Friday, January 18, 2008

Vitex agnus-castus

Chaste Tree, or Monks’ Pepper Tree (Vitex agnus-castus) is a multi-branched deciduous shrub that can grow to 20 feet high and wide, with lavender flowers in the spring, followed by capsulized berries in early fall. It does best in areas with high summer heat, but can take cold to -10°F. In our desert climate, twice monthly watering in summer keeps it looking good. The leaves are said to resemble those of the marijuana plant.

The leaves and berries of the Chaste Tree are aromatic with a definite peppery taste. For many centuries, the berries have been an herbal remedy for menstrual maladies, and there is much evidence that it works well for that purpose. Early on, Chaste Tree berries helped monks remain celibate by reducing their sex drive, sometimes permanently. Studies have found that long-term use can cause testicular atrophy. Because it worked so well in men, it became popular as a means to assure chastity in wives of men going to battle. There’s no evidence it worked the same way for women, other than make them feel good because they were spared from bloating, cramps and mood swings.

Although popular as a small tree in other climate zones, it is not used much as a tree in the Phoenix area. I plan to keep my Chaste Tree a mid-sized shrub by regular pruning. If it’s pruned and not sheared, the shrub’s flowers are maintained. Many crafters cut the flower stalks for bunching and drying, much the same way lavender is used.


Barbara said...

This shrub is in our garden too and I like it very much. Once, during a very cold winter, it froze back but luckily it grew again. I love the blue colour, especially during the autumn months when only little blue spots can be found in the garden.
Have a nice weekend,

Julie said...

I would be the one doing the drying of the flowers! I would be very sure I had some sort of project that I would be able to do with those darn dried flowers...eventually...Ha ha ha!!!
Your busband is still in my prayers for a perfect and full recovery! Today I repotted some haworthia, and I recieved some cuttings of pothos (sp?)...they are so pretty, I may have to start a blog....LOL.

Julie said...

If you haven't decided that I am a total pain in your tush...come see me at

kate said...

I enjoyed reading about the Chaste tree - quite the history it has! The blooms are a beautiful colour and the leaves are reminiscent of marijuana ones.

I can see why the flower stalks are dried.