- Chaste Tree Propagation – Knowledgebase Question
- How to Propagate Vitex
- Vitex Tree Overview
- Caring for Your Vitex Tree
- Chaste Tree Info: Tips On Chaste Tree Cultivation And Care
- Chaste Tree Info
- Chaste Tree Cultivation
- Vitex agnus-castus
- A Plethora of Purposes
- Happy to Reproduce (And Where to Buy)
- In the Dark of Night
- A Hard Prune, And That’s About It
- Maybe, Maybe Not
- Big or Small, It’s a Keeper
- Planting and Care
- Vitex Agnus-Castus: Which Benefits of Chasteberry Are Backed by Science?
- A short history of Vitex agnus-castus
- Association with premenstrual symptoms
- Association with cycle regularity
- Biology of agnus-castus
Chaste Tree Propagation – Knowledgebase Question
The rate of growth really depends upon the environmental conditions. If you’ve had success with both cuttings and seed germination, I’d say you’re on the right track. Seedlings (or cuttings) can be weak and lanky if they don’t get enough light, or if they need feeding. Spring is best for seed starting; early to mid-summer for cuttings. Dip the cut ends in rooting hormone and set them in a pot or tray of moistened potting soil. Keep the soil moist but not soggy wet and set the tray or pot in bright shade (no direct sunlight) for 2-3 weeks. Then move the tray to an area that will get filtered morning sunlight; wait 2-3 weeks and move it to where it will get an hour of direct morning sun. As the plants adjust, continue moving them into more and more sun. Eventually they will be able to take all day sunshine which will make them sturdy rather than lanky. You’ll need to repot when the roots run out of growing room. When they’re getting 4 hours of direct sunshine begin feeding them with a 10-20-20 (liquid form, diluted to half strength). Apply every 2-weeks. This formula is low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus and potassium which will encourage root and stem growth. By the end of the summer they should be large enough to be planted in their permanent locations.
Best wishes with your project!
How to Propagate Vitex
Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus) is a lovely deciduous tree that will grow to heights of 10 to 20 feet and will spread out nearly as far. The clusters of purple flowers that appear in late spring are strikingly beautiful and will attract honeybees, butterflies and hummingbirds to the landscape. Vitex, also known as chaste tree, can be propagated by taking softwood cuttings in late spring or early summer. Take several cuttings, because some cuttings might not root successfully.
Fill a container with coarse sand that has been moistened ahead of time. Any container with at least one drainage hole in the bottom will work.
Test a vitex stem to be sure it’s at the softwood stage. If the stem is at the proper stage, it will break with a snap when you bend it. If the stem is too young, it will bend easily but won’t break. If the stem is too old, it won’t bend at all.
Cut a 4-inch to 6-inch stem from a healthy vitex plant, using a sharp knife or pruners. The cut should be made just below a set of leaves or buds.
Remove leaves from the lower half of the stem. Dip the bottom inch of the stem in powdered or liquid rooting hormone. Use a pencil to make a hole in the damp sand, and plant the stem cutting. It’s beneficial to plant several cuttings in the same container because the stems will share the hormones in the soil. Just be sure the stems don’t touch.
Place a clear plastic bag over the container. Put the container in bright, indirect light. Avoid putting the container directly in a sunny window, because the sun will magnify through the plastic, making it hot enough to scorch the cutting.
Check the sand daily; mist inside the bag if the sand feels dry to the touch. The sand should never be allowed to dry out, but should be kept just lightly moist. Too much moisture can cause the stems to rot.
Check for roots in about four to five weeks by removing one or two cuttings from the soil with a spoon. If the cuttings haven’t rooted, check again after another two weeks.
Remove the plastic bag when the vitex stems have taken root. After seven to 10 days, plant each cutting in a 4-inch to 6-inch container filled with commercial potting mixture.
Allow the vitex to mature for a few more weeks, then plant the vitex outdoors in a spot where the shrub will be protected from cold winds and hot sunlight. After two years, plant the shrub in its permanent home.
The vitex tree can be grown as a tree or shrub and features beautiful fragrant lilac flowers that bloom throughout the summer. It grows easily, to the point of becoming invasive in some areas, to heights of between 15 and 20 feet. The foliage of the tree resembles the cannabis plant, with five leaflets splayed out like an open hand. The leaves have a similar scent to that of sage.
Used in ancient times to preserve the chastity of maidens, the plant is now cultivated for its dried leaves and fruits, which are used to make ‘agnus castus>,’ an herbal remedy to alleviate menstrual symptoms and help with acne.
Vitex Tree Overview
|Origin||Western Asia and the Mediterranean|
|Scientific Name||Vitex agnus-castus|
|Type||Evergreen or deciduous trees and shrubs|
|Common Names||Vitex tree, Chaste tree, Chasteberry, Monk’s Pepper, Hemp tree, Cloister Pepper|
|Height||Up to 20 feet|
|Pests||Aphids and whitefly|
Vitex agnus-castus ‘Abbeville Blue’ – Credit to nestmaker
This cultivar grows to around 6 feet in height, with a similar-sized spread. It features deep blue flowers on spikes that range from 12 to 18 inches long.
Vitex agnus-castus ‘Alba’ – Credit toKrzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz
This variety of vitex grows rapidly to heights of 15 feet, with a maximum spread of 20 feet. It features white blooms.
Vitex agnus-castus ‘Shoal Creek’ – Credit to moccasinlanding
This is one of the more common vitex trees you will see, typically growing to 15 feet tall. Its flowers are purple-blue, and the foliage of the tree is leaf spot-resistant (Clemson University Cooperative Extension).
This compact variety grows well as a shrub, as it reaches heights of just 3 feet, and is wider than it is tall with a spread of 4 feet. It is a relatively new cultivar, introduced in 2016, and features dainty blue flowers (North Carolina State University Extension).
The flowers of this vitex plant are pink and heavily scented. It grows up to 15 feet tall and 15 feet wide.
Caring for Your Vitex Tree
The vitex tree is drought-tolerant, and once it is mature, you will probably never need to water it again. It will survive just fine on rainwater alone, though during long periods of drought, you might like to supplement the tree with occasional watering.
This plant does not like to be grown in moist conditions, and in fact, it is one of the few things that the vitex tree will not tolerate. To help ensure the tree is never sat in soggy soil, it should be well-draining. Native soil usually works well as the vitex tree isn’t interested in having rich or fertile soil, but if it is not well-draining, you could add sand or gravel to assist with this.
Refrain from using soil with rich compost as this tends to hold onto moisture near the roots, and the tree won’t thank you for it. The vitex tree is unconcerned by alkaline or acidic soil, and will also grow well in poor-quality soil so long as it drains well.
The vitex tree enjoys full sun conditions but can also grow well in partial shade. Aim to provide the plant with at least 6 hours of sun a day to ensure prolific blooming. If you don’t have a full-sun position available for the vitex tree, sit it in a spot where it will receive morning sun and afternoon shade. This will help to offer the plant some relief during the hottest portion of the day.
Most varieties of vitex trees are hardy from USDA growing zones 6 through 9, though some varieties can grow in zone 5. The plant is not frost-tolerant and may die back each winter in colder areas, though do not worry as it grows well from roots and will bounce back in the spring.
Some gardening experts recommend pruning the plant back to ground level before the first anticipated frost, and mulching it over. This will help to insulate the roots and protect them from freezing during winter, therefore ensuring the plant is healthy enough to resume growth in spring. This is a good technique to employ, but in most cases, the vitex tree will survive even if you make no attempts to protect it through winter.
Pruning the tree back to ground level each year also helps to control its size, as it does have a habit of getting out of control.
The vitex tree propagates easily by itself by reseeding. Spent blooms develop into berries that contain seeds, and new vitex trees will appear wherever the berries have fallen. If you are happy to have more vitex trees growing randomly around your garden, then be sure to leave the spent flowers on the tree to do their own thing.
Some people find that the plant reseeds so well to the point that it becomes invasive in their garden. If you want to prevent the self-seeding, you should remove flowers as soon as they are spent. Deadheading will also help to encourage a longer blooming period, so the benefit of this effort is two-fold.
To propagate the vitex tree more intentionally, you can grow the plant from seed or from stem cuttings. Sow seeds directly outside after the last frost, or get a head start by sowing the seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last expected frost.
Seeds have a good success rate, but the weakest seedlings should be thinned out, allowing only the strongest to continue growing into a tree. Ensure soil is kept slightly moist until the plants are established.
Propagation from stem cuttings is also an easy process with vitex trees. You will need to locate a softwood cutting from your plant of 4 to 6 inches long. Softwood cuttings are those that are neither brand new nor old. To find out if you have correctly identified softwood, simply bend the stem to see how it reacts to the pressure.
New stems will bend easily, whereas old stems will resist being bent. Softwood stems should snap in response to bending, and these are the stems you need for propagation. Remove the lower leaves from your stem, dip the cut end in rooting hormone, and then set it into a soilless potting medium. Tuck it in well, then cover it in a plastic bag or container to mimic the conditions of a greenhouse. Set the cutting in bright indirect light, keeping the potting mix moist.
Roots should develop in around 4 to 6 weeks, at which point you can remove the plastic bag or container and transplant the cutting to a larger pot. Allow these new plants to develop over the coming months, planting the tree outside in spring.
The vitex tree responds well to heavy pruning, and you will likely need to prune annually if you want to keep your tree looking neat, as it does tend to grow to be quite wild looking. You can prune the plant to look however you wish, either as a shrub or as a tree by removing all but one of the main lower trunks.
Perform your annual pruning in late fall, or early winter, either cutting the tree back to ground level or heavily cutting it back to control growth and keep it neat. Cut away weak or spindly central branches to keep the main part of the tree from becoming too dense>; this will allow light to penetrate the branches and encourage airflow, both of which will result in a healthier tree.
Remove any low hanging branches as this will make lawn maintenance much easier and give an overall neater look. It will also mean you can grow smaller plants underneath the shade the tree offers. Throughout the year, you should prune the tree by deadheading any spent flowers. This will help to encourage more blooms, and will also prevent the plant from reseeding. Some people recommend completely pruning back flower spikes when they are spent in summer, as this can encourage the vitex tree to continue blooming right through fall.
The flowers of the vitex tree appear on long spikes and bloom from spring through fall. They are typically a purple-blue color, but some varieties grow pink and white flowers. The blooms have a pleasant scent and are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators. Once spent, the flowers develop into dark berries, which also have a pleasing fragrance. Each berry contains four seeds that resemble peppercorns.
The dried leaves and fruits of this plant have long been used as an herbal remedy. In ancient times, it was said to suppress libido, which is how the plant earned the common names of chaste tree and chasteberry, as it was said to preserve the virginity of maidens. It was also supposed to help monks stick to their vow of chastity, earning it another common name of monk’s pepper. The plant is now used to help alleviate women’s menstrual symptoms and is known as agnus castus.
Chaste Tree Info: Tips On Chaste Tree Cultivation And Care
Vitex (chaste tree, Vitex agnus-castus) blooms from late spring until early fall with long, upright spikes of pink, lilac and white flowers. Any shrub or tree that blooms all summer is well worth planting, but when it also has pleasantly fragrant flowers and foliage, it becomes a must-have plant. Chaste tree garden care is easy, but there are a few care essentials you need to know to get the most from this outstanding plant.
Chaste Tree Info
The chaste tree is a native of China, but it has a long history in the U.S. It was first cultivated in 1670, and since that time it has become naturalized throughout the Southern part of the country. Many southerners use it as a replacement for lilacs, which don’t tolerate hot summers.
Chaste trees, which are considered shrubs or small trees, grow 15 to 20 feet tall with a spread of 10 to 15 feet. It attracts butterflies and bees, and it makes an excellent honey plant. Wildlife shuns the seeds, and it’s just as well because you’ll have to remove the flower spikes before they go to seed to keep the plant flowering.
Chaste Tree Cultivation
Chaste trees need full sun and very well-drained soil. It’s best not to plant them in soil that is rich in organic matter because organically rich soils hold too much moisture close to the roots. Chaste trees do very well in xeric gardens where water is scarce.
Once established, you’ll probably never have to water a chaste tree. Inorganic mulch, such as pebbles or stones, allows the soil to dry between rains. Avoid using organic mulches such as bark, shredded wood or straw. Fertilize the plant every year or two with general-purpose fertilizer.
Chaste trees freeze and die back to ground level during severe weather. This isn’t a cause for concern because they regrow quickly from the roots. Nurseries sometimes prune the plant into a small tree by removing some of the main stems and all of the lower branches; but when it regrows, it will be a multi-stemmed shrub.
You’ll need to prune annually to control the shape and size and encourage branching. In addition, you should remove the flower spikes when the blossoms fade. Allowing the seeds that follow the flowers to mature reduces the number of flower spikes late in the season.
Vitex is one of the most liberally reseeding plants I have ever grown.
In an interesting twist, it got a couple of its nicknames — chaste plant and monk’s pepper — from old beliefs that utilizing potions made from the plant’s berries helped maidens remain maidenly, and helped monks adhere to their vows of chastity.
Hardy in zones 6-9, V. agnus-castus is sometimes referred to as “lilac of the South” because its beautiful, 5- to 12-inch purple, lavender, off-white, or light pink flower spikes resemble those of lilac. Other nicknames include sage tree, and Indian spice vitex.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.
Yet another nickname, hemp tree, stems from the appearance of plant’s leaves, which resemble those of the cannabis plant. Fortunately, the DEA has never beat down my door.
This butterfly-attractor can be pruned into shrub form, or allowed to reach tree heights — 15 to 20 feet — with a spread as wide as 10 to 15 feet. As a tree, expect it to be multi-trunked and vase-shaped, similar to crape myrtle.
Native to China and India, V. agnus-castus has been planted in the United States for many years, and this fast-growing and deer-resistant plant has even naturalized in the southern United States.
Here’s what’s to come in this article:
Let’s take a look at the history and growing habits of this attractive plant, so you can grow your own.
A Plethora of Purposes
Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans ascribed many healing powers to the seeds of vitex, mostly gastrointestinal.
And as I mentioned above, vitex has long been associated with sexual passion, or rather, a lack of it. Ancients put the leaves in the beds of maidens whose maidenhood they wished to preserve.
Today, some women take vitex-containing supplements to ease symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome. Other people take it to curb acne.
Happy to Reproduce (And Where to Buy)
Vitex loves hot and dry growing conditions. It wants full sun and well-draining soil — either acidic or alkaline.
We planted ours in native soil mixed with leftover builder dirt, with nothing special added in. The area where we planted it — that strip between the sidewalk and street common in suburban neighborhoods — was formerly home to St. Augustine grass.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.
At the top of this article, I mentioned that vitex reseeds generously. In actuality, I would go so far as to say it’s invasive.
Ours have multiplied all over the stinkin’ place.
If you don’t cut the spent blooms off, the plant will form attractive berries, which contain seeds that are more than happy to make more vitex plants wherever they fall.
With that in mind, if you’re thinking you want to add vitex to your landscape, you can buy nursery starts in containers of varying sizes.
Purple flowering plants are available in #3 or #5 containers from Nature Hills Nursery.
This traditional chaste tree specimen has a mature height and spread of 15-25 feet. This variety can be grown in zones 5-9.
Looking for something a little smaller? The ‘Blue Puffball’ cultivar is perfect for growing as a shrub. And live plants are available from Nature Hills Nursery.
V. agnus-castus ‘PIIVAC-Il’
It will reach a maximum height and spread of 3-4 feet, and is available in #1 or #3 containers. It can be grown in zones 6-9.
The ‘Pink Pinnacle’ cultivar is also available exclusively from Nature Hills.
V. agnus-castus ‘V07-SC-OP-4’
These are available in #3 containers, and will reach a mature height and spread of 3-4 feet. This pink variety will grow well in zones 6-9.
‘Shoal Creek’ is another new cultivar with violet-blue flower spikes, and it’s available from Nature Hills.
‘Shoal Creek’ Chaste Tree
It will reach a max height and spread of 10-12 feet, and plants are available in #3 containers. It grows best in zones 6-9.
If you’d prefer to plant seeds, consider these, also available via Amazon.
V. Agnus-Castus, 25 Seeds
You’ll receive 25 seeds.
In the Dark of Night
You can also propagate vitex from cuttings.
To do this, steal a 4- to 6-inch softwood cutting from your neighbor’s plant in late spring or early summer. It’s important that you choose a piece of stem that’s neither brand new, nor fully mature.
You can determine this by bending a stem. It if breaks with a snap, bingo! Softwood. If it bends but does not break, that section is too immature. If the stem doesn’t bend at all, it is hardwood and not suitable for propagation.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.
Prepare a destination container by filling it with a soilless mix containing a good bit of perlite, moistening the mix, and dipping a pencil into the mix to create a hole for your cutting.
Make sure the end of your propagation piece is cleanly cut, remove the lower leaves, and then dip it in rooting hormone — liquid or powder.
Place the cutting in the prepared container and gently press the potting mix up against the stem. Place a plastic dome, if you have one, or a clear plastic bag over the container and place it in bright, indirect light to create a miniature greenhouse.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.
Check the cutting daily, adding a bit of water if the potting mix feels dry. After four to five weeks, check for roots by either seeing if any are peeking out of the holes in the bottom of the container, or gently lifting the plant out of the container.
When you see roots, you can remove the plastic, and transfer to a larger container filled with 80 percent soil and 20 percent perlite.
Leave the starts in their pots for several months, and then transplant to the garden the following spring.
A Hard Prune, And That’s About It
Experts say this deciduous plant should be cut to the ground every winter to keep it a manageable size. That doesn’t happen at my house. We have a hard enough time just keeping it off the sidewalk, so it doesn’t annoy passersby.
Prune as you like for shape — into a full shrub, or more tree-like. Ours sends up these crazy, skinny, long, top-heavy canes from the base; we whack those off because they look stupid, and they fall over into the sidewalk or into the street where my son parks his car. Our car.
Photo by Gretchen Heber.
The literature will tell you to water vitex infrequently but deeply from April to October. I guess if you count the five or so rainfalls we might get during that time in Austin, then that’s what ours gets.
We give it no supplemental water and no fertilizer. And yet, it’s unstoppable.
If your vitex looks like it needs a little pick-me-up, give it a dose of 10-10-10 fertilizer in early spring and in early summer.
Maybe, Maybe Not
Although our V. agnus-castus plants have never been bothered by pests or diseases, other gardners have had to watch out for a few problems.
If you see aphids, trying blasting them away with water, or try an insecticidal soap such as this one, available on Amazon from Garden Safe.
Garden Safe Houseplant and Garden Insect Killer, 24-Ounce Spray
This 24-ounce spray bottle is ready to use.
Scale can also be water-blasted off, or you can use neem oil to smother them. Consider this ready-to-use neem oil from Bayer Advanced, available via Amazon.
Bayer Advanced Natria Neem Oil Concentrate, 24 Oz.
This potion is also effective against whiteflies, which some gardeners have reported seeing on vitex.
Big or Small, It’s a Keeper
If you have a large space that needs filling quickly, or if you’re diligent with the pruners, vitex might be a good choice for you.
This fast-grower can be kept trimmed to bush size or allowed to grow into a multi-trunked, vase-shaped tree. Either way, you’ll be rewarded with attractive, lilac-like boom spikes all summer long.
Have you ever grown V. agnus-castus? Which of its many nicknames does it go by in your neighborhood? Tell us in the comments section below. If you’d like to try your hand at another shrub-slash-tree, consider Chinese fringe flower.
Photos by Gretchen Heber © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Nature Hills Nursery, Jon Valley, Garden Safe, and Bayer. Uncredited photos: .
The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.
About Gretchen Heber
A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.
Chastetree (Vitex agnus-castus) photo by the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
Found in gardens across the country, chastetree, or vitex, (Vitex agnus-castus) is a large, deciduous flowering shrub or small tree. It puts on a show from late spring through fall with its beautiful bluish-purple flowers clustered along tall spikes.
The curious name, “chastetree” finds its roots in a Roman book, Naturalis Historia. This early natural history text was written in the first century AD. The author was Pliny the Elder, a noted naturalist, writer, and military commander of the early Roman empire. He notes that women in Athens kept branches of the tree under their beds during the feast of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain, and fertility. These young women believe the leaves of the plant would help them remain pure, thus the “chastetree”. Pliny also notes the origin of another of this plant’s names: vitex. The name vitex comes from the Latin vieo, meaning to weave. Pliny believed this name was connected to the tree’s use in Roman basket weaving.
Chastetree features sage-scented gray-green leaves. These soft colors make it a good background for other, brighter landscape plants. It can be planted wherever a smaller tree might enhance the landscape, even in a planter! The compound leaves and gray bark also make this plant a beautiful addition to a shrubbery border.
The wide variety of chastetree cultivars offer a choice in flower color. ‘Silver Spire’ and ‘Alba’ have white flowers while ‘Rosea’ has pink flowers. ‘Shoal Creek’ boasts show-stopping purple blooms while ‘Purpurea’ cultivars have delicate lilac flowers.
Another interesting feature of the chastetree is its ability to attract wildlife. Although not a Florida native species, native butterflies and hummingbirds feed on the nectar. Its tasty seeds will even attract small birds. It is also attractive to bees and encourages excellent honey production in neighboring hives.
Planting and Care
Florida gardeners should plant chastetree in full sun or partial shade. Be sure to leave it room to grow, since this vase-shaped plant can reach 10 to 15 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide. Plants develop low, drooping branches when left unpruned. If you have a specific shape in mind, some pruning may be necessary.
Chastetree is deciduous and may lose its leaves after a cold frost. This should not worry gardeners. It will not remain bare for long, thanks to a fast growth rate. Harder freezes may result in some dieback and damage but thankfully for gardeners from Pensacola to Miami this plant is cold-hardy in zones 7b-11. These trees are also highly drought tolerant once they’ve adjusted to their new location and are also fairly tolerant of salt spray.
In your landscape this plant will grow best in loose, well-drained soil that is a bit on the dry side. In organic, mucky, or moist soils chastetree can suffer from dieback and root rot. It has no major pest concerns and, aside from leaf spot, suffers from no common plant diseases.
Chastetree is a non-native species but is not considered invasive by the UF/IFAS assessment of non-native plants. Still, seeds may colonize nearby landscape beds and become weedy. If you’d like more of this attractive plant in your landscaping, these seedlings can be moved to a better location. Chastetree can also be reproduced by cuttings.
- Vitex agnus-castus — IFAS Assessment of Non-native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas
- Vitex agnus-castus – Chastetree
Also on Gardening Solutions
- Purple Plants
Vitex Agnus-Castus: Which Benefits of Chasteberry Are Backed by Science?
Vitex agnus-castus is particularly known for its ability to improve conditions affecting a woman’s reproductive system.
Eases symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
One of the most popular and well-researched attributes of Vitex agnus-castus is its ability to reduce symptoms of PMS.
- depressed mood
- breast pain and tenderness
Researchers believe that vitex works by decreasing levels of the hormone prolactin. This helps rebalance other hormones, including estrogen and progesterone — thus reducing PMS symptoms (4).
In one study, women with PMS took Vitex agnus-castus during three consecutive menstrual cycles. In total, 93 percent of those given vitex reported a decrease in PMS symptoms, including:
However, the study didn’t include a control group, and placebo effects can’t be ruled out (5).
In two smaller studies, women with PMS were given 20 mg of Vitex agnus-castus per day or a placebo for three menstrual cycles.
Twice as many women in the vitex group reported a decrease in symptoms including irritability, mood swings, headaches and breast fullness, compared to those given the placebo (6, 7).
Vitex agnus-castus also appears to help reduce cyclic mastalgia, a type of breast pain linked to menstruation. Research suggests that it may be as effective as common drug treatment — but with far fewer side effects (8, 9, 10).
However, two recent reviews report that although vitex appears helpful in reducing PMS symptoms, its benefits may be overestimated (11, 12, 13).
Better-designed studies may be needed before strong conclusions can be made.
May reduce menopause symptoms
The hormone-balancing effects of Vitex agnus-castus may also help relieve symptoms of menopause.
In one study, vitex oils were given to 23 women in menopause. Women reported improved menopause symptoms, including better mood and sleep. Some even regained their period (14).
In a follow-up study 52 additional pre- and postmenopausal women were given a vitex cream. Of the study participants, 33 percent experienced major improvements, and another 36 percent reported moderate improvements in symptoms, including night sweats and hot flashes (14).
However, not all studies have observed benefits. One recent and larger double-blind, randomized, controlled trial — the gold standard in research — gave women a placebo or a daily tablet containing a combination of vitex and St. John’s wort.
After 16 weeks, the vitex supplement was no more effective than the placebo at reducing hot flashes, depression or any other menopausal symptoms (15).
Keep in mind that in many studies reporting benefits, women were provided with supplements that mixed Vitex agnus-castus with other herbs. Therefore, it’s difficult to isolate the effects of vitex alone (16).
May enhance fertility
Vitex may improve female fertility due to its possible effect on prolactin levels (17).
This may be especially true in women with luteal phase defect, or a shortened second half of the menstrual cycle. This disorder is linked to abnormally high prolactin levels and makes it difficult for women to become pregnant.
In one study, 40 women with abnormally high prolactin levels were given either 40 mg of Vitex agnus-castus or a pharmaceutical drug. Vitex was as effective as the drug in reducing prolactin levels (18).
In another study in 52 women with luteal phase defect, 20 mg of vitex resulted in lower prolactin levels and prolonged menstrual phases, while participants given a placebo saw no benefits (19).
Yet another study gave 93 women — who had unsuccessfully tried to become pregnant over the last 6–36 months — a supplement containing Vitex agnus-castus or a placebo.
After three months, women in the vitex group experienced an improved hormone balance — and 26 percent of them became pregnant. In comparison, only 10 percent of those in the placebo group became pregnant (20).
Keep in mind that the supplement held a mix of other ingredients, making it difficult to isolate the effects of vitex.
Irregular periods can also hamper women in planning a pregnancy. Three additional studies report that vitex is more effective than a placebo in improving menstrual cycles in women with irregular periods (21, 22, 19).
Summary Vitex agnus-castus may reduce symptoms of PMS and menopause, though study results are mixed. By potentially decreasing prolactin hormone levels and stabilizing menstrual periods, it may also enhance fertility.
Most people with a cycle will experience premenstrual symptoms. These can be positive or negative, although roughly 4 in 10 people will require treatment for negative symptoms and between 3 to 8 in 100 will experience severe enough symptoms to be diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) (1,2).
Many people also experience cycle irregularities. Falling outside the “standard” 28 day cycle with 3–5 days of bleeding isn’t uncommon (3), but in some cases irregularity can negatively affect a person’s health and become a cause for concern.
For premenstrual symptoms, people are sometimes prescribed combined oral contraceptives (COCs) or certain antidepressants, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (1). COCs are also sometimes prescribed for cycle irregularities (4) and people who experience cycle irregularities due to polycystic ovary syndrome may be prescribed drugs that stimulate ovulation (5). Although these treatments can be useful for menstrual problems, these drugs do come with negative side effects and don’t always treat all symptoms (6,7).
Outside of pharmaceutical medicines, extract from Vitex agnus-castus, also known as just agnus-castus or, in simple English, chaste tree, is a popular remedy for premenstrual symptoms and cycle irregularity in Europe and the United States (1,2,8). Drugs containing agnus-castus extract have been approved by The German Commission E (9) for the treatment of premenstrual symptoms and cycle irregularities and many forms of the extract are available for purchase in other countries.
A short history of Vitex agnus-castus
Agnus-castus is a short, berry-bearing shrub that grows naturally in Greece, Italy and parts of the Middle East. It has been used since antiquity throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa to treat a variety of problems, including amenorrhea (when menstruation stops) and to promote fertility (by encouraging regular ovulation). Medicine from agnus-castus is made from the berry. Modern scientists began testing its effectiveness in treating problems related to menstruation and menopause in the early 1900s, a study that continues today (8).
Association with premenstrual symptoms
Agnus-castus extract is effective at preventing many symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and PMDD in comparison with a placebo and other treatments for premenstrual syndromes across different races and ethnicities (2,10–17). Agnus-castus extract may best treat breast tenderness, as this symptom improves at a lower dose compared with other PMS symptoms (15).
In studies using a placebo comparison, which means some people were given agnus-castus and others were given a fake medicine with no effect (i.e. a placebo), agnus-castus significantly reduced both the severity and presence of PMS symptoms compared with the placebo (2,12,15). This suggests that people taking agnus-castus were actually improving (and not just thinking they were, which is known as the “placebo effect”).
In two studies comparing agnus-castus extract with fluoxetine, one type of SSRI or antidepressant, agnus-castus was not as good at treating some or all symptoms (2,18,19), but it did help to improve symptoms (2,18,19).
These studies suggest that agnus-castus may not be as strong as traditional pharmaceutical treatments, but still has a beneficial effect on negative premenstrual symptoms.
Medicines containing agnus-castus extract are well-tolerated and seem to produce few side effects (2,9,13,15,18). In a large open-enrollment study without a placebo, the most common side effects were skin problems, such as itchiness and some mild gastrointestinal symptoms (13). In a review study of the side effects of agnus-castus, the authors found that some people experienced rashes, nausea or changes to their menstrual cycle (9). These side effects were generally rare and participants and healthcare professionals in most studies reported that side effects are, at worst, mild (2) and stop upon discontinuation (9).
In one study, 6 in 10 participants said they would continue using an effective dosage of the extract after 3 months (15). This suggests the benefits from the extract outweighed the negative side effects for these participants.
Association with cycle regularity
Agnus-castus may improve cycle regularity in some people. In studies comparing agnus-castus extract to a placebo, agnus-castus led to improved cycle regularity in people with irregular periods or hyperprolactinemia (5). In these subgroups, the length of the luteal phase was increased by agnus-castus (5). This is important because a shortened luteal phase is associated with decreased fertility and period irregularity via progesterone insufficiency (5,20). More and larger studies are needed to confirm these findings, but studies using animal models have found similar results (5).
Agnus-castus may also cause irregularities in people with regular cycles, though this has been rarely reported in clinical trials (9).
Biology of agnus-castus
The primary way agnus-castus affects the menstrual cycle is by stimulating dopamine receptors in the brain (2,9–11,21). Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects many bodily processes, including alertness (22) and hormone release (11). Agnus-castus binds to dopamine receptors in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland (1). This can lead to a decrease in the release of the hormone prolactin (9–11), among other hormones. Prolactin is the primary hormone responsible for promoting lactation, or the creation of milk in pregnant and postpartum people (11). Your body releases this hormone during the luteal phase in order to prepare your body for pregnancy if one should occur during your cycle (2).
Prolactin release is one of the reasons people may experience enlarged, swollen or tender breasts approaching menstruation (2). When prolactin levels are especially high, a person may be diagnosed with hyperprolactinaemia (5). Hyperprolactinaemia is associated with decreased progesterone, another important reproductive hormone. Some people may experience infertility due to decreased progesterone because progesterone is important for fetal development (2).
When agnus-castus stimulates dopamine receptors, this, theoretically, decreases the amount of prolactin produced, leading to a decrease in premenstrual syndromes and possible changes to progesterone levels (9–11). These changes to progesterone levels may also affect the length of the luteal phase and affect cycle irregularity (20).
If you think that you’d like to add agnus-castus to your healthcare routine, talk to your healthcare provider to make sure it’s a good fit for you. Because of this dopaminergic effect, people using dopamine antagonists, or drugs that are meant to reduce dopamine stimulation, should talk to a healthcare provider before using agnus-castus to make sure there are no interactions.
If you decide to try agnus-castus extract in some form, you can use Clue to track if and how agnus-castus affects your menstrual-cycle experience.