By Coy Domecq
The word chaste, among other definitions, refers to something that is plain, unadorned, or austere. In this regard, the Chaste Tree, actually usually considered a woody shrub, is not any of these things. The Chaste Trees (Vitex sp.) planted in this area are currently bursting with fragrant spiky lilac-purple-lavender blooms that draw the all-important pollinators with irresistible attraction. When in bloom, the plant is very literally abuzz with bees and adorned with butterflies. Upon inspection, our insect friends at work are intently focused harvesting the nectars and pollens the flowers offer. These trees are so visually astounding that the botanical bon vivant Thomas Jefferson planted nine rows of Vitex agnus-castus at Monticello in 1807.
In addition to being a grand landscape specimen, Vitex has been used for great medicinal benefit by both Europeans and Asians. As far back as 2,000 years ago, Vitex was recorded as a health remedy. The Europeans favored Vitex agnus-castus and Asian/Indian populations primarily utilized Vitex negundo. Both of these plants are within the Verbena family. It is reported that V. negundo has a higher potency than its European cousin. The negundo species is planted as herbal remedy sources in Southern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It has a strong history of use as a hormone balancer to moderate menstrual discomfort and associated symptoms as water retention, cramps, and depression. It even served to temper the symptoms of menopause. Referencing temperance, the Vitex extract was also used to quell sexual libido in men. Notably, the concoction was supplied to monks, hence the name Chaste Tee. A preparation from the seeds is used as a contraceptive in some societies. Other uses include treatment as a vermifuge, cold remedy, headaches, dizziness, and watery eyes to name but a few of the conditions treated by this miracle plant. Modern investigation reveals use as an adjunctive treatment for breast cancer. Further medical research focuses on determining the efficacy of such treatment.
Preparations of Vitex are commonly marketed as dietary supplements with various claims to support hormonal balance and similar benefits. Consumer and medical due diligence is always recommended.
As you marvel at the spectacular display of the Vitex, bear in mind the value that this plant offers behind its colorful appearance.