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Vitex

Vitex
© Sertürner Bildarchiv

Botanical name

Monk´s pepper or Chaste tree - Vitex agnus-castus L.

Family

Labiatae (Lamiaceae)

Useful information about the plant

Vitex is a shrub native in the whole Mediterranean to Western Asia, where it forms dense crops in coastal areas and along rivers. The genus name vitex (Latin "vitex" = rim, wheel rim, wheel hub) probably comes from the Greek "vitilium" (= wattle) and refers to the use of the tough and hard branches of the shrub to produce wattle fences. The name "Chaste tree" is a literal translation of the epithet agnus-castus (Latin "agnus" = lamb and "castus" = chaste). It is reported that the fruits of this shrub have been eaten by monks in monasteries, or more or less as an anaphrodisiac, in order to suppress carnal lust. This is indicated also in the name of "Monk´s pepper" due to the peppery and spicy flavour of the fruit. However, the name is probably the result of a number of incorrect word interpretations. Vitex is a 3-5m high shrub, characterised by its large, palmately divided, decussate leaves. Each of the 5 to 7 leaflets are 10cm long with white hairs on the underside and glabrous on the top surface. The small blue to lilac coloured fragrant flowers are double lipped, and spike-like inflorescences are close together on the ends. Flowering time is September / October. The 4-seeded fruits are reminiscent of black pepper because of their colour (reddish black) and size, and they taste hot, too. They smell more like sage though.

Medicinally used plant parts (drug)

The dried fruit is used. The drug is collected in the wild and comes mainly from Albania and Morocco.

Ingredients of the drug

Vitex fruits contain iridoid glycosides, flavonoids, lipophilic, diterpenes, essential oil and fatty oil.

Descriptions of the quality

The quality of the Vitex fruits (Agni casti fructus) is specified in the European Pharmacopoeia (Ph. Eur.).

Medical Application

Recognised medical use

With irregularities in the menstrual cycle, premenstrual symptoms and mastodynia (painful breasts) (Commission E), PMS symptoms including tension and pain in the breasts; also for menstrual disorders, such as too frequent, too few or absent menstrual periods (ESCOP). The HMPC has accepted Vitex fruits for use in the premenstrual syndrome as a "well-established medicinal use", see also "traditional use".

Traditional use

Vitex has been classified by the HMPC for the following area of use as a traditional herbal medicinal product (§ 39a AMG). Based on many years of experience, the Vitex fruit can be used to treat mild premenstrual symptoms (see also "recognised medical use").

Medicinal herbal preparations in finished drug products

Dosage

To ensure the effect, Vitex fruit is used in the form of finished medicinal product, the dosage is stated in the package leaflet.

Preparation of a tea infusion

N/A

Advice

Women with estrogen-sensitive tumours must consult their doctor before treatment with Vitex fruit. This also applies to women taking dopamine agonists, dopamine antagonists, estrogens and antiestrogens (possible interactions), and for women with a history of disorders of the pituitary gland. In prolactin-producing tumours of the pituitary gland there is a risk of masking the symptoms of the tumour. There is no information on the use of Vitex fruits during pregnancy, it is discouraged during breast-feeding as the milk produced may be affected. There are no studies on its safety for use in young people under 18 years old and children.

Side effects

Severe allergic reaction with facial swelling, difficulty breathing and swallowing were observed, furthermore skin reactions, headaches, dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms, acne and menstrual symptoms (frequency not known) have also been reported.

Interactions

Vitex fruit has a dopaminergic effect; while taking dopamine-receptor antagonists at the same time it may result in a mutual weakening effect.

References

Drug monographs

HMPC, Commission E, ESCOP

Further reading

Wichtl: Teedrogen und Phytopharmaka, pg. 47
Schilcher: Leitfaden Phytotherapie, pg. 147
Van Wyk: Handbuch der Arzneipflanzen, pg. 343
Kommentar zum Europäischen Arzneibuch (Vitex Fruit, no. 2147)

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