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Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus L.)

Synonyms

pharmaceuticalFructus Agni-casti
AlbanianKonopice, Mrine e bardhe
Arabicكف مريم, غار بري ازرق
Kaf marim, Ghar bari azraq
BulgarianВитекс
Viteks
CatalanAgnocast, Alís, Aloc, Arbre de Sant Josep, Herba de la castedat, Pebre bord, Ximbla
ChineseMai ya
Chinese
(Cantonese)
黃荊 [wòhng gīng], 聖潔莓 [sing git mùih]
Sing git muih; Wohng ging (Vitex negundo)
Chinese
(Mandarin)
荊瀝 [jīng li], 黃荊 [huáng jīng], 圣洁莓 [shèng jí méi], 貞節樹 [zhēn jié shù]
Jing li, Sheng ji mei, Zhen jie shu; Huang jing zi, Huangjing (Vitex negundo)
CroatianKonopljika
CzechDrmek obecný, Mnišský pepř, Vitex jehněčí
DanishKyskhedstræ
DutchKuisboom, Monnikenpeper
EnglishHemptree, Agnus castus, Abraham’s balm
EstonianHarilik mungapipar
FinnishSiveydenpuu
FrenchArbre au poivre, Gattilier, Poivre des moines
GermanMönchspfeffer, Abrahamsstrauch, Keuschlamm
GreekΛιγαγριά, Λυγαγριά
Ligagria, Lygagria
Greek (Old)Ἄγνος, Λύγος
Agnos, Lygos
Hebrewשיח-אברהם מצוי
שִׂיַח-אַברָהָם מָצוּי
Siah avraham mazui
HungarianBarátcserje, Szűzbariska, Szűzfa
ItalianAgnocasto, Pepe di Venere
Japaneseイタリアニンジンボク, テイソウボク
Itarianinjin-boku, Teisō-boku, Teiso-boku
Korean이탈리아목형
Italliamokhyeong, Italliamokhong
MalteseBżar tal-Patrijiet, Siġra tal-virgi, Tal-virgi
PolishNiepokalanek pieprzowy
PortugueseFlor da castidade, Árvore da castidade, Agno casto, Pimenteiro silvestre
RomanianLemnul lui Avram, Mielărea
RussianАвраамово дерево, Витекс
Avraamovo derevo, Viteks
SerbianРакита, Конопљика
Rakita, Konopljika
SlovakVitex jahňací
SlovenianNavadna konopljika
SwedishMunkpeppar
TurkishAyıt, Hayıt
Yiddishװיטעקס, יער־טובֿניק
Viteks, Yer-Tuvnik
Vitex agnus-castus: Flowering chaste tree
Flowering chaste tree
Vitex agnus-castus: Chaste tree flowers
Blue and white flowers of chaste tree
Vitex agnus-castus: Dried chaste tree fruits
Dried chaste tree fruits
Used plant part

Fruits.

Plant family

Verbenaceae (vervain family).

Sensory quality

Aromatic, but weak aroma; slightly pungent and bitter taste.

Vitex agnus-castus: Chaste Tree flower
Chaste Tree Flower
Vitex agnus-castus: Chaste Tree flower (Albino)
Chaste Tree flower (Albino)
Vitex agnus-castus: Albino monkpepper flower spike
White-flowered chaste tree inflorescence
Main constituents

The dried fruits contain only small amounts (0.5%) of essential oil, which is dominated by the monoterpene derivatives limonene, 1,8-cineol, bornyl acetate, α- and β-pinene and sabinene. The bitter and astringent taste is caused by flavonoids (castican, orientin and isovitexin) and iridoid glycosides (agnuside, aucubin).

Origin

Medi­terranean.

Etymology

Chaste tree carries several sacred names, which more or less directly refer to its reputation as an anaphrodisiac. In ancient Greece, the tree was called agnos [ἄγνος], which apparently the early Christians confused both with a similar Greek term hagnos [ἁγνός] chaste, and with Latin agnus lamb, the Christian symbol of purity. Under the name agnus castus chaste lamb, the plants was often used among Christian monks as a help against the evils of the more fleshy desires, of which there were many.

Vitex agnus-castus: Monkpepper flower
Chaste tree inflorescence
Vitex agnus-castus: Albino chaste tree flower
White chaste tree inflorescence
 
 
Vitex agnus-castus: Chaste tree (sterile plant)
Chaste tree (sterile plant)

Still today, there are many names in European lan­guages alluding to this use of chaste tree (which, I keep hearing, is not so much in demand now). There are several names meaning tree of chastity (English chaste tree or Dutch kuisboom) or monk’s pepper (French poivre des moines, Maltese bżar tal-Patrijiet, Estonian munga­pipar). Another group of names refers to the Biblical patriarch Abraham: Russian Avraamovo derevo [Авраамово дерево] Abraham’s tree, Hebrew siah avraham [שיח-אברהם] Abraham’s bush and last but not least English Abraham’s balm (see lemon balm about balm).

The genus name Vitex allegedly derived from Latin vitilis made by plaiting, because the flexible branches of the tree were used in the construction of plaited fences (note that willow has similar seman­tics). Compare also Modern Greek lygagria [λυγαγριά], probably related to Old Greek lygizein [λυγίζειν] bend (see also garlic for further related words).

Selected Links

Floridata.com: Chaste Tree Herb Monographs: Chaste Tree (stevenfoster.com) Gewürz-Bazar: Möchspfeffer



Vitex agnus-castus: Chaste tree in flower (Albino)
Chaste tree in flower (white-flowering variety)
Vitex agnus-castus: Chaste tree in flower
Chaste tree in flower
Dried chaste tree berries have been used, in small scale, as a pepper substitute, but the taste is really rather weak. They might, though, have some merits in spice mixtures for barbecued or fried meat. Maybe some readers will find other useful applications.

Today, chaste tree berries are nearly forgotten, but they may appear in spice mixtures from Morocco (ras el hanout, see cubeb pepper). See also negro pepper for a discussion of hotness and pungency.



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