Chasteberry, a perennial shrub, is a member of the verbena family. It is also known by its botanical name Vitex agnus castus, as well as vitex, monk's pepper and chaste tree. Chasteberry is native to parts of Asia and the Mediterranean. The berry is used in herbal preparations to treat infertility, symptoms of menopause and menstrual problems in women. Consult your doctor before starting treatment with chasteberry, as there are some side effects and precautions associated with its use.
Chasteberry got its name, and its common name of monk's pepper, from the celibate monks who used it to suppress sexual desire, according to eMedTV. Chasteberry grows along riverbanks and surrounding areas. After its light purple flowers bloom in the summer, chasteberry produces a small, dark, peppercorn-sized berry, which smells a bit like peppermint. The berry is harvested for use in herbal remedies. The use of chasteberry dates back to ancient Rome and Greece where it was used medicinally and was worn by some women in ceremonies to denote they were remaining chaste or to ward off evil.
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For centuries, chasteberry has been used to treat menstrual disorders and to reduce sexual desire. However, using chasteberry for many conditions is not backed up well by scientific studies. Chasteberry appears to be most effective for use in treating premenstrual syndrome and cyclical breast pain, according to the September 2005 issue of "American Family Physician." Use of chasteberry may reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, including breast tenderness, irritability, constipation, angry mood and headache. It is also used for infertility, acne and endometriosis.
Chasteberry is classified as a dietary supplement and has not been approved by the FDA for safety and effectiveness. You should only take chasteberry under the supervision of your health care provider. Although rare, chasteberry does produce side effects in some taking it, including dizziness, acne-like rash, stomach upset, diarrhea, weight gain, insomnia, hair loss, headache and heavy menstrual periods. It can cause an allergic reaction. Inform your doctor immediately if you develop hives, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the mouth and face while taking chasteberry.
Chasteberry should not be given to children. Chasteberry appears to work by lowering levels of the hormone prolactin, so never take this herb if you are pregnant. It can interfere with some anti-psychotic and dopamine-agonist medications, including haloperidol, aripiprazole, levodopa and bromocriptine. Chasteberry can interfere with the action of oral contraceptives, reducing their effectiveness. You should not take chasteberry at the same time as any type of hormone therapy, particularly if you are being treated for infertility.