RESULT MAY VARY FROM PERSON TO PERSON
Chaste tree is a large shrub (up to twenty-two feet tall) native to the Mediterranean and southern Europe. Although it flourishes on moist riverbanks, it is easily grown as an ornamental plant in American gardens, where its attractive blue-violet flowers are appreciated in midsummer.
Medieval monks were said to use the dried berries in their food to reduce sexual desire. As a result, it was also referred to as “monks’ pepper.”
Although Hippocrates used chaste tree for injuries and inflammation, several centuries later Dioscorides recommended it specifically for inflammation of the womb and also used it to encourage milk flow shortly after birth.
Current use of chasteberry is almost exclusively for disorders of the female reproductive system.
Oddly, the conditions for which it is most commonly recommended, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and peri- or postmenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, are associated with completely different hormone imbalances.
Two authors publishing the results of a survey of medical herbalists were led by this observation to suggest that chaste tree should be considered an adaptogen, possibly affecting the pituitary gland.
Usually the dried berries are the part of the plant used. In some Mediterranean countries, leaves and flowering tops are also harvested and dried for use.
Animal research has shown that extracts of chaste tree berry have an effect on the pituitary gland of rats, reducing prolactin secretion. This has the impact of reducing milk production, exactly the opposite effect suggested by some of the ancient texts.
As a result of these studies, chaste tree has been suggested to treat conditions associated with excess prolactin. In a clinical trial of chasteberry for menstrual cycle abnormalities attributed to too much prolactin, the herb normalized both the cycle and the levels of prolactin and progesterone hormones.
It is also believed helpful for premenstrual breast tenderness, a condition linked to excess prolactin.
Several uncontrolled studies in Germany have shown that chaste tree extracts can reduce symp-toms associated with PMS. In one of these studies, the investigators reported higher blood levels of progesterone as a result of treatment.
If chaste tree can normalize hormone levels, it may be helpful for perimenopausal women with unusually short cycles or heavy bleeding. Dr. Susan Love considers that it may be worth a try.
These practitioners also prescribe it for female infertility, but there are no data to indicate if chaste tree is helpful for this problem.
Although studies are lacking, the antiandrogenic effect of chaste tree berry is the rationale behind the use of this herb to treat acne in both men and women and its very occasional use to reduce an overactive libido.