Vitex Has Colorful History

Muskogee Garden Club purchased a Chaste Tree that was planted in the median on 12th Street in the Kendall Place historic district. The tree honors long-time Garden Club member, Elizabeth Sullivan whose home was on the garden tour several times.

On May 2 at 1:00, family and friends will gather at the tree for a dedication. The flagpole near the tree was dedicated to Clarence Sullivan. Nancy Gassaway and Lisa Moore, Sullivan’s daughters, will be at the dedication. Her son Mike Sullivan will be in town from Franklin, IN for the event.

Phil Sapienza, Muskogee Parks and Recreation Department, helped purchase the tree from Sanders Nursery in Inola. Sapienza brought in heavy equipment to plant the 750-pound balled and burlap specimen. Parks and Recreation will prune the tree and Kendall Place Historical Society members will water it. Sullivan was an active member of the Historical Society.

Chaste Tree has a long history of being used by physicians and herbalists. Botanically known as Vitex agnus-castus, its common names include Abraham's Balm, Texas Lilac, Chaste Lamb-Tree, Safe Tree, Hemp Tree, Monk's Pepper-Tree, Indian-Spice and Wild-Pepper.

Hippocrates wrote about Vitex in the fourth Century BC, recommending it for inflammation and swelling of the spleen. In the year 77, Pedanius Discorides wrote about the uses of Chaste Tree in “De Materia Medica” which was a description of 1,000 medically important drugs. The original Greek writing was translated into 7 languages and it was used for 1500 years as the authority for medicinal herbs and plants.

During the October festival of Thesmophoria, Athenian women celebrated the holiday by placing Chaste Tree boughs under their beds. Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture, fertility and women, used chaste tree blossoms for adornment.

Women were expected to remain chaste during the festival and were often prescribed tinctures of Chaste Tree extracts for various maladies. Throughout history, monks and soldiers used the herb to help them remain chaste. One of its active ingredients is saltpeter.

Research conducted in the 1940s and 1950s confirmed Chaste Tree's medicinal properties in balancing hormones. In 1990 clinical drug monitoring research confirmed those earlier findings. Herbal pharmacies in the U.S. and Europe dispense Chaste Tree extracts for a wide variety of disorders, including PMS.

Most of the 250 Vitex varieties grow well in average soil. The Manual of Woody Landscape Plants states that summer soft wood cuttings root like weeds and seeds can be successfully sown directly into the ground when it is 40 to 50-degrees.

Chastetree, Vitex agnus-castusvar latifolia, was introduced to European gardens from the Mediterranean and western Asia in 1570. Now it is naturalized in the United States from Maryland and Florida to Oklahoma and Texas. Chastetree is actually an aromatic shrub that grows to 10 or 20 feet tall and 5 to 7 feet wide. The leaves are gray and the lilac-lavender-blue flowers bloom for several months.

New varieties, which were bred for improved color and form, include, Montrose Purple, LeCompte and Shoal Creek. They are all marketed under the name Texas Lilac Vitex.

All Vitex are relatively disease free and pest free. Avoid spraying pesticides on them because they are a nectar source for bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. Deer generally do not eat plants as strongly scented as Vitex.

Chaste Trees are heat tolerant and love the sun. They lose their leaves in the winter and in harsh weather may die down to the ground. Growers can get a second round of growth: Prune off the first bloom when it fades and water deeply. Control and shape the tree with late winter pruning.


Martha, I always learn something new when I come visit your blog. I never connected the chaste tree we grow in our gardens with the extract in many herbal formulas. Just never thought about it. Thanks.~~Dee

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