The herb vitex, otherwise known as vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree or chasteberry, is a distant relative of lemon verbena. Although primarily thought of as one of the most important herbs for regulating female hormones, vitex also has value in the alternative medicine community for treating a number of male health issues. The need exists for further study to confirm its safety and efficacy, however, so consult your physician before use.
As its name implies, chaste tree has traditionally been used to curb sexual desire. According to Steven Foster, author of the book "National Geographic Desk Reference to Nature's Medicine," the dried fruits of vitex were ground and used as a pepper substitute in medieval Europe's monasteries to ensure chastity, fostering its alternate name of monk's pepper. While Charles W. Kane, herbalist and author of the book "Herbal Medicine Trends and Traditions," knows of men who use vitex to suppress libido, only anecdotal evidence exists as to its effectiveness.
Male Pattern Baldness
Andrew Chevallier, naturopath and author of the book "DK Natural Health Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine," says that vitex berries appear to be antiandrogenic, inhibiting the functioning of male androgens, or sex hormones. Herbalists claim that by using vitex, antiandrogen levels increase, helping to treat but not cure androgenic alopecia, or male pattern baldness. More evidence is needed, however, to substantiate such claims.
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia
Herbalists claim that the antiantiandrogenic properties of vitex berries also might help treat benign prostatic hyperplasia, better known as BPH, or prostate enlargement. BPH causes the prostate to enlarge and press on the urethra, frequently resulting in difficulty urinating. According to the National Medicines Comprehensive Database, vitex promotes urination. Since there's a lack of substantiated evidence to confirm such claims, consult a physician before self-treating with vitex.
A 2005 Swiss study published in "Planta Medica" indicates that vitex not only helps treat BPH but also aids in the treatment of prostate cancer. According to the study, vitex extract contains key constituents that slow the growth of prostate cancer cells and promote apoptosis, a process in which old cells die and are replaced by new cells. The need exists for more laboratory tests, however, before using vitex as a primary or secondary treatment for prostate cancer.
- University of Pittsburgh Medical Center: Chasteberry
- "National Geographic Desk Reference to Nature's Medicine"; Steven Foster, et al.; 2006
- "Prescription for Herbal Healing"; Phyllis A. Balch; 2002
- Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database: Vitex Agnus-castus
- "Planta Medica"; A Vitex Agnus-castus Extract Inhibits Cell Growth and Induces Apoptosis in Prostate Epithelial Cell Lines; M. Weisskopf, et al.; October 2005