The Chaste Tree, Vitex agnus-castus, a.k.a. Vitex, Chasteberry, Abraham's Balm, Hemp Tree, Monk's Pepper, or my favorite, "Texas Lilac", is a shrub to small tree native to the Mediterranean but which now can be found over a large portion of the United States. Here in the South, and especially in Texas and Oklahoma, Chaste Tree can grow huge.
Chaste Tree gets it's most common name for it's alleged anaphrodisiac qualities, It was commonly believed to reduce or suspend sexual desire. The belief that Chaste Tree possessed this quality is ancient, going back to the Ancient Greeks. During the Thesmophoria, a festival of the goddesses Demeter and Persephone, Greek woman would consume Chaste Tree as they were required to remain sexually abstinent for a period of time prior to the festival. Additionally, the plant was sacred to the virgin goddesses, Hestia, the Greek goddess of the hearth and home, Artemis the goddess of the hunt, and Athena, goddess of wisdom. Chaste Tree was also sacred to Hera, the goddess of marriage and women. Though Hera wasn't a virgin, in myth she renewed her virginity each year with a sacred bath. Priestesses would act out this myth with a sacred washing of her cult statue. So the plant may be connected to her yearly renewal and for all we know, it may have been an ingredient used in this sacred ritual.
The magical properties of Chaste Tree are the same as it's folk use, mainly to reduce sexual desire. The parts of the plant used are the leaves, flowers and berries. Chaste Tree can be taken in the form of an extract, drunk as a tea, taken as a tincture, or eaten. If used in conjure work then the dried leaves and berries are primarily used.
In addition to reducing sexual desire, Chaste Tree is also taken to help alleviate the symptoms of both PMS and menopause.
Greek souvenir vase showing the goddess Hestia holding a Chaste Tree branch.