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Vitex agnus-castus

Native to Mediterranean and Western Asia

Zone: 6-11 (some say 5-9)

Soil: Light (sandy), medium (loamy), well drained. Can tolerate poor soil but will not grow in the shade.


Perennial: 10-15 feet tall, grows slowly.

Germination: sow seed in warm greenhouse in March. Keep in greenhouse the first winter. Plant in permanent positions in early summer. Vitex is a shrub, not really a tree. It is multi-trunked.

Plant: requires sun and warmth. Plant near wall, particularly southern wall. Prune in spring.

Flowers: leaves from June to October, flowers in September and October. The flowers open over a period of 4-5 weeks starting from the lower part of the stem and moving upwards. The whole plant is aromatic, but the flowers are often used to make perfume.

Harvest: when coming into flower, then dry.

Taste: peppery!

Uses: fruit is used as a condiment and sometimes as a pepper substitute. It can be eaten fresh off the bush or dried. The leaves are also edible and are an important part of a Moroccan dish called 'ras el hanout' — see recipe! The dried flowers are often used in craft projects. A yellow dye is made from the leaves.

Medicinal Uses: female hormone regulator, especially where there is excess estrogen and low progesterone. This herb is the cornerstone of many Western gynecological programs, including the menstrual cycle, infertility, and menopause. It is thought to work through the pituitary body, not directly on the hormones of the reproductive system. The berries are also used to relieve paralysis and nerve pain.

Warnings: no known hazards.

Habitat Considerations: The tree itself is a useful permaculture plant, being very bushy and therefore excellent for shelterbelts and shielding small songbirds from predators, also providing food for birds. It is deer and rabbit resistant.

Notes: The plant is zerophytic, meaning it will survive in drought conditions and even grow, flower, and fruit though it prefers to be watered.

Agnus Castus