Agnus castus is an herb that for centuries has been used to treat a variety of symptoms primarily related to the female reproductive cycle. Its uses include boosting fertility, regulating menstruation, and increasing production of breast milk. For women going through menopause, many herbalists believe it helps reduce the occurrence and severity of hot flashes. Agnus castus is considered one of the most popular herbal remedies on the market and is sold under the name vitex, chaste tree, and chasteberry.
Clinical studies attempting to measure the effects of agnus castus seem to indicate that it may have a positive impact on fertility. A study conducted by Stanford University in the US state of California showed an increase in instances of pregnancy for women taking the herb compared to pregnancies resulting from a placebo group. Another study, conducted in Germany in 1982, revealed that it might help to balance hormones during the menstrual cycle. Its effects on the hormone progesterone were particularly evident.
The pituitary gland is responsible for balancing the release of hormones. Agnus castus is believed to work as a stimulant on this gland, and as such, it may be particularly helpful in addressing symptoms relating to menopause. During menopause, women typically experience a reduction of these hormones resulting in night sweats, hot flashes, and irregular menstrual cycles. Studies seem to indicate that taking agnus castus as a daily supplement will help diminish some of these symptoms. Some herbalists regard it as the best treatment available for hot flashes, which is one of the more common side effects of menopause.
Premenstrual tension (PMT) is a condition that is believed to create much of the discomfort leading up to menstruation. It often leads to swollen joints, weight gain, irritability, and depression. This is likely caused by the release of too much estrogen. Agnus castus may actually decrease these levels, leading to a minimizing of the symptoms of PMT.
As an herbal remedy, agnus castus has a long history of medicinal use. Ancient Greeks gave it to women after childbirth to help start the flow of breast milk. The famous Greek physician Hippocrates wrote of its positive effect on regulating menstruation and fertility. In Greek culture, agnus castus was considered so potent that it was used by young women as adornment—they supposedly wore it during festivals honoring Demeter, their goddess of fertility. By the early 1500s, it appears to have become a common remedy in most parts of Europe.