Vitex agnus-castus (chasteberry, Abraham’s balm, monk’s pepper, Indian spice, lilac chastetree, sage tree)

description: deciduous shrub or multi-stemmed tree

place of origin: temperate Europe, northern Africa, western Asia

urban habitat: commonly found in flood prone areas, drainage ditches, near streams, coasts; can grow in nutritionally poor soils in partial shade or full sun; drought tolerant.

ecological function:  disturbance-adapted colonizer, provides heat reduction in paved areas; food and habitat for wildlife.

history: Introduced into North America by European immigrants in the early 19th century, Vitex agnus-castus has been used medicinally for thousands of years in its native ranges, particularly for its beneficial uses for the female hormonal system. Its seeds and berries have been used to correct hormonal imbalances caused by excess estrogen and insufficient progesterone, to ease changes cause by menopase, regulate menstruation, restore fertility, and relieve menstrual tension. Its seeds and berries have also been used as a stimulant and sedative, purgative, pain reliever, to treat colds, eye ailments, insomnia, spasms, and psychological problems. Its berries have also been used as both an aphrodisiac, to relieve paralysis, and pain and weakness in the limbs. In ancient times, it was used as an anaphrodisiac used for ritual chasteness of women, thus its common name “chaste tree.” Its other common name “monk’s pepper” refers to its use by monks to aid in their efforts to remain chaste. During WWII, Germany used its berries to stimulate lactation for women under stress from Allied bombing. It is used today in Germany for treatment of PMS and is sometimes found as ingredient in supplements for male bodybuilders. Its berries have been consumed as a condiment and pepper substitute and is one of the ingredients in the Moroccan spice mixture ‘ras el hanout’. A perfume can be made from its flowers and a yellow dye produced from its leaves, seed and roots. Its young stems have been used for basket making.

Urban Herbs: Chaste Tree