The Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus castus)
The Vitex agnus castus, also known as chaste tree, chasteberry, Monk’s pepper or Cloister pepper, is not easily found in Mallorca, with one exception. The bush is prevalent in abundance in the gorge of the Torrent de Pareis, in the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range.
Vitex agnus castus is widely cultivated in warm temperate and subtropical regions for its aromatic foliage and flowers. It grows to a height of 1 to 5 metres. It requires full sun or partial shade along with well-drained soil.
This plant is commonly called monk’s pepper because it was originally used as anti-libido medicine by monks to aid their attempts to remain celibate. It is believed to be an anaphrodisiac and thus, to reduce sexual desire, hence the name chaste tree. It is recorded that Roman wives whose husbands were abroad with the legions spread the aromatic leaves on their couches for this purpose.
Traditionally, it has been an important European remedy for controlling and regulating the female reproductive system. Long used to regularise monthly periods and treat amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea, it was used to help ease menopausal problems and aid the birth process.
Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and Theophrastus mention the use of Vitex agnus castus for a wide variety of conditions, including hemorrhage following childbirth, and also to assist with the ‘passing of afterbirth’. Decoctions of the fruit and plant were also used in sitz baths for diseases of the uterus.