Monk's Pepper (Vitex agnus-castus L.) is also called “chaste tree” or “chaste mud”. In the Middle Ages it was thought to inhibit sexual desire. Today it is mainly used for PMS and the associated symptoms such as headaches, a feeling of tightness in the breasts, abdominal discomfort and mood swings. However, it is also used to treat irregular menstrual cycles. In this article you will learn more about Monk's Pepper, its effect and its use.
Occurrence and distribution of Monk's Pepper
Monk's Pepper belongs to the genus Vitex and thus to the verbena family. Vitex agnus-castus grows as a shrub up to five metres high throughout the Mediterranean region and as far north as the Crimea. This medicinal plant prefers moist soils and a warm to temperate climate. They are often found on river banks or near bodies of water.
In this country, Vitex agnus-castus is sometimes cultivated as an ornamental plant in gardens. The shrub produces its attractive flower spikes in late summer and is particularly popular in wild and bee gardens. It flowers from July to August and its many nectar-rich flowers provide welcome food for honeybees, wild bees and bumblebees.
Appearance of Monk's Pepper
The five to seven-lobed, lanceolate leaves of Monk's Pepper resemble those of the hemp plant. The large, dense flower spikes consist of numerous small blue-violet, white or pink flowers and resemble those of the buddleia (butterfly bush). The flowers develop into the hard berries which resemble black peppercorns.
History and tradition of the Monk's Pepper
There are often exciting stories behind the names of a plant - this is also true of Monk's Pepper. The name "pepper" comes from the fruits, which look like pepper corns and taste hot. But why "monk"? This name is probably based on the fact that the medicinal plant was said to reduce sexual desire in the Middle Ages. According to medieval sources, it was used as a so-called “anaphrodisiac”, i.e. the opposite of an aphrodisiac. Monks are said to have eaten the fruit of the Monk's Pepper and slept on its leaves to weaken their sex drive and suppress the "reprehensible carnal desire". This use is also indicated by popular names of the plant such as “chaste tree” or “chaste mud”. Its Latin name Agnus castus has a similar meaning and can be translated as something like "chaste lamb".
However, no anaphrodisiac effect (reduction of libido) of the fruit of Monk's Pepper has been confirmed in scientific studies of female patients.
Ingredients and effect of Monk’s Pepper
Vitex agnus-castus contains, among other things, essential oil, diterpenes, flavonoids and iridoid glycosides (for example, aucubin or agnuside). Its mode of action has not yet been fully explained. It is thought that elevated prolactin levels are often responsible for the symptoms of PMS. These symptoms occur in the absence of the regulating hormone dopamine. Studies show that Vitex agnus-castus acts like dopamine and can thus normalise the increased prolactin level.
Monk's Pepper as a medicinal product
Extracts from the dried fruits of this medicinal plant are used for medicinal products, particularly to treat PMS. These extracts are also traditionally used for menstrual cycle disorders.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
In premenstrual syndrome (PMS), symptoms occur 4 to 14 days before the onset of menstruation. Typical symptoms of PMS are headaches, abdominal pain, skin changes, a feeling of tightness in the breasts, a feeling of being bloated, sleep problems or tiredness. Psychological symptoms are also common. Many women are irritable, tense, depressed or have mood swings at this time. The discomfort usually subsides with the onset of menstruation. Extract of Monk's Pepper fruit can relieve these symptoms and should be taken for at least three months.
Irregular menstrual cycle
A woman's cycle lasts an average of 28 days. Ovulation occurs about 14 days before the onset of menstruation. If a fertilised egg does not implant in the lining of the uterus, the lining is shed in the form of menstruation. For many women, however, the cycle can be longer or shorter. Preparations with Monk's Pepper extract can have a regulating effect on the woman's cycle.
A regular cycle is important for the maturation of the egg. Menstrual cycle disorders can be one cause of the inability to have children. If a woman's cycle length fluctuates, it is much more difficult to determine the time of ovulation. If the desired pregnancy is delayed due to irregular cycles, natural remedies with Monk's Pepper can help to regulate the cycle.
This is general information. For individual advice, please contact a specialist.