Medical plants

Monk’s pepper

Monk’s pepper


Monk’s pepper (Vitex agnus-castus), also called the chaste tree, belongs to the Verbenaceae family. The shrub grows to a height of five to six metres and prefers locations close to water. Its long-stemmed leaves are palmate in shape and have velvety hairs on the underside. The small, spherical flowers are arranged in spikes and can be purple, pink, pale blue or white. Red-black fruit ripen in these flowers and reach the approximate size of a pepper corn. Monk’s pepper is native to the entire Mediterranean region, South-West Asia and the Crimea.

The crushed fruits were used by monks as a substitute for pepper (hence the name ‘monk’s pepper’), as the fruits of the Vitex agnus-castus shrub closely resemble true pepper in both appearance and taste. It had a simultaneous side effect that was not only desirable for monks: the latin name ‘agnus castus’ can be translated to ‘chaste lamb’ and indicates that the plant already had a reputation in ancient times as having an anaphrodisiac effect - it was used to rein in sexual desire.

The multilayered origin of the name for the plant indicates that monk’s pepper has a long and well-documented tradition surrounding its uses. As early on as in the 4th Century BC, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, recommended the consumption of leaves from the plant mixed with wine to combat bleeding and to accelerate expulsion of the placenta. In the Middle Ages, agnus castus was used to treat gynaecological diseases and generally to treat female complaints.

This medicinal plant is also used mainly in gynaecology today.

Extracts from the ripe, dried fruit of the plant harmonize menstrual cycle disorders, alleviate complaints due to premenstrual syndrome and have proven effective for many years in the treatment of breast pain related to the menstrual cycle (mastodynia). The medicinal plant can also aid with pregnancy, as the cause of infertility is often a hormonal imbalance. The plant extracts harmonize the menstrual cycle and can thus have a positive effect on inducing pregnancy.

Although the pharmacological effects of monk’s pepper have been known for a long time and have been used in the treatment of a variety of complaints, the pharmacological mechanisms were only clarified once Bionorica had carried out scientific investigations. The high-quality, special extracts from Vitex agnus-castus that are components in the herbal preparations Mastodynon® and Agnucaston® are obtained using a specific, patented method and can thus develop their full efficacy.

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