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Five-Leaved Chaste Tree

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Names of the Five-leafed Chaste Tree, past and present

Chinese: huang jing / huang jing zi
Spanish: agno-casto
Malayalam: indrani
Sanskrit: nirgundi / sindhuvara
Filipino: lagundi / dabtan / dangla
English: Five-leaved chaste tree / Chinese chaste tree / Horseshoe vitex / Vitex
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Vitex negundo

Background and History

The Five-leafed chaste tree is (in Western traditional medicine), a not-so-well-known medicinal plant. Despite its medicinal nature and relatively obscure status in European places (or the few places in Europe where it thrives), it is actually a very commonplace plant in several parts of Southern and Southeastern Asia. This small tree measuring at the least some two to eight meters and is usually seen in the company of forest shrubbery, or otherwise found growing in untended lots especially in the Philippines, it can be identified by its dark-red to maroon trunk and white to blue-hued flowers that grow in clusters when in bloom. Its fruits are savoury drupes that are green while immature, and purplish to black when ripe. No historical or folkloric records exist of its fruits ever being used as food or animal fodder, although it too has its medicinal uses. The greatest telling feature of the plant is its leaves, which, when young resembles the leaves of a far more notorious, yet equally curative and purposeful herb – cannabis – hence its synonymous nomenclature: Vitex cannabifolia. The leaves, when mature, somehow lose their serrations and cannabis-like appearance, while nevertheless retaining the distinctive five-leafed look. As with the majority of medicinal herbs, all the parts of the five-leafed chaste tree can be used for curative purposes, and each of its distinctive parts have their own constituent properties and effects. [1]

General and Esoteric Uses

The five-leafed chaste tree is a medicinal plant that is relatively unknown in the West. In the Eastern parts of the globe however, more so in the Philippines, it has a long-standing reputation for being a valuable medicinal herb that is indispensable for curing a wide variety of ailments. The most basic curative use for the five-leafed chaste tree is a decoction of its leaves, used primarily to treat coughs, colds, general symptoms of the flu, as well as mild to moderate cases of bronchitis. Traditionally, it was pounded to extract the juices which would then be taken by itself or mixed with honey or coconut milk. The use of the five-leafed chaste tree as a general remedy for bronchial complaints has proven so effective that the local Department of Health (DOH) has sanctioned the regulated mass-production of five-leafed chaste tree extracts for over-the-counter purchase as an oral cough remedy. [2]

Because the leaves also possess anti-bacterial, antifungal, astringent and rejuvenating properties, a very strong decoction of the leaves can also be employed to treat wounds, sores, and skin disorders ranging from the minor (rashes, blisters) to major (allergies, dandruff, eczema). A mild infusion of the leaves may also be taken prior to, or after meals to aid in, and improve digestion, as the leaves are traditionally considered to be a stomachic. Aside from being useful as a remedy for coughs and as an aid to digestion, a light decoction of the leaves also acts as a general tonic that strengthens the kidneys, lungs, liver, and heart when taken once or twice a day after meals. Consumption of a tisane made from the leaves is also recommendable for lactating women, as the leaves are traditionally prescribed to increase the flow of breast milk, and, when used in conjunction with other local lactagogue herbs (i. e moringa), it is said to enhance the constitution and nutritional content of the breast milk. [4] Finally, the leaves may also be dried and ground into a semi-fine powder, and smoked by itself or mixed with wild tobacco (Nicotiana rusticum). This smoking mixture is said to be helpful for removing gas and for aiding sleep. The smoke that issues from the burning of the leaves may also help to deter disease-harbouring pests such as mosquitoes and roaches, as it is traditionally used as an insecticidal incense when dried and burnt on slow-smouldering coals. [5] A more traditional approach involves the use of resinous woods to add further efficiency to the practice.

Furthermore, the use of the leaves as a type of poultice, especially when heated, is said to be effective for hastening the healing of sprains and the setting of broken bones, and the lessening of inflammations. A simple poultice consisting of rubbed leaves may also provide quick relief from migraines and headaches. When mixed with an oil (usually coconut or peanut oil, or, in the case of Traditional Chinese Medicines, sesame oil) it can be applied to warts, boils, and open wounds to facilitate in healing. When a strong decoction of the leaves and flowers are made and mixed with cooler water to create a lukewarm bath (or as hot as comfortably tolerable), it can be helpful in soothing tired and aching muscles as well as soothing the after-pains of childbirth. [6] This bath water can also be used as a sitz bath for individuals suffering from pain of the lower extremities, especially if they employ it as a soothing soak, in combination with other pain-relieving herbal medicines such as ginger and chili. Due to its anti-bacterial action, the leaves, when boiled along with the five-leafed chaste tree's roots, have even been shown to be useful in treating the symptoms of gonorrhea. [7]

The flowers of the five-leafed chaste tree, when made into a tisane are helpful in relieving the symptoms of diarrhea and fever. When made into a light infusion and drunk daily as a tonic, it has been shown to improve cardiac and liver health. Dried and ground into powder, the flowers may also be administered to individuals who have experienced bloody discharges, more so if mixed with goat's milk or carabao (water buffalo) milk. The milk and flower concoction, if taken daily prior to breakfast, is also highly nutritious and is a perfect light meal for sick elders, ill youngsters, and convalescent mothers. A decoction of the flowers alone, either fresh or dry, or mixed with fresh milk is also helpful for individuals who are suffering from cholera. [8]

The root of the five-leafed chaste tree is also useful a variety of different ailments. Its use in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Filipino-Chinese (Indo-China) medicine is as a remedy for high fever and chills. A strong decoction of the root is made, and is then administered to the patient as much as four times daily, if possible, with light nutritive meals such as cornmeal porridge or rice porridge fortified with coconut milk and coconut meat or fresh (or dried) ground moringa leaves. A light decoction of the root may also be beneficial for the treatment of worms, boils, leprosy and dyspepsia. When mixed with fresh pasteurized goat's milk (by boiling the goat's milk in an earthenware pot along with the roots) it can be used to treat colic in very young children. [9]

The fruit of the plant may be consumed medicinally, although no historical or folkloric records suggest that it was even consumed as food. When taken, it is traditionally said to help relieve the symptoms of headaches and catarrh. It may also be dried and used as a vermifuge. A decoction of the combined parts of the plant's bark, roots, and tops is said to be astigastralgic, and can be helpful for detoxifying the body. Consumed by hunters prior to the colonial period, it was drunk as an antidote to several toxic animal bites, although which animal toxin it is said to be able to counteract is no longer common knowledge. [10]

The seeds of the plant are useful as a treatment for a wide variety of fungal infections and skin diseases. It has also been prescribed (by itself, or in conjunction with the bark, tops, and root) for leprosy. When a light decoction of the seeds is made, it can be used as a gargle to counteract inflammation of the mouth and to help relieve toothaches. It is also useful as a gargle, mixed with rock salt or potassium alum, or used simply by itself as a natural cure for halitosis. When steeped in alcoholic beverages, it is said to be helpful for headaches and, if consumed lightly, can even be helpful in easing menstrual cramps. [11] This unassuming shrub is truly a must-have in every herbal garden, as its uses are a pharmacopoeia unto itself.

References & Further Reading

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitex_negundo
[2 – 3] http://www.stuartxchange.org/Lagundi.html
[4 – 5] http://kalusugan.ph/halamang-gamot-para-sa-ubo-lagundi/
[6 – 10] http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php?title=Lagundi
[11] http://gourmet.com.ph/index.php/blog/articles/105-lagundi-tea-for-stronger-lungs-and-liver

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt, © herbs-info.com 2013

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