Monk’s Pepper – The Medicinal Plant For Women’s Complaints

Monk’s pepper can help with menstrual pain, PMS, menopause, and many other women’s ailments. The medicinal plant gently regulates the hormone balance.

Monk’s Pepper: Ancient medicinal plant

The monk’s pepper (Vitex agnus-castus) belongs to the mint family, just like many other aromatic and medicinal plants, such as basil, lavender, or sage. In contrast to these rather small perennials, the chaste tree is a shrub up to four meters high. It is distributed throughout the Mediterranean region to western Asia and feels particularly at home in water-rich areas such as coasts, rivers, and alluvial forests.

The chaste tree has been used medicinally for thousands of years. According to sources, it was already a very respected plant in ancient times. While its tough and hard twigs were used to make wicker fences, the blossoms, leaves, and seeds and above all the red-black colored, fleshy fruits (Agni casti fructus) were used for injuries and flatulence, but primarily for all kinds of gynecological problems. In addition, the fruits are served as a pepper substitute due to their spicy taste.

Chaste tree and its ritual meaning

The monk’s pepper also had a great ritual significance. The ancient Greeks used it to ward off danger, and preserve chastity, but also to increase fertility.

This is commemorated by an ancient, mysterious festival, the Thesmophoria. was celebrated in Athens in honor of the fertility goddess Demeter. It is significant that only women were allowed to take part, while the men had to finance the festival.

The flowers of the chaste tree were used by the women as jewelry, and the leaves were placed on their beds. This should aid in staying chaste during the Thesmophoria. At the same time, the women hoped that the effect of the chaste tree would increase fertility in the long term. After three days, a big banquet with dances and games was organized at the end.

The chaste tree and the lust for love

In the Middle Ages, monks and nuns used the chaste tree to suppress their lust for love, as indicated by the German terms chaste tree, chaste tree, or chaste tree. Monk’s pepper tea was drunk in the monasteries and the soft leaves served – as in ancient times – as a chaste bed.

On the other hand, the chaste tree has also been used to increase libido. How can these opposing areas of the application be reconciled? The secret is revealed below under “chaste tree: the reversal of effects”.

The ingredients

In medicine today, the fruits of the monk’s pepper are usually used. They mostly come from wild collections and are mainly imported from Albania and Morocco. The chaste tree fruits can also be used for tea. However, if you want to use the chaste tree specifically for therapeutic purposes, then extracts are much more advisable.

Dry extracts are available in capsules or tinctures. Extracts have the advantage that during production, all active ingredients are transferred in sufficient quantities to the corresponding preparations – even the insoluble or poorly soluble ones, which is not the case with tea.

The essential oil

Chaste tree fruits contain 0.15 to 1.8 percent essential oil. Its main component is the so-called terpenes, which are among the secondary plant substances and are very sparingly soluble in water, e.g. e.g.:

  • Sabinen is responsible for the peppery taste of chasteberry (and also pepper) and is anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and anti-microbial.
  • 1,8-Cineole has a bactericidal and expectorant effect on the lungs and sinuses and, according to a study at the Bonn University Hospital, can be helpful in asthma.
  • Alpha-pinene has an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effect, dilates the bronchi at low doses, and is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat cancer.

The secondary plant substances

In addition, there are a lot of other secondary plant substances in the chaste tree:

  • antioxidant flavonoids (e.g. casticin)
  • astringent (astringent) tannins
  • diterpenes
  • Iridoids or iridoid glycosides such as Aucubin and Agnusid

Aucubin has an anti-inflammatory, anti-irritant, and antibiotic effect and is e.g. B. also contained in plantain juice, which does not mold due to this active ingredient. Agnusid also has an anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.

Italian researchers from the University of Messina only demonstrated in 2017 that chaste tree is able to prevent the formation of new blood vessels in tumor cells. However, a study at the Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine has shown that agnuside has a positive effect on the immune system and can be helpful in the treatment of arthritis.

The decisive factor here is that the pharmacological effect of chaste berries is not attributed to individual active ingredients, but to the interaction of all ingredients.

Recognized medical uses

Numerous healing effects are attributed to the chaste tree, but only a few applications are considered to be reliable due to corresponding clinical studies. According to Commission E and the European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP), these include the following:

  • Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS, along with irritability and restlessness)
  • Breast tenderness (mastodynia)
  • Menstrual disorders (irregular menstrual bleeding)
  • Menstrual problems (e.g. painful periods)

Monk’s pepper has these very different effects in particular because it influences the prolactin balance. Prolactin is a hormone with numerous functions: it is responsible for the growth of the mammary gland during pregnancy and for milk secretion during lactation, during which time ovulation is also suppressed. In addition, the hormone has an effect on the psyche, because it contributes to the fact that people and animals take devoted care of their offspring (brood care).

Prolactin is produced in the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland. The release of prolactin from the pituitary gland is influenced by various other hormones and messenger substances. Estrogen, for example, promotes the release (thus increasing the prolactin level), and dopamine inhibits it (thus lowering the prolactin level).

The consequences of too high a prolactin level

If the prolactin levels are permanently elevated, although there is no pregnancy and no baby is breastfed, this can lead to health problems. Among other things, The following disorders and diseases have been associated with elevated prolactin levels.

  • inhibition of ovulation
  • Irregular or absent menstrual periods
  • endometriosis
  • Infertility or an unfulfilled desire to have children
  • hypothyroidism
  • lack of dopamine
  • Mental illness
  • Prolactinoma (benign tumor of the pituitary gland)
  • estrogen dominance
  • In men: testosterone deficiency, impotence, libido disorders

Prolactin levels that are too low are comparatively rare and can be caused by certain medications, e.g. B. be prescribed for Parkinson’s disease, be caused or indicate an underactive pituitary gland.

How does chaste tree lower prolactin levels?

Monk’s pepper inhibits prolactin release because the diterpenes it contains bind to the dopamine receptors (dopamine-2 receptors). They, therefore, have a dopamine-like effect, i.e. imitate the effect of dopamine. According to a study at the University of Göttingen, a chaste tree works just as well as dopamine in terms of prolactin inhibition.

However, the chaste tree only acts in this way when it is in the form of extracts and in high doses, e.g. B. 3 to 4 mg of a dry extract is used. In the case of 10:1 extracts, 30 to 40 mg of the drug (= the active parts of the plant) are required to produce 3 to 4 mg of dry extract. 10:1 means that 10 parts of the plant have been used for 1 part of the extract.

With extracts of this dosage, the prolactin level drops, and the estrogen and progesterone levels regulate themselves again. Only now can the FSH level rise. FSH is a hormone responsible for regular ovulation. Monk’s pepper can counteract the above-mentioned complaints via all of these mechanisms of action.

If men take chaste tree extract in the appropriate dosage, this also leads to a drop in prolactin levels. In this way, testosterone levels can be increased, which increases libido and activates sperm production.

The reversal of effect

However, the chaste tree has a completely different effect if it is taken in small doses. Because then the binding activity of the diterpenes is simply not sufficient to reduce the release of prolactin. However, it seems puzzling that as a result the prolactin release is actually slightly increased, which i.a. Researchers from the Frankfurt University Clinic have confirmed.

They treated 20 men with a different dose of chaste tree special extract every day for two weeks. While the low dose caused a significant increase in prolactin levels, the high dose resulted in reduced prolactin release.

In this context, pharmacologists speak of a reversal of the effect or of a paradoxical reaction. This also explains why the chaste tree was used in ancient times both to increase libido and to reduce it.

Since the prolactin level-lowering effect is particularly important nowadays, ready-made preparations with chaste berry are already dosed accordingly, so you generally do not have to worry about the right dose.

Chaste tree is not recommended for men

In times of Viagra and CO., in which the potency of men is written greater than ever, libido-reducing drugs are out, which is why research is not particularly concerned with them.

That is why there is no scientifically verified information regarding this traditional application of chaste tree and the corresponding low dosage. It may be that the monks in the Middle Ages resorted to very low doses of extracts or chaste tree tea.

The package inserts for chaste tree preparations even state that there is basically no area of ​​application for men, although according to studies they could also benefit from it, e.g. B. to increase fertility.

Monk’s pepper and its medicinal properties

In the following we present the most important health complaints with which chaste tree has been proven to help:

The premenstrual syndrome

The term Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) encompasses numerous symptoms that appear 4 to 14 days before the onset of menstrual bleeding. These include various physical and psychological symptoms such as cramps in the lower abdomen, headache, chest and back pain, tiredness, diarrhea, mood swings, tearfulness, etc. Every third woman of childbearing age is regularly affected. PMS is e.g. associated with excess prolactin.

The chaste tree with its prolactin-lowering effect can therefore be very helpful here. Australian researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, for example, have analyzed eleven studies in this regard. In seven of these studies, the effect of the chaste trees on PMS could be proven.

A placebo-controlled study conducted at several clinical centers, including the Peking Union Medical College Hospital, also yielded a positive result. Participants were 217 patients with moderate to severe PMS. Some of the women were treated daily with 4 mg of chaste tree extract, while others received a placebo.

The chaste tree therapy over three cycles led to a significant reduction in symptoms compared to the placebo and the symptoms could be improved by at least 60 percent.

The premenstrual dysphoria

For many women, premenstrual syndrome is also accompanied by psychological symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and depressive moods. However, if these symptoms are so pronounced that they even lead to suicidal thoughts, this is called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which is also attributed to a hormonal imbalance.

Conventional medicine often prescribes antidepressants in such cases. A study at the Università degli Studi di Catania has shown that chaste tree extract would be an ideal alternative to treat PMDD. The study involved 42 women between the ages of 18 and 49. They all had a PMDD diagnosis. The women were divided into two groups and given either 20 to 40 mg of fluoxetine (an antidepressant) or 20 to 40 mg of chaste tree extract for two months.

The researchers concluded that chaste berry extract was on par with fluoxetine in terms of potency, but without the antidepressant’s devastating side effects, such as depression. B. Anxiety, insomnia, and nervousness. The effect is also attributed to the lowering of the prolactin level.

In addition, a study by US researchers from the University of Illinois has shown that ingredients in the chaste tree not only bind to dopamine receptors, but also to opiate receptors, which could also help to relieve pain and psychological symptoms.

Monk’s pepper for menstrual pain

Not only before, but also during menstruation, many women suffer from a wide variety of complaints, such as cramping abdominal pain, headaches, nausea, a feeling of fullness, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Researchers from the Nenehatun Hospital in Turkey have now compared the effectiveness of a birth control pill (combination of active ingredients of Ethinyl estradiol and drospirenone) with that of the chaste tree for menstrual pain.

The study, which lasted three monthly cycles, involved 60 women suffering from severe menstrual pain. They were given either the pill or a chaste tree supplement. The scientists found no differences between the birth control pill and chaste berry in terms of effectiveness. But even in this case, a chaste tree is the better alternative, since the herbal remedy hardly causes any side effects.

Reduce menstrual disorders with chaste tree

There are different menstrual disorders: Bleeding can be too frequent or too infrequent, too heavy, too light, too long, or too short. They can also fail completely.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of menstrual cycle disorders and infertility in women. The disease is usually accompanied by only rare menstrual bleeding or the complete absence of menstruation. Male sex hormones predominate, while the typical female hormones (estrogen, progesterone) are sometimes rather deficient. Other consequences are severe acne, depressive moods, and hair loss.

Australian researchers from the University of Western have found that conventional medical treatment often leaves something to be desired and is associated with numerous side effects. They, therefore, put six medicinal plant extracts to the test with regard to their hormonal effects. 33 studies were analyzed. The scientists came to the conclusion that chaste trees can have a positive effect on PCOS, menstrual disorders, and increased production of male hormones.

Cycle irregularities can also occur after discontinuing hormonal contraceptives or be the result of yellow body weakness. In these two cases, too, the hormonal balance can be restored more quickly with the help of a chaste tree.

Counteract infertility with chaste tree

Childlessness can also be related to luteal insufficiency. An excess of prolactin prevents the formation of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which means that the corpus luteum cannot develop properly.

Chasteberry has traditionally been used for infertility for a long time. At the moment, this application is not yet 100% secure, but there are already studies that confirm this effect. For example, German researchers from the Medical University in Hamburg divided 52 women with luteal insufficiency and low prolactin levels into two groups. Some of the patients received 3 mg of chaste tree extract (Strotan) daily, while others received a placebo.

After three months of therapy, it was found in the women in the chaste tree group that the prolactin level had fallen and that the weakness of the corpus luteum could be corrected. Two women even became pregnant during this time. In the placebo group, on the other hand, everything stayed the same.

Complaints during menopause

Menopause also brings with it various symptoms for many women due to hormonal changes, which are referred to as menopausal syndrome. These include e.g. B. hot flashes, sweating, gastrointestinal problems, sleep disorders, mood swings, and even depression.

Menopause is not only characterized by a drop in estrogen levels, but also a drop in progesterone levels. Since the latter often falls faster and faster than the estrogen level, estrogen dominance can develop. This does not mean that the estrogen level has to be excessively high, but that the ratio between estrogen and progesterone is no longer balanced and there is too much estrogen in relation to progesterone.

Instead of a conventional medical hormone replacement therapy with many side effects, one could also try the chaste tree, which can regulate the hormone levels that have gotten out of joints. It lowers the prolactin level, which activates the body’s own production of progesterone. As a result, estrogen dominance is curbed. However, nature-identical hormone preparations are now also available that can be used to treat severe menopausal symptoms.

Hot flashes and night sweats

It can also be useful to combine different medicinal plants in order to achieve the best possible effect. Israeli researchers from the Felsenstein Medical Research Center have found that a plant extract consisting of the chaste tree, black cohosh, Chinese angelica, milk thistle, red or meadow clover, and American ginseng can significantly reduce symptoms during menopause or even make them disappear.

The double-blind, placebo-controlled study involved 55 women between the ages of 44 and 65. They all suffered from menopausal symptoms but were otherwise healthy. They took one capsule of the extract listed below twice a day.

While only a slight improvement in symptoms was registered in the placebo group, there was significant success in the extract group:

After three months of use, hot flashes were reduced by 73 percent and night sweats by 69 percent. Thanks to the combination of medicinal plants, the quality of sleep were also greatly improved. In 47 percent of the women, the hot flashes also disappeared completely. In addition, side effects were not observed in any of the study participants.

The study also found that effectiveness increased steadily over the course of three months. The reduction in hot flashes after two weeks was only 25 percent. This clearly shows that it takes a while before medicinal plants can fully develop their effects.

The plant extract used in this study is called Phyto-Female Complex and, to our knowledge, is an Israeli product that is difficult to obtain in this country. Since the composition is specified in the study, we would like to list it here so that you can possibly get a suitable remedy from your pharmacy or have it mixed or you can get the appropriate individual preparations:

Each capsule of the Phyto-Female Complex contains the following standardized extracts:

  • Black cohosh root extract, 100 mg (standardized to 2.5 percent triterpene glycosides)
  • Chinese Angelica (Angelica Sinensis) root extract, 75 mg (standardized 1 percent Ligustilide)
  • Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) herb extract, 75 mg (standardized to 80 percent silymarin)
  • Flower extract of red or meadow clover (Trifolium pratense), 50 mg (standardized to 8 percent isoflavones)
  • American Ginseng Root Extract (Panax quiquefolim), 50 mg (standardized to 25 percent ginsenosides)
  • Chaste tree (Vitex agnus castus) fruit extract, 50 mg (standardized to 5 percent vitexin)

Chaste tree in veterinary medicine

Monk’s pepper is one of those remedies that are also used in the treatment of animals – e.g. B. in fertility or behavioral disorders (aggressiveness) – have a long tradition. Today, chaste tree is considered an alternative remedy, especially for Cushing’s syndrome (CS). This particularly affects horses and ponies (Equines CS), but also dogs (Canines CS) and cats (Felines CS).

CS is a hormonal disorder of the adrenal cortex associated with high cortisol levels. A wide variety of symptoms can occur, including changes in coat, hoof problems, tendinitis, lethargy, bone problems, and/or depressive behavior.

Unfortunately, CS in animals is currently still an incurable disease, but with the right therapy, the four-legged friends affected can enjoy a symptom-free life for many years to come. Usually, the drug pergolide is administered but with some side effects. B. loss of appetite and apathy.

Studies have shown that chaste tree is an interesting alternative, whether in combination with conventional medicines or even as a sole therapy. A study at the Free University of Berlin, in which 38 horses and ponies took part, showed that the test preparation containing chasteberry could significantly improve the symptoms. Of course, the therapy must be discussed with the treating veterinarian.

Side effects, contraindications, and interactions of chasteberry

Monk’s pepper is usually very well tolerated. Rarely it can z. B. to itchy skin rashes, indigestion, or headaches. Undesirable effects usually occur right at the start of treatment.

Since the chaste tree has an effect on sex hormones, it should not be taken during puberty or during pregnancy. The same applies to existing diseases, the course of which can be influenced by sex hormones, e.g. B. Breast cancer and tumors of the pituitary gland.

It is also not recommended for breastfeeding women, as chaste tree extract can reduce milk production. However, a 2017 study at the Sabzevar University of Medical Sciences found that chaste berries may even increase milk production.

In addition, chaste tree extract is not recommended if you are taking dopamine antagonists (e.g. neuroleptics), dopamine agonists (prolactin inhibitors), estrogens and antiestrogens, as interactions can occur.

In these cases, you should consult your doctor or alternative practitioner before using chasteberry preparations.

Keep in mind that a chaste tree supplement must generally be taken for at least three months before it can develop its full potential. In addition, it is usually recommended to take the chaste tree whenever possible at the same time of the day.

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Written by Micah Stanley

Hi, I'm Micah. I am a creative Expert Freelance Dietitian Nutritionist with years of experience in counseling, recipe creation, nutrition, and content writing, product development.

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