex use can help treat an enlarged prostate in men. Part of the reason for this condition is a slight shift in testosterone and estrogen balance. Chemicals in Vitex slow conversion of testosterone to estrogen and the result is shrinkage of the prostate.

European research also shows promise for treating prostate cancer. Some herbalists even claim a reduction in male pattern baldness.

On the downside, various studies indicate the use of this herb can cause shrinkage of the prostate, which is good, but it can also promote testicular shrinkage, which is not so good. It promotes fertility in women, but impotence and sterility in men. The prostate research is interesting, but for now I think I’ll pass.

Vitex foliage

Vitex showing palmate foliage

Vitex foliage and fruits

Vitex stem showing leaves and fruit

Vitex fruit

Vitex raceme with fruit resembling peppercorns

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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34 Responses to Chaste Tree

  1. I think they should continue experimenting with this tree, for human usage during pregnancy.

  2. i do agree that they should contiunue experimenting, but they also need to be careful because of some of the side effects. on the up sode it has better effects on the women. vitex can help reduce miscarriages mainly in women that have low fertility.

  3. I feel that the aromas of the tree were very well desribed and very informative.
    The uses for this specific type of tree does truly have its pros and cons but eventually i feel that science will find a way to less the bad effects

  4. donnashawna says:

    Chaste tree
    I think its cool that this type of tree has a difrrent name then other tree. And can They experiment on this type of tree and I think I never heard of this type of tree before.Or being experimenting on

  5. thebeadden says:

    An interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

  6. zachvanett says:

    I thought it was very intresting that it can be used to help women with a irregular menstrual cycle also i did not know that it could give rashes and diary.This was a very interesting post.thanks for the cool info

  7. awhitenhs12 says:

    I think they should continue experimenting with the plant. It could be important for humans in pregnancy. I just think they need to cut down on the side effects

  8. susiehedley says:

    I find the history of this plant very interesting, like where the name came from. Some of the effects of the Chaste tree look to be great, but the side effects seem quite dangerous.

  9. This tree is used for a lot … Especially for woman ! They should keep experimenting cause its probably more things they can use this on !

  10. amandawensel says:

    This tree seems very useful for women but at the same time it can be not so great of an idea to have.

  11. This tree is very good and useful for women but at the same time it can be a bad thing.

  12. cjbvans says:

    Interesting how girls cause use this to help with pregnancy and menstrals. Never thought of something like a tree helping

  13. kimberlypaigeweaver says:

    I think they should contiune to study this plant. They should try to help fix the side effects that go along with it. I love how it does help with pregnancy and irregular menstral cycles.

  14. It is a great thing that this plant can be used to cure such things, because herbal and all natural medicines are always better than the harsh man made chemicals people often use. People just have to watch the boundaries of their experimenting and try to limit the risks of these side effects. But aside from the medical purposes of the plant, i agree it makes a beautiful small tree or large shrub for landscaping.

  15. This would be good for people with enlarged prostates !

  16. i agree that they should contiunue experimenting, but they need to be careful because of some of the side effects it will also help people with enlarged prostates and they do make beautiful small trees

  17. They definitely should keep studying and experimenting with this tree. This tree is very unique with its uses to humans.

  18. it has alot of uses for humans. Like for treating enlarged prostates.

  19. i think its good that this plant helps with a lot with woman, but i think they should contiune to study the plant more to reduce some of the side-effects.

  20. I would have never thouhtt that a tree could help with menstural cycles and menopause symptom. Many uses for both men and women.

  21. very nice looking tree but sucks that it can mess up your stomach

  22. This plant has a lot of many uses but if you do try it you might experience side effects, which would not be good.

  23. sbright16 says:

    I never knew this reduced the sexually desire and that monks used it .

  24. it has alot of uses for humans, like for treating enlarged prostates.and why do monks use it

  25. curtis24 says:

    northern climates lilac makes a beautiful large shrub to small tree. It has showy cone-like fragrant inflorescences in spring.called chaste tree it has flowers that look somewhere in between a lilac and a butterfly bush.As its name implies, its foliage and fruit were thought to reduce sexual desire, and traditionally chewed by monks to make their vows easier to uphold.

  26. jordan2197 says:

    Vitex extracts can cause upset stomach, diarrhea, dizziness, dry mouth and skin rashes in some people. Some complain of headaches and insomnia but no serious side-effects have been reported. Vitex use can help treat an enlarged prostate in men
    the northern climate lilac makes a beautiful large shrub to a small tree.

  27. jordan2197 says:

    I cant believe that Vitex can cause all those symptoms, and I did not know that vitex can help treat prostate cancer in men

  28. curtis24 says:

    Research has shown Vitex use can help treat an enlarged prostate in men. Part of the reason for this condition is a slight shift in testosterone and estrogen balance. Vitex is native to the Mediterranean region, blooms a little later in spring and will continue if old flowers are removed. If berries are allowed to develop they resemble peppercorns. Another name for this plant is monk’s pepper.

  29. this is so cool that it can help treat enlarge prostate glands.

  30. I find it interesting that the chemicals in the plant stimulate the production of luteinizing hormone in the pituitary gland, which boosts levels of progesterone and prolactin. This plant is very beneficial.

  31. ashleychory says:

    This plant has a lot of many uses but if you do try it you might experience side effects, which is not good. and It has showy cone-like fragrant inflorescences in spring.called chaste tree it has flowers that look somewhere in between a lilac and a butterfly bush.

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