The menstrual cycle can be taxing on a woman’s body, especially when it’s difficult to find the time to rest through it each month.As this blog on herbs for menstrual heal via Mother Earth Living states, women are the traditional “keepers of herbal knowledge,” and have been using various herbs to address the different ailments that accompany menstruation.
One common disorder is premenstrual syndrome, or PMS — pretty much everyone can name this one whether they experience periods or not. The symptoms are irritability and emotional upset, headaches, tender breasts, and fluid retention.
One herb commonly used to treat these symptoms is chaste tree, which dates back so long ago it has Hippocrates’s stamp of approval:
For more than 2,500 years, chaste tree has been used to treat menstrual disorders. Hippocrates (460–377 b.c.) wrote, “If blood flows from the womb, let the woman drink dark wine in which the leaves of the chaste tree have been steeped.”
In the first century a.d., Pliny noted its applications for the opposite problem: “The trees furnish medicines that promote urine and menstruation.”
Chaste tree and its fruits (seeds) were widely used for gynecological applications until the eighteenth century. Largely neglected during the next two centuries, chaste tree found favor in the 1930s and 1940s with German physicians, who recommended taking it to stimulate milk flow.
Today, European gynecologists prescribe chaste-tree preparations to treat PMS symptoms, heavy, too frequent, delayed, or irregular periods and infertility. In Germany, women going off birth-control pills are given fruit extracts to establish a normal menstrual cycle. One study showed that they may stimulate progesterone production and regulate estrogen levels. Chaste-tree preparations have also been shown to block the formation of FSH and increase the secretions of LH and luteotropic hormone, which would also normalize hormone balance and menstruation. These actions cannot be attributed to a single chemical ingredient, though flavonoids are believed to play a major role.
Chaste-tree preparations usually must be taken for four to eighteen months before an improvement in symptoms can be expected. A typical daily dose is the equivalent of 30 to 40 mg of the dried fruits divided into two or three doses, 40 drops of a standardized tincture, or one capsule.
Most of the clinical literature on chaste tree consists of anecdotal reports by practicing gynecologists rather than controlled clinical trials. A 1992 survey of German gynecologists evaluated the effect of a chaste-tree preparation on 1,542 women diagnosed with PMS. Ninety percent of both physicians and patients reported relief of symptoms after treatment averaging 25.3 days. In Germany, chaste tree is a safe, effective, and low-priced remedy for gynecological complaints; it is available in the U.S. as a dietary supplement.