Chastetree fruits, Vitex agnus castus
RESUME: V. agnus castus is known to exert remarkable hormone balancing activity on especially the female hormonal system. It is balancing the two female gonadal hormones by binding to dopamine (DA1 and DA2) receptors, and thereby suppressing hyperprolactinaemia. Beneficial in female ailments related to hormonal imbalances. Go to the shop
Ελληνικα: Λιγαρια, Deutsch: Mönchspfeffer oder Keuschlamm, Dansk: kyskhedstræ
Botany and Production
Vitex agnus castus- ripe seeds
Botany and Production: Vitex agnus castus, commonly called the chastetree or monkspepper, belongs to the family of Verbenaceae. The plant, though called chaste'tree' is really a much branched deciduous shrub, loosing its leaves when the fruits are ripe. It grows up to 3 meters high and is originating from and distributed around the Mediterranean Basin. The plant prefers low altitudes and is often found along the shores of lakes, by the sea and along riverbeds. The stalked palmate leaves consist of 5 to 7 narrow pointed entire leaflets, dark green and glabrous above and white felted beneath.
The inflorescences are terminal, thickly branched, consisting of 10 to 20 or more pairs of congested cymes, superimposed on a common axis. The flowers which appear from June to September are small and sweet scented and arranged racemose in long terminal spikes. Their colour varies from white over pink- lilac to deep blue.
Vitex agnus castus inflorences
When Vitex agnus castus is flowering, the leaves are still abundant. When the small fruits start to ripen, the plant commences shedding its leaves. When the fruits are fully ripe, most leaves have withered.
The fruits are small, the size of small peppercorns, purple- black, hard and ripen between late September and November in Crete.
The ripe fruits are traditionally used to produce an extract, which is sold especially in Germany. The fruits however, contain an essential oil as well, which we were the first ones worldwide to distill.
To develop a new essential oil, not previously produced, requires a lot of trials. We have made this plant and its essential oil the subject of a MSc Thesis (completed 1997), and studied the collection and distillation parameters and requirements thoroughly, in order to obtain a truly fine oil. For example regarding collection, populations yielding sufficient quantity and desirable quality unfortunately are very rare to be found.
Even though many Vitex agnus castus populations live in some initially perfect seeming conditions, abundant and vigorous around a lake or along riverbeds, their fruits yield only a neglectable quantity and quality of essential oil. It took us many trials, collections and distillations, to identify the living conditions of this plant, which favour the production of essential oil in their fruits.
We have studied the oil of V. agnus castus in particular, because the plant possesses some interesting medicinal activities for women. After many trials, we have found where and how to harvest, how the fruits can be most gently distilled, and that a gentle distillation duration of 24 hours is necessary in order to liberate the numerous sesquiterpene and diterpene compounds sufficiently to produce a truly entire, fine oil of Vitex agnus castus fruits. Vitex agnus castus fruits liberate their oil very slowly and continuously during the process. It is the most difficult and time consuming oil to distill.
The oil has an agreeable, interesting somewhat peculiar topnote, reminding of cannabis and eucalyptus. After a few minutes, its heart is revealed as an aromatic floral, warm but fresh, somehow peppery sweet spicy fragrance with lemon-like, woody undertones.
The oil of V. agnus castus is a very complex one regarding the less volatile fraction, if properly distilled.
We collect the fruits when fully ripe in September-November in Crete, along the coast of Sfakia. The collection of the ripe fruits in the Wild is an activity that requires much patience, in order to collect just a few kilos of fruits. This collection is, amongst all, our most time consuming collection of the year. Not only is the harvest tedious, taking us weeks to complete, but also the yield is low. So we can only produce a limited quantity, a few kilos of this precious oil every year. However, this harvesting time is precious to us, since we collect at some of the most beautiful, remote places in Southern Crete...see also under Collection
Collecting Vitex agnus castus fruits near the beach in Sfakia
Chemistry: Since this oil was not known or available on the marked, we did a detailed analysis of the chemical composition. Cretan V. agnus castus oil is composed of sabinene (25%), 1.8 cineole (19%), trans-β-farnesene (7%), α-pinene (6%), trans-caryophyllene (4%), terpinyl acetate (4%), γ-terpinene (2.5%), β-myrcene (2%), β-pinene (1%), α-terpinene (1%), terpinen-4-ol (2%), τ-cadinol (1%), torreyol (1%), germacrene D (0.9%), α-terpineol (0.8%), p-cymene (1%), α-thujene (0.8%), caryophyllene oxide (0.7%), spathulenol (0.5%), α-gurjunene (0.4%), limonene (0.6%), along with minor quantities of viridiflorol, ledol, nerolidol, δ-cadinene, γ-muurolene, allo-aromadendrene, α-humulene, bergamotene, cis-β-farnesene, β-citronellol, cis- and trans-sabinene hydrate, trans-β-ocimene, and α-phellandrene (around 0.15-0.25% each). In the higher boiling range, diterpenic structures were observed, however, could not be individually identified.
Safety: No formal testing on the oil. However, the drug itself is clinically tested non-toxic even at high concentrations. None of the components present in the oil show by themselves toxic activity. In recent years, numerous studies have assessed Vitex agnus castus to have no, or mild and reversible adverse effects. These mild effects include nausea, rash and headaches, in which case the use should be discontinued.
Because of its hormone balancing activity it is sometimes theoretically hypothesized to interfere with oral contraceptives. There is no clinical evidence to support these theories. We have neither seen this in practice, nor is it likely regarding the different mechanisms of action.
Over the years, we have found that Vitex agnus castus essential oil is, just like its tincture, a valuable remedy for women. It does not offer men much.. except its external use for pubertal acne for both sexes.
Principle of action: V. agnus castus is known to exert remarkable hormone balancing activity on especially the female hormonal system. It is balancing the two female gonadal hormones by binding to dopamine (DA1 and DA2) receptors, and thereby suppressing hyperprolactinaemia.
A Vitex agnus castus biotope in the process of fruit ripening along a riverbed in southern Crete
Collecting the fruits in 1994, mother and son, now, in 2009... father and grandmother...
According to Pliny the Elder (AD. 23-79) V. agnus castus was highly revered as one of the most useful medicines of the times. He claims that it checks violent sexual desire in men, takes away the more severe type of headache, purges the uterus and the bowels. Because of their hot nature, the seeds were taken to dispel flatulence, promote urine, regulate diarrhea and greatly benefit epilepsy and spleen disease.
It is remarkable, that the indications of Vitex agnus castus have changed preciously little over the centuries since these first records.
But it became also a symbol for the hidden part of monastic life according to some... Arnaud de Villeneuve, an important studioso of the 13th century, mentions the "washing of the private parts with a decoction of Agnus castus, in order to make them more ready for pleasure". So it seems that 'the desire for Venus deals' in some was suppressed, while others seemed to achieved the contrary effect. In any case, it seems that the chastetree was considered a plant of fertility and desire as well as chaste and purity.
The most remarkable action of chastetree fruits thus is a hormone balancing one in the female hormonal system. Many of our contemporary female ailments are based on an imbalance between oestrogen and progesterone, and especially an oestrogen domination. This imbalance is a main cause in several female complaints.
Vitex agnus castus is highly advocated for diseases related to hormonal disorders, and side effects have not been noted. In fact, it is mentioned, that the only 'side-effect' noted was pregnancy...And in fact, over the years we have worked, quite a few babies were born to couples which had years of difficulties getting pregnant...
Vitex agnus castus essential oil can be used in a massage oil blend for women (2%), which can be used for a whole body balancing massage, or used for semi-acute localised problems such as sore breasts, menstrual pains diluted 5-7% in a carrier oil and applied with circular, clockwise movements to the affected area.
The oil has quite a peculiar strong spicy fragrance, and it is our experience, that people’s reactions are quite strong- they either like it or dislike it, and it seems that who likes it, needs it. The fruits of the chastetree have a strong, spicy, somewhat peppery smell and are reported to check violent sexual desire in man, whereas they balance a woman’s sexuality. Probably, Vitex reconnecting a woman with her inherent harmony within, with her own hormonal balance, also affects the man or men in her life positively... and as such the fragrance, however, seems to balance sexual desire between man and woman. In this respect, we can consider it an aphrodisiac after our experience, but try for yourself, we are all different and even more so in the combination as a couple.
Regarding skin care, Vitex agnus castus is useful in hormone related pubertal acne. Here it can be used for both male and female young individuals. Adding a drop of Vitex agnus castus essential oil to your daily (non perfumed, non greasy) skin creme, or to a washing lotion or tonic can improve the condition. Also acne as well as hormonal related periodical or chronic skin disorders in adults can benefit from this topical treatment. With acne it is especially important to address issues like diet as well. However, especially in young girls and women, a health care practitioner also has to assess other symptoms of hormonal imbalance, in which case a topical treatment could well be accompanied by a systemic approach.
The oil seems to help with insect bites, directly applied, as well as repelling them.
On the other hand, the leaves and twigs contain an essential oil as well. Collection of this vegetative plant material is much more efficient, bushes are just cut down during their leafing season. Leaves can be distilled for a much shorter period of time. We have tried the leaf oil, but unfortunately, it can in no way be compared to the fruit oil. It is the fruits which rightly enjoy a reputation since thousands of years until modern times. In modern pharmacopoeias the herbal drug is specified to the fruits as well.
As mentioned earlier and also under Collection, we really enjoy these weeks of chastetree fruit collection..they take place in some of our favorite, most beautiful and remote parts of the Cretan south coast, near to the sea. We are camping just by the beach in different places for days in a row during these weeks from late September until November.. The weather is perfect, warm but not too hot, the winds have calmed and the colours of nature, sea and sky are magical.
Near Frangokastello, goats roaming
Three goats along the cliff
A Vitex Bonsai, living on a piece of rock just by the sea, a shrub gone minimalist...
Our favorite beach during a wavy day...
Watching the sunset after a days work, soon lighting a fire on the beach
Here we finally are on our way back over the mountains with our harvest, going to the distillery...
Vitex agnus castus fruit oil is our most time and energy consuming oils..However, it is one of the plants and oils that are closest to our hearts. Not because of its perfume qualities.., not because of the beautiful locations we collect..., not because of that collection is done standing instead of sitting down, as with the herbaceaous plants. But because this plant is a true helper and saviour for female imbalances and ailments, because we have seen that it has helped so many women to reconnect with their female identity, energy and health...
Healthty female energy is what makes the world turn around, healthy female energy offers opportunity for souls to incarnate, children to be born, offers a true companion and partner to male energy on this planet..And this healthy female energy has been compromised too long by environmental pollution, pharmaceutical and social interferences...Just sharing our own personal feelings, not making statements ...