Vitex agnus-castus (also called vitex, chaste tree / chastetree, chasteberry, Abraham's balm,[1] lilac chastetree,[2] or monk's pepper) is a plant native of the Mediterranean region. It is one of the few temperate-zone species of Vitex, which is on the whole a genus of tropical and subtropical flowering plants.[3] Vitex is a cross-pollinating plant, but its self-pollination has been recorded.[4]

Vitex agnus-castus
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Vitex
V. agnus-castus
Binomial name
Vitex agnus-castus

Theophrastus mentioned the shrub several times, as agnos (ἄγνος) in Enquiry into Plants. It has been long believed to be an anaphrodisiac – leading to its name as "chaste tree" – but its effectiveness for such action remains unproven.[5] The shrub was utilized for religious rituals in ancient Greece and among the Philistines in modern-day Israel.[6]

Etymology and common names edit

Vitex, its name in Pliny the Elder, is derived from the Latin vieo, meaning to weave or to tie up, a reference to the use of V. agnus-castus in basketry.[7] Its macaronic specific name agnus-castus repeats "chaste" in both Greek and Latin; the small tree was considered to be sacred to the virginal goddess Hestia/Vesta. The most common names are "chaste tree", "vitex", and "monk's pepper".[5]

Cult edit

The chaste tree, a local shrub known since the Lower Paleolithic for various applications including as a spice, was also historically valued for its medicinal properties, including uses as anaphrodisiac and abortifacient, with further properties suggested by modern studies. The shrub has been used by several ancient Mediterranean cultures.[6]

In ancient Greece, the chaste tree played a significant role in the female agricultural festival of Thesmophoria, dedicated to honoring the goddesses Demeter and Persephone in Greek cities. In Archaic Sparta, in the 8th–6th centuries BCE, it was incorporated into the cult of the local agriculture goddess, Artemis Orthia. The first century physician Dioscorides documented various synonyms for the lilac chaste tree. In the second century CE, Pausanias mentioned that the wooden image of Asclepius in Sparta was crafted from the chaste tree. Additionally, there is botanical and textual evidence supporting the significance of the chaste tree at the Heraion of Samos during the 6th–3rd centuries BCE.[6]

In a Philistine temple at Gath, an excavation uncovered around 100 chaste tree fruits, a find unparalleled in both quantity and context compared to other locations in Israel. This suggests their deliberate use in religious practices, possibly in celebration of a goddess related to Hera.[6]

Notably, the chaste tree is linked to the binding of Hera, where it featured in rituals celebrating her mythology at Samos.

Description edit

Close up of flowers with carpenter bee (Xylocopa sp.)

Vitex agnus-castus is widely cultivated in warm, temperate, and subtropical regions for its delicately textured, aromatic foliage and butterfly-attracting midsummer spikes of lavender flowers opening in late summer in cooler climates.[8] It grows to a height of 1–5 m (3–16 ft). It requires full sun, though tolerates partial shade, along with well-draining soil. Under ideal conditions, it is hardy to −23 °C (−9 °F) USDA Zone 6.[9] In colder zones, the plant tends to die back to the ground, but as it flowers on new wood, flowering is not affected on vigorous growth in the following season.[10] This plant is a brackish water dweller, indicating that it tolerates salt.[citation needed] Cold and wet weather results in dieback and losses. The plant grows well on loamy, neutral to alkaline soil.[4]

In cultivation in the UK, the form V. agnus-castus f. latifolia has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[11][12]

The fruits from one single tree can be harvested for more than 15 years. This indicates that the tree cannot be integrated in a usual crop rotation system.[4][13] It is suggested to sow dissimilar plants such as monocots as its subsequent crop so that it might be easier to control the monk's pepper plant, the dicot. Because the fruits of monk's pepper tend to fall constantly and uncontrollably, the plant likely can germinate from seed.[4] The overall best yield per hectare reportedly can be achieved if the plant spacing is around 70 cm (28 in).[4] Pruning back the branches in autumn has a positive influence on fruit yield while repruning in spring can induce an increase of vegetative shoots, thus a fruit yield loss.[4]

Reproduction edit


This plant can also be reproduced vegetatively. One possibility is to use 5–8-centimetre (2–3 in) pieces of the ripening wood with buds in July or August and another is to cut the ripe wood in November and then let it root in a coldframe.[4] Also in vitro reproduction with spike of the shoots or node explants is possible.[14]

Harvest edit

The flowering and ripening processes do not happen simultaneously, enabling harvesting of both fresh fruits and seeds over a long span of time. The fruits tend to fall from the plant as they ripen, getting lost in the soil. Thus, it has no optimal fixed harvest time. Consequently, to avoid yield loss, unripe fruits need to be harvested. This early harvesting has no effect on quality.[4] Overall, harvesting the fruits by hand likely is the most convenient solution.[13]

Diseases and pests edit

Thysanoptera, also known as thrips, can cause great damage to the growth and the generative development of V. agnus-castus.[15] The insect feeds on chaste tree by sucking up the fruit contents or puncturing them. Also, chaste tree is the only known host (especially in Israel) for Hyalesthes obsoletus. This cicada is the vector for black wood disease of grapevines. H. obsoletus prefers V. agnus-castus as a host to the grapevine. In this case, chaste trees can be used as a biological control agent by planting them around vineyards to trap the H. obsoletus.[16] V. agnus-castus was found not only to be an appropriate food source for the adult vectors, but also a reservoir of Candidatus phytoplasma solani (bacterial Phytoplasma species), the causal agent of the black wood disease in grapevines.[17] The pathogen-caused leaf spot disease can almost defoliate V. agnus castus. Furthermore, root rot can occur when soils are kept too moist.[18]

Chemical compounds edit

Flavonoids (vitexin, casticin), iridoid glycoside (agnuside, aucubin), p-hydroxybenzoic acid,[5][19] alkaloids, essential oils, fatty oils, diterpenoids and steroids have been identified in the chemical analysis of V. agnus-castus.[20] They occur in the fruits and in the leaves.[19]

Essential oils edit

Essential oils have been found in the fruits and in the leaves. The oil of leaves, unripe, and ripe fruits differ in compounds; 50 compounds were identified in the oil of unripe fruits, 51 compounds in the oil of ripe fruits, and 46 compounds in the oil of the leaves. 1,8-Cineole and sabinene are the main monoterpene components and beta-caryophyllene is the major sesquiterpene compound found in the fruits of V. agnus-castus. Some slight differences occur between fruits from white-flowering plants compared to violet-flowering ones. The oil of fruits of former has a higher amount of monoterpene constituents. The leaves mainly contain 1,8-cineole, trans-beta-farnesene, alpha-pinene, trans-beta-caryophyllene, and terpinen-4-ol. The oil, particularly from white-flowering plants, is under preliminary research for its potential antibacterial effects.[21]

Traditional medicine edit

Vitex has been used in traditional medicine for reproductive health issues in women, but only limited high-quality clinical evidence supports its effectiveness.[5][22][23]

Although vitex is commonly recommended in Germany,[24][25] V. agnus-castus should be avoided during pregnancy due to the possibility of complications.[5][24]

Safety and adverse effects edit

Adverse effects from Vitex can include nausea, headache, gastrointestinal discomfort, menstrual discomfort, fatigue, and skin disorders.[5][26] People taking dopamine-related medications or Parkinson's disease medications should avoid using chasteberry.[27] Women on birth-control pills, hormone-replacement therapy, or having a hormone-sensitive condition, such as breast cancer, are advised not to use chasteberry.[27] Use of Vitex is discouraged for pregnant or breastfeeding women, and for children.[5]

References edit

  1. ^ New English Dictionary, s.v. "Chaste-tree".
  2. ^ USDA, NRCS (n.d.). "Vitex agnus-castus". The PLANTS Database ( Greensboro, North Carolina: National Plant Data Team. Retrieved 6 August 2015.
  3. ^ David J. Mabberley. 2008. Mabberley's Plant-Book third edition (2008). Cambridge University Press: UK.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Verein für Arznei- und Gewürzpflanzen Saluplanta. 2013. Handbuch des Arznei- und Gewürzpflanzenbaus volume 5 Arznei- und Gewürzpflanzen L–Z, pages 192–199. Verein für Arznei- und Gewürzpflanzen Saluplanta: Bernburg, Germany. ISBN 978-3-935971-64-5 (set).
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Chaste tree". 9 October 2017. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d Frumin, Suembikya; Maeir, Aren M.; Eniukhina, Maria; Dagan, Amit; Weiss, Ehud (2024-02-12). "Plant-related Philistine ritual practices at biblical Gath". Scientific Reports. 14 (1). Springer Science and Business Media LLC. doi:10.1038/s41598-024-52974-9. ISSN 2045-2322. PMC 10861565.
  7. ^ Umberto Quattrocchi. 2000. CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names volume I, page 91. CRC Press: Boca Raton; New York; Washington,DC;, USA. London, UK. ISBN 978-0-8493-2673-8 (set).
  8. ^ Soule, J. A. 2012. Butterfly Gardening in Southern Arizona. Tierra del Soule Press, Tucson, Arizona
  9. ^ Zasada, John C.; Schopmeyer, C. S. "Vitex agnus-castus L. - lilac chastetree" (PDF). Washington, DC: USDA Forest Service.
  10. ^ "Vitex agnus-castus". Missouri Botanical Garden plant finder.
  11. ^ "Vitex agnus-castus f. latifolia". RHS. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  12. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 107. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  13. ^ a b van Rensen, I. (2010). "Mönchspfeffer" [Chaste tree]. Zeitschrift für Phytotherapie (in German). 31 (6): 322–326. doi:10.1055/s-0030-1262410. S2CID 260357472.
  14. ^ Balaraju K. Agastian P. Preetamraj J. P. Arokiyaraj S. Kade P. Ignacimuthu S. 2008. (2008). "Micropropagation of Vitex agnus-castus, (Verbenaceae)—a valuable medicinal plant". In Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology – Plant. 44 (5): 436–441. doi:10.1007/s11627-008-9155-9. S2CID 8358030.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Gimpl A. 2003. Untersuchungen zur Inkulturnahme von Vitex agnus-castus L. Diplomarbeit. Universität für Bodenkultur. Wien
  16. ^ Sharon, Rakefet; Soroker, Victoria; Wesley, S. Daniel; Zahavi, Tirtza; Harari, Ally; Weintraub, Phyllis G. (2005). "Vitex agnus-castus is a preferred host plant for Hyalesthes obsoletus". Journal of Chemical Ecology. 31 (5): 1051–1063. Bibcode:2005JCEco..31.1051S. doi:10.1007/s10886-005-4247-z. PMID 16124232. S2CID 20799569.
  17. ^ Kosovac, A. Radonji S. Hrnci S. Krstic O. Tosevski I. Jovic J. (2016). "Molecular tracing of the transmission routes of bois noir in Mediterranean vineyards of Montenegro and experimental evidence for the epidemiological role of Vitex agnus-castus (Lamiaceae) and associated Hyalesthes obsoletus (Cixiidae)". Plant Pathology. 65 (2): 285–298. doi:10.1111/ppa.12409.
  18. ^ Gilman E. and Watson D. 1994. Vitex agnus-castus 'Alba'; 'Alba' Chastetree Fact Sheet ST-665. A series of the Environmental Horticulture Department. Florida Cooperative Extension Service. Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. University of Florida
  19. ^ a b Hoberg, Eva; Meier, Beat; Sticher, Otto (2000). "An analytical high performance liquid chromatographic method for the determination of agnuside and p-hydroxybenzoic acid contents in Agni-casti fructus". Phytochemical Analysis. 11 (5): 327–329. doi:10.1002/1099-1565(200009/10)11:5<327::AID-PCA523>3.0.CO;2-0.
  20. ^ Hajdú, Zsuzsanna; Hohmann, Judit; Forgo, Peter; Martinek, Tamás; Dervarics, Máté; Zupkó, István; Falkay, György; Cossuta, Daniel; Máthé, Imre (2007). "Diterpenoids and flavonoids from the fruits of Vitex agnus-castus and antioxidant activity of the fruit extracts and their constituents". Phytotherapy Research. 21 (4): 391–394. doi:10.1002/ptr.2021. PMID 17262892. S2CID 23758549.
  21. ^ Stojković, Dejan; Soković, Marina; Glamočlija, Jasmina; Džamić, Ana; Ćirić, Ana; Ristić, Mihailo; Grubišić, Dragoljub (2011). "Chemical composition and antimicrobial activity of Vitex agnus-castus L. fruits and leaves essential oils". Food Chemistry. 128 (4): 1017–1022. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2011.04.007.
  22. ^ Verkaik S, Kamperman AM, van Westrhenen R, Schulte PF (2017). "The treatment of premenstrual syndrome with preparations of Vitex agnus castus: a systematic review and meta-analysis". American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 217 (2): 150–166. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2017.02.028. PMID 28237870. S2CID 41615874.
  23. ^ Van Die, M. D; Burger, H. G; Teede, H. J; Bone, K. M (2013). "Vitex agnus-castus extracts for female reproductive disorders: A systematic review of clinical trials". Planta Medica. 79 (7): 562–75. doi:10.1055/s-0032-1327831. PMID 23136064.
  24. ^ a b Daniele, C; Thompson Coon, J; Pittler, M. H.; Ernst, E (2005). "Vitex agnus castus: a systematic review of adverse events". Drug Safety. 28 (4): 319–32. doi:10.2165/00002018-200528040-00004. PMID 15783241. S2CID 45851264.
  25. ^ Axel Valet; Kay Goerke; Joachim Steller (2003). Klinikleitfaden Gynäkologie Geburtshilfe. Untersuchung. Diagnostik. Therapie. Notfall. Urban & Fischer. ISBN 978-3-437-22211-5.
  26. ^ Daniele, C; Thompson Coon, J; Pittler, M. H; Ernst, E (2005). "Vitex agnus castus: A systematic review of adverse events". Drug Safety. 28 (4): 319–32. doi:10.2165/00002018-200528040-00004. PMID 15783241. S2CID 45851264.
  27. ^ a b "Chasteberry". National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, US National Institutes of Health. September 2016. Retrieved 2018-05-10.

External links edit