Vitex agnus castus is a tree native to the Mediterranean. Also known as the chaste tree or monk's pepper, it was thought in ancient times to be an anaphrodisiac and was used by Roman women to reduce desire while their husbands were away. In the medieval period, agnus castus made its way into the staple diet in monasteries, for the same reasons.
Today, the berries of Vitex agnus castus are a popular herbal remedy for women's reproductive and gynaecological problems, including PMS, menopausal symptoms, painful periods, PCOS and difficulty in conceiving. As the point of agnus castus is to balance hormones, many women like to take it on each day of the menstrual cycle.
Research suggests that some compounds present in agnus castus affect the pituitary gland, thus influencing hormone levels. Agnus castus appears to stimulate the release of the luteinising hormone and inhibit the follicle stimulating hormone, while at the same time regulating prolactin.
Agnus castus can be taken in tablet or capsule form as a supplement. If you are taking the contraceptive pill or any other form of hormonal treatment, you should not take agnus castus, as it may interfere with the medication you have been prescribed.