Vitex agnus-castus is a botanical plant that has the following National Oceanographic Data Center Taxonomic Code: Kingdom, Plantae; Phylum, Tracheobionta; Class, Magnoliopsida; Order, Lamiales; Family, Verbenaceae; Genus, Vitex L.; Species, Vitex agnus-castus L. The genus name Vitex is a Latin derivation for plaiting or weaving. The species name agnus-castus combines two Latin word origins: "agnus," which means lamb, and "castitas," which means chastity (1).

V. agnus-castus is a large deciduous shrub, native to Mediterranean countries and central Asia, and is also used in America as an ornamental plant (2).

From Forensic Science and Medicine: Herbal Products: Toxicology and Clinical Pharmacology, Second Edition Edited by: T. S. Tracy and R. L. Kingston © Humana Press Inc., Totowa, NJ

V. agnus-castus has long, finger-shaped leaves and displays fragrant blue-violet flowers in midsummer. Its fruit is a very dark-purple berry that is yellowish inside, resembles a peppercorn, and has an aromatic odor. Upon ripening, the berry is picked and allowed to dry (1,3,4). The twigs of this shrub are very flexible and were used for furniture in ancient times (2).

References to V. agnus-castus go back more than 2000 years, describing it as a healing herb (2). Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used it for a variety of health problems. In 400 bce, Hippocrates recommended chaste tree for injuries and inflammation (1,2). Four centuries later, Greek botanist Dioscorides recommended V. agnus-castus specifically for inflammation of the womb and lactation (1,2). Use of V. agnus-castus continued into the Middle Ages, where folklore persists that medieval monks chewed V. agnus-castus tree parts to maintain their celibacy, used the dried berries in their food, or placed the berries in the pockets of their robes in order to reduce sexual desire; thus, the synonym of Monk's pepper (2,4,5). Use of V. agnus-castus has persisted to modern times. Though its use was initially concentrated in the Mediterranean area, its popularity has increased in England and America since the mid-1900s (2).

Traditional medicinal uses of V. agnus-castus lie predominantly around the oral ingestion of the shrub's fruit (4-6); however, other plant parts such as leaves and flowers have been used in some preparations (7,8). The dry or liquid extract of, or oils from, the berry have been used for a variety of symptoms, most commonly related to the female reproductive system (5,9,10). Other uses include the treatment of hangovers, flatulence, fevers, benign prostatic hyperplasia, nervousness, dementia, rheumatic conditions, colds, dyspepsia, spleen disorders, constipation, and promoting urination (5,10). Traditional topical medicinal uses of V. agnus-castus include acne, body inflammation, and insect bites and stings (5). Use of V. agnus-castus is not commonly employed in traditional Chinese medicine or traditional Indian medicine (Ayurveda); however, other Vitex species (negundo, trifoliata) are used in these therapies.

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