Monk’s pepper (Vitex agnus-castus)
Monk’s pepper (Vitex agnus-castus) Monk’s pepper (Vitex agnus-castus)

Monk’s pepper
(Vitex agnus-castus)

Monk’s pepper is a herbal product that is used to treat premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menstrual cycle disorders.

Monk’s pepper
(Vitex agnus-castus)

Monk’s pepper is a herbal product that is used to treat premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menstrual cycle disorders.

Monk’s pepper (Latin Vitex agnus-castus L. or Agnus castus in abbreviated form) is also known as chaste tree or chasteberry. It was deemed to be an anaphrodisiac in the Middle Ages. Nowadays it is used primarily for PMS, but also for irregular menstrual cycles and to help women who are having difficulty conceiving. The effect of the herbal medicine is probably attributable to, among other things, its inhibition of the hormone prolactin. Find out more here about monk’s pepper, its properties and uses.

Monk’s pepper belongs to the Vitex genus and thus to the Verbena family. Its five- to seven-fingered leaves resemble those of the hemp plant. Vitex agnus-castus grows as a one to five metre high shrub in the entire Mediterranean region and through to the Crimea. This medicinal plant prefers moist soil and a warm to moderate climate. It is often found on embankments or near water. The large, thick inflorescences consist of numerous small blue-violet, white or pink blossoms. Seeds, which look similar to black peppercorns, develop from the blossoms.

Vitex agnus-castus is sometimes also cultivated in gardens as an ornamental plant. The shrub presents its attractive inflorescences right through into late summer. They are similar to those of the butterfly bush. The plant is particularly popular in wild gardens and in apiaries. It flowers from July to August and offers honey bees, wild bees and bumblebees welcome food with its many nectar-rich flowers.

There are often interesting stories behind the name of a plant – also in the case of Monk’s pepper. The part of the name “pepper” stems from the fruit, which look like peppercorns and taste hot. But why “monk”? This name probably stems from the fact that the medicinal plant was thought to reduce the libido in the Middle Ages. According to medieval sources, they were used as an anaphrodisiac, i.e. the opposite of an aphrodisiac. Monks are said to have eaten the monk’s pepper fruits and slept on the leaves of the plant to diminish their sex drive and to suppress the “reprehensible sins of the flesh”. This is also reflected in traditional names of the plant such as chaste tree or chasteberry. The Latin name Agnus castus has a similar meaning and translates something like “virginal lamb”.

However, scientific research on female patients has not confirmed the purported anaphrodisiac effect (reduction of the libido) of monk’s pepper fruit.

Vitex agnus-castus contains, among others, essential oils, diterpenes, flavonoids and iridoid glycosides (for example, aucubin and agnuside). Extracts from the dried fruit of the medicinal plant are used for herbal remedies. These minimise the release of the prolactin hormone, perhaps via a dopamin related mechanism of action.

Prolactin is responsible for the growth of the female breasts during pregnancy. During the breastfeeding period, prolactin ensures that breast milk is produced. Researchers have been able to show that PMS syndrome and an irregular cycle in women may be connected with an increased level of prolactin.

Extracts from monk’s pepper fruit are often used to treat PMS and traditionally also menstrual cycle disorders (overly heavy or irregular menstrual bleeding). Furthermore, monk’s pepper is sometimes recommended at the beginning of the menopause when menstrual bleeding becomes increasingly irregular.

Modern herbal medicine

Modern herbal medicine (phytotherapy) combines centuries-old knowledge with the latest scientific findings.

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