Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Treating Health Problems with Chaste Tree Berry

By Susannah Singer

In ancient times, it was called Monk's pepper. This is because chaste tree berry (also known as Vitex and by the trade name Femaprin) was said to have an anaphrodisiac quality, that is, its ability to decrease sexual drives. Other sources indicate it was used as an aphrodisiac, in other words, for the opposite effect. How can both be true?

Though it grows to a height of twenty-two feet, chaste tree is just a large shrub native to the Mediterranean and southern Europe. Naturally it grows on moist riverbanks, but it can be grown in ornamental gardens in America as well. Look for its blue-violet flowers to blossom in midsummer. Chaste tree berries are only used to treat female problems today.

The above seeming contradiction isn't the only one related to this herb. In history it has been used to inhibit excessive milk flow after birth, and to encourage it. It is used to treat post menopausal symptoms by some, and others say it exacerbates them. Some have used it to encourage conception, but others say that it does nothing for infertility.

The reason for contradictory results from chaste tree berry is that it is an adaptogen. This means it works through the adrenal glands, in this case the pituitary, to produce adjustments in the body that normalize hormone imbalance. In other words, it constrains hormonal excesses and encourages deficiencies. Other herbal examples of adaptogens are garlic, ginseng, echinacea, ginkgo, goldenseal, and taheebo.

To accomplish this balancing act for the body, chaste tree berry increases the production of certain hormones which reducing the production of others. In this way it may help overcome infertility by shifting the body's hormonal balance in favor of the gestagens which are used by the body to condition it for pregnancy.

Chaste tree berry encourages production of progesterone. This is why the herb is especially effective in balancing the female reproductive system. It is taken to help restore menstruation, to regulate heavy periods, and, as mentioned above, to restore fertility caused by hormonal imbalance. Some using it have found relief from PMS tension, and eased the changes during menopause. Premenstrual breast tenderness, linked to excess prolactin, is helped with chaste tree berry.

Other uses include relief of paralysis, pains in the limbs, and neuropathic muscular weakness, all treated with chaste berry tincture. Chaste berries are even used to treat acne in men and women. The berries can be ground in a pepper mill and used as a mild substitute for black pepper. The spicy aroma of the leaves and flowers are used for flavoring.

Dose: Take 20 to 40 mg of the herb, or its equivalent daily. If using a tincture, 20 drops one or two times a day is normal. Capsules or tea (one cup) may also be used. Taking chaste berry shortly before bedtime may improve sleep. Chaste tree berry is slow acting and it may take two or three months to know if it is helping.

Warnings will vary but some say pregnant women and nursing mothers should not take chaste tree berry. Also women with hormone-sensitive cancers (e.g. breast, uterus, pituitary, etc.) should avoid it. Chaste tree berry should not be taken with exogenous hormones such as oral contraceptives or menopausal hormone replacement therapies. Some experience an itchy allergic rash, mild nausea, or headaches from taking it. A few women have complained that the length of their cycle changed.

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