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Vitex Agnus Castus
The Mediterranean Chastity Plant
Mediterranean plants have long been attributed with having medicinal, healing properties, from the skin softening oil of the olive tree, the calming effects of the chamomile plant or even to the flatulence reducing fennel. However, rarely do we hear of a Mediterranean plant that can assist one with maintaining a period of chastity.
In ancient Greece Vitex agnus castus was considered to be an anaphrodisiac and even Christian monks took the dried fruits of the plant to subdue "desires of the flesh".
A powder derived from the dried fruits soon became known As 'Monks pepper' throughout Europe and in fact there are substances within the plant that subdue the actions of certain male hormones, named androgens which, in turn, causes a decrease in male libido.
Vitex has probably been most researched for it's effect on pre-menstrual tension in women. A recent study of 178 women by the British medical association showed that 50% of the women tested showed major signs of improvement regarding PMT and many other pre-menstrual symptoms
For the garden designer in Italy however, the chaste plant offers a fantastic plant that is both easy to grow and aesthetically valid within the Italian garden context. Growing to a maximum height of around 3 to 5m, with leaves rather like hemp and displaying lilac-shaped blue or white flowers it is an easy to grow stunner that is not very common. With an annual prune in late winter/spring the plant can be maintained to a compact 1-1.50m and will produce a myriad of flowers from early summer to October.
These flowers will attract butterflies and bees and the flowers are particularly enjoyed by bumble bees. When planted in a mixed, informal hedge with buddleia, lilac and lavender the butterflies will gather in their hundreds. Plant in full sun, in poor soil on a sunny bank or against a wall and enjoy this easy Mediterranean plant in your Italian garden.
By Jonathan Radford