April 22, 2024


The Mediterranean flora is prodigal in beauties, such as the one that occupies us in these lines about the chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus). This autochthonous shrub is present spontaneously in the Iberian Peninsula in the east and in the south, near the coasts. It is its natural habitat that allows it to survive very harsh growing conditions, such as dryness and high temperatures, since it vegetates perfectly on poor soils linked to streams and boulevards, with sometimes seasonal waters. Although it is true that in these places the water level in the subsoil is usually high, once the plant is established in a garden it can subsist with practically no irrigation.

“In the Alhambra it is being used a lot as a plant to generate informal hedges that delimit different areas, such as in the public surroundings of the monumental complex. That includes the car parks”, comments Fran Villegas, gardener of the natural surroundings of the Granada monument. There, the chasteberry grows next to the oleanders (nerium oleander), a neighborhood that also occurs in nature, since both species share their area of ​​distribution in many points, as well as the fondness for these more or less temporary freshwater banks. Villegas emphasizes that “the places where it grows are the toughest areas to grow plants”, with fairly arid land, “and with minimal maintenance and irrigation. Although they have hardly been pruned at all for about 25 years since they were planted, they continue to flourish very well.”

Just in these summer weeks you can see the chasteberry in full bloom, with tufts of inflorescences crowning almost every branch. Its most common color is bluish, with tones close to the lilac flower (Syringa vulgaris), although there are also white and light pink varieties in gardening. Its aroma brings it closer to that of its compound and palmate leaves, like the shape of a hand; All you have to do is rub one of these attractive leaves very lightly so that the skin is impregnated with a very characteristic perfume. In a garden it will be a focal point of attraction for the eyes and for a myriad of pollinating insects, including butterflies, so it becomes a spectacle for all lovers of these winged bugs.

The vigor of the plant is reflected both in its size, about five meters tall, if not more, and in its resistance to diseases caused by fungi that kill other species, such as the honey mushroom (armillaria mellea). Despite its sweet name, this fungus is endemic to certain gardens and historic parks, and is very poorly treated.

A podaliris butterfly sucks from a chasteberry inflorescence.
A podaliris butterfly sucks from a chasteberry inflorescence.Edward Beard (Eduardo Beard)

This shrub has a series of uses that have favored its cultivation. One is that its flexible branches are used to weave baskets, just as is done with willows (Salix spp.), hence the common root of their popular names (willow – chasteberry). But the other has to do with the chemistry of the species, since Ancient Greece alludes to its use to stay away from sexual desire, both in women and in men.

“The midwives who kept chastity in the sacrifices to Ceres lay down on their leaves,” says the botanist Ginés López González. Another of his popular names, that of monks Pepper, It also reflects the anaphrodisia that it supposedly caused in those men who ingested its seeds, which taste similar to pepper (Piper Nigrum). By the way, it is through the chasteberry seeds that this species can reproduce very easily, without the need for any special treatment.

But despite that surname so clear that it refers to chastity, agnus-castusActually, there is a current use that makes this plant an ally of women. This is stated by Natalia de Ancos, a clinical sexologist: “There is a false myth about chasteberry, partly due to its scientific name, since it has been believed that it reduced libido, when in fact it is a hormonal regulator. What happens is that it was administered to armies to downregulate the sexual desire of soldiers when they were too excited.

Having clarified this point, De Ancos continues: “Currently it is used for the opposite, since chasteberry imitates the action of dopamine, which helps to normalize the production of hormones that stimulate the sexual organs and, therefore, , exert a beneficial effect on the libido of the woman, increasing it”. On whether this is a treatment that is being applied, she explains: “I know gynecologists, such as Miriam Al Adib Mendiri or Juani Lafaja Mazuecos, who highly recommend it, especially to women with a hormonal imbalance that is affecting their sexual desire.”

With the words of Juani Lafaja we say goodbye to the chasteberry: “It is a Mediterranean plant that is truly very useful for regulating what is altered, and helping to find a balance so that women are better and have a better quality of life.”

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