Agnus Castus is one of those herbs that nearly always gets mispronounced and when I ran my health food shop, I was always getting asked for Agnes Cactus.
Agnus Castus comes from the Verbena family and comes from the Greek word for ‘chaste’ hence its more common name of chasteberry. Apparently Greek women believed that by lying on a bed of these leaves that they could preserve their chasteness, probably due to the fact that the leaves smell so bad it kept all except the most courageous man at bay. It was not only used for women as the herb was apparently effective for rheumatism and the common cold.
That aside, Agnus Castus has been used for thousands of years for a number of female productive and hormonal problems. It was used to stimulate the production of breast milk and also to regulate periods but today it is primarily used to stabilise hormones in PMS and menopause sufferers. Its main effect is to balance oestrogen and progesterone effectively, which can be difficult in this modern day and age. Our diet has never contained so many chemicals and preservatives including animal hormones, as it does today and all these will have an affect on a woman’s hormonal balance.
The chaste tree is more of a large shrub with summertime flowers. It is sprawling and can grow to 20 feet tall and across. It has large leaves about 8 centimetres across with smaller finger like leaves fanning out from the end.
The tree has a number of names, depending on where it is grown but because of the similarity to the colouration of sage leaves and cannabis it is known as the sage tree or hemp tree. It has fruit containing four seeds that are used for seasoning in a similar way to pepper. The variety used for herbal therapy is called Vitex agnus castus and has a broader leaf and is a much tougher and resilient member of the family.
It is mainly found in woodlands and dry areas in southern Europe and western Asia and because of its flowers is often used ornamentally in gardens.
Medicinal uses of agnus castus
Agnus castus primarily acts on the pituitary gland to increase the secretion of luteinising hormone (LH) which leads to increased release of progesterone in the second half of the menstrual cycle.
This action can help improve most of the symptoms of PMS such as headache, breast tenderness, fatigue, bloating and stress. It also helps regulate periods bringing them back into a 28-day cycle and reduce heavy bleeding.
If you are suffering from night sweats, hot flushes and tiredness during the menopause taking Agnus Castus is an alternative to HRT; although they should not be taken together.
Nor should it be taken if you are on the pill or other hormonal contraceptive as it can interfere with its effects. You should also not take this herb if you are pregnant as it stimulates contractions in the womb, which might trigger a miscarriage.
If you are on any prescribed medication please check with your doctor or a qualified pharmacist before taking any herbal medicine.
Men can also take Agnus castus as it may help with an enlarged prostate and also help boost sex drive.
How to take agnus castus
Agnus castus is available in Europe in a number of forms but the easiest to take are the capsules or the extract available from firms such as A.Vogel Herbals online store Agnus Castus
You should take this herb in the morning when it is the most effective and the dosage depends on the severity of the symptoms. Usually two capsules will be sufficient or 20 – 30 drops of the extract dependent on the strength of the tincture; check the label.
It can take a couple of cycles to show any improvement but persevere. After four to six months if the symptoms have improved drop the dose to half and if the symptoms remain stable after another couple of months, stop taking altogether.
British Medical Journal Study
In a study, published in the British Medical Journal, they concluded that “dry extract of agnus castus fruit is an effective and well tolerated treatment for the relief of symptoms of the premenstrual syndrome”.
The study evaluated 170 women with PMS and divided them into a placebo controlled group (84) and treatment group (86). They were treated with 20 milligram tablets of Chaste Tree extract, or placebo, for three consecutive cycles.
The main outcome measures included women’s self-assessment of irritability, mood alteration, anger, headache, breast fullness, and other menstrual symptoms including bloating.
The results showed a statistically significant improvement in the main outcome measures compared to placebo and over half of the women noted a 50% or greater improvement in their symptoms. The fact that it was well tolerated without significant side effects is an additional advantage No women discontinued the trial due to adverse effect.
As always this is not intended as medical advice. If you are suffering from any of the symptoms then please contact your doctor. My posts are based on my studies and as a practitioner for the last 18 years.
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