Chaste Tree - part 2

Uses

The regulation of female hormones can be one of the most useful purposes of the chaste berry. The chaste tree can help to balance estrogen and progesterone production by the ovaries throughout the menstrual cycle by increasing progesterogenic activity, and this is the reason why many Western herbalists prefer the chaste tree for treating menstrual problems, like for example premenstrual syndrome and the symptoms that accompany it, irregular or absent periods, and other related disorders. Among the several symptoms of PMS are bloating, tenderness and breast swelling, irritability, and depression, and these symptoms can be contained and the discomfort related to them reduced considerably with the help of the chaste berry. However, the herb must be taken for several months if one were to start to experience the benefits. Irregular periods can be regulated with the herb: while a longer cycle can be shortened, a shorter one can be lengthened. Migraine and acne, disorders related to the menstrual cycle can also be handled with the chaste berry. In cases where the woman is infertile because of decreased levels of progesterone, chaste tree can help alleviate the symptoms and increase production.

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Other medical uses

Habitat and cultivation

The chaste tree is native to the western Asia and Mediterranean region, and today it is cultivated in several different subtropical areas all around the world, and this useful tree has become naturalized in many regions of the world. The ripe berries of the chaste tree can be collected during autumn.

Horticultural literature describes two varieties of Vitex agnus-castus, one variety is alba (white lilac chaste tree) and the second one is latifolia (hardy lilac chaste tree). Vitex thrives in wet conditions, with plenty of water, but at the same time, it grows well in drier environments and conditions too. Known as tough and hardy plants, vitex sheds all its leaves during the winter months. During the spring months, however, the chaste tree can be very tender and vulnerable and susceptible to a late frost, and this means that it would have to be protected with a covering of straw or mulch in very cold areas, especially when it is a young tree.

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To propagate the chaste tree, one must put the cuttings in light, well-drained soil early in the spring before the buds of the tree begin to swell. Water them regularly and they will take root. The technique of layering can also be used with vitex. One has to be extremely careful when bending the young branches to the ground, as they have the tendency to split. Cover them with a very thin layer of soil and water them in dry weather, and they usually take root in about one year. One must set out the cuttings in March, but also be on the alert for frost. This herb has the tendency to sucker, so it would be an excellent idea to trim them to shape the shrub and concentrate the tree's energy on the fruiting shoots and top flowering.

The flowers of the chaste tree are often commended for being gloriously beautiful. They range in colors from white to lilac to blue, and they arrive during the summer or early autumn. Perhaps it is for this reason that vitex is preferred by several people: it blooms at a time when not many other flowers bloom, and it makes a lovely ornamental shrub as well.

Experts say that the vitex will not give fruit in cool coastal climates, because of the simple fact that fruiting will need the heat of the summer to develop. One must remember that the trees must be given very little water during flowering and fruiting so that fruit production is maximized greatly. Over watering the chaste tree can significantly reduce the fruit set.

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Research

According to researchers who have been investigating the chaste tree and its various properties over several years, it can be proved that the chaste tree most definitely has a certain amount of hormonal properties, which would have a distinctive effect on the body. However, researchers have not been able to isolate the exact constituents responsible for this effect. Some consider the chaste tree as having antiandrogenic properties, that is, in other words, that the chaste tree possesses properties that would inhibit the action of male androgens or sex hormones on the body, while some others, like the researchers in Germany who conducted a research in 1988 believe that the chaste tree possesses a progesterogenic effect. This means that they believed that the chaste tree would act on the pituitary glands of the body, thus regulating the menstrual cycle in a woman. The chaste tree is capable of providing relief to women suffering from PMS or premenstrual syndrome, and also in helping in improving fertility.

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Constituents

Researchers have been able to isolate those constituents in the chaste tree that are considered responsible for its medicinal effects. However, it has been ascertained that the berries contain iridoids as glycosides, like for example agnuside and aucubin . They also contain almost 1 % of flavonoids such as orientin, casticin, isovitexin, kaempferol, and quercetagetin. The flavonoid content is highest in the leaves (up to 2.7 %) and in the flowers (nearly 1.5 %). The chaste tree does not contain plant estrogens; instead, it has been found to contain progesterone, testosterone, epitestosterone, hydroxyprogesterone and androstenedione in its flowers and leaves. It is a well known fact that the chaste berry has a distinctive spicy aroma, and it is assumed that it is its essential oils that lend it this scent. The chaste berry oil also contains ingredients like monoterpenes cineol or what is known as volatile oil, and pinene, along with limonene, myrcene, eucalptol, linalool, citronellol, castine, and others, plus quite a few sesquiterpenes. Vitricine, an alkaloid, is also an important ingredient of the oil of chaste berry.

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Usual dosage

Taking 40 drops of the concentrated liquid chaste tree herbal extract mixed in a glass of water in the morning is advisable. Chaste tree can also be taken in the form of powders and capsules. These too must be taken first thing in the morning. However, it must be remembered that the chaste tree is not a fast acting herb, especially given its long term use for regulating the female hormonal systems. A woman suffering from premenstrual syndrome, or from heavy bleeding during her periods, chaste tree is a valuable option, and it can be taken continuously for almost four to six months. Those women who suffer from amenorrhea and infertility are often advised to continue treatment with chaste tree for 12 to 18 months, without stopping in between, unless pregnancy was to occur.

Side effects and cautions

There have been no real reported side effects for those taking chaste tree. However, there have been some reports of minor gastrointestinal upsets and mild skin rashes with itching in less than 2 percent of the women monitored while they were on chaste tree treatment. As is the rule, chaste tree is not recommended for women during pregnancy or during lactation.

How it works in the body

The chaste berry has specific, separate and distinct actions on men and women. Most often, the chaste berry is given to women, so that the actions of the pituitary gland may be regulated. The chemical messages sent to the pituitary gland are responsible for the regulation of the hormones in a woman's body, and the two main hormones that the chaste tree controls are estrogen and progesterone. Most disorders in the reproductive system are in effect caused by the imbalance of these two important hormones, like for example, the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome are caused by an imbalance in the hormones, and this imbalance can be effectively treated by the chaste berry. Irregular periods, menopause, and infertility can also be treated by the chaste tree. During the onset of puberty, or during the time of menopause, acne becomes a major problem, and this problem can be handled best with the help of the chaste tree. In the case of men, the chaste tree is given to depress the male androgen hormones, which are responsible for the male sex drive. However, this may not be the best option for a man, and this may be the reason why the chaste tree is rarely, if ever, given to a male.

Combinations

Synergistic herbs can either enhance the activity of the main herbs, or effectively reduce certain unwanted and undesirable side effects of the main herb. The following are some of the synergistic herbs for the chaste tree.

  • Black cohosh - This will help in reducing cramps. Most manufacturers advertise the product as possessing progesterone-like properties, but this fact has not been proven to date.
  • California poppy - This will relieve anxiety, and it has a soothing and calmative effect.
  • Cramp bark - This will help relieve cramps.
  • Dandelion - This will promote milk flow, and lend help in clearing the liver.
  • Dang gui - Will keep the blood well nourished, and will tone the female organs. Note that dang gui is not hormonal.
  • Lavender - Will help in lifting one's spirits and will strengthen the nerves. It can be used as a completely relaxing herb in baths.
  • Prickly Ash - This is a warming agent, and will help direct herbs to the interior of the body.
  • Saw palmetto - This is a genitourinary tonic. One of its main functions is to help relieve irritation.
  • St. John's Wort - Will help in relieving mild to moderate depression in an individual.
  • Valerian - Lends help in reducing cramps, and is known for its calmative impact on the body.
  • Wild yam - Will reduce cramps. Even though advertised by some manufacturers for its progesterone-like effects, this may not be true, and has never been proven.

It is a fact that most herbalists advice using a combination or a formula of different herbs for complete relief, especially for certain long term and chronic symptoms. This formula may even contain as many as twelve herbs, and it is the combination that would prove to be more effective than an individual herb. In treating premenstrual syndrome, for example, the best option would be to use a combination of several different herbs in their right proportions, as in vitex with uterine tonic herbs, such as saw palmetto, black cohosh or false unicorn root or star grass. If the disorder for which treatment is being sought is cramps, then the best option would be to add cramp bark and wild yam to the combination already detailed. It must be noted that most of these herbs can be found in herb shops, and as single as well as dry herbs and liquid tinctures. They may also be available as components of numerous formulas for women's health.

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