Vitex agnus-castus L., The Chaste Tree - A Cultural-Historical Essay
Abstract: The history of Vitex agnus-castus L. dates back to the beginning of European civilization, to Greek mythology synonymised with the world of Homer. The Greek name of the plant »lygos« (pliable branch) hints at its usage in viticulture (for staking vines) and in livestock forming (as patch work) for pasture fences. Whereas the other Greek expression »agonas« meaning god-pleasing, chaste and pure, distinguishes it as a (feminine) plant of godesses like Hera, Demeter and Artemis (Diana), a cult plant and a symbol of motherliness and womanliness. Agonos is also the source of the medieval name»Agnus castus«, the chaste tree. Anaphrodisiac effect is attributed to its leaves and as a result they were used during the thesmophory, in the Demeter festival of ancient Athens. The leaves were also recommended for Christian monks, hence the derivation of the name »monk's pepper«. Via the »Materia medica« of Dioscurides, which indicates its application during menstrual cramps, uterine diseases, headaches as well as hypochondriasis and dropsy, Agnus castus became an officinal herb of the medieval and the early modem ages. Nowadays, due to its dopaminergic effect, the drug Agnus casti-fructus is successfully used in cases of complaints before and during the monthly period as well as cycle disorders.
Keyword(s): Vitex agnus-castus