Garden

Agnocasto - Vitex Agnus-castus


GeneralitŠ°


Small tree or large deciduous shrub, native to Europe and Asia; the adult specimens can reach 3-4 meters in height, but it is possible to contain their growth with annual pruning interventions, to be practiced during the winter, these prunings are advisable also to maintain the compact shrub, avoiding that it loses ramifications in the part low.
It has thin stems, well branched, often facing upwards, sometimes arched; the foliage is reminiscent of cannabis, being palamto, with lanceolate, wrinkled leaflets, dark green or greyish green. In late spring, at the apex of the new branches, numerous small flowers bloom, gathered in panicles, sky blue; flowering continues sporadically until the autumn colds. The flowers are followed by small roundish fruits, slightly fleshy, which contain some spherical, dark-colored seeds.
The agnocasto foliage is very aromatic, and the flowers are also fragrant and attract butterflies. There are varieties with white, lilac or purple flowers, although generally the most cultivated varieties have blue flowers. This plant has been used for millennia also in folk medicine and herbal medicine.

Vitex



The most known species of this genus is undoubtedly the Agnocasto, a plant considered aromatic. It is also known as "pepper tree" or "pepper of the monks" and since ancient times it has been widely used and consequently cultivated for its medicinal qualities.
The name of the genus comes from the Latin (like that of the vine) and means "weave". It probably refers to the branches of the shrub that are very thin and flexible. In ancient times, and still today in some places, they were used for the production of baskets or chairs.
The name agnos instead derives from its hypothetical anaphrodisiac capacity, therefore useful for keeping the girls virginity: in fact it unites the privative alpha to gonos that is "without children". Still today in English it is called tree of chastity to remember the Greek custom of spreading the fragrant leaves of the plant on the beds of the most Fiovans during the celebrations in honor of Ceres. It also appears that the seeds also had the property of calming the ardors of youth, both in men and women.





































Family and gender
Verbenaceae, gen. Vitex agnus castus
Type of plant Shrub up to 4 meters high with deciduous foliage
Exposure Full sun, half shade
Rustic Rather rustic (up to -15 ° C)
Ground Not demanding, well drained
colors Purple, blue, pink, white
Irrigation Only the first few years or in case of very prolonged drought
Flowering From June to October, depending on exposure and climate
Composting Stallatic in the fall, granular fertilizer in the spring

Exposure



This shrub is rustic and resistant, it prefers sunny locations, but it can also be planted in a semi-shaded place, while a poorly lit exposure causes an inconsistent flowering. It does not fear the cold and can be grown outdoors even in regions with a very harsh winter climate.
The ideal exposure for the vitex is without doubt the full sun. In this condition it will surely succeed in flowering abundantly and it is possible that it continues to emit stems even until autumn.
However, it also tolerates the partial shade rather well without the flowering being too affected.
However, we keep in mind that the more we live in the North, the more we will recommend a sunny position, whereas in the southern regions that condition will not be essential.

Description


The agnocasto (in Latin vitex agnus castus) is a deciduous shrub belonging to the Verbenaceae family. Actually more than 200 species of trees or shrubs come from the vitex genus, mostly coming from the Mediterranean basin or from tropical areas.
The agnocasto is in particular originating from all the coastal regions of the Mediterranean and the Near East, preferably wet places, very often sharing the area with the tamarisks. Once it was not difficult to find it on the banks of rivers. In recent years, however, both the deforestation and the practices of cleaning the bed of the water courses have made this meeting much more rare.
It is a widespread shrub (or sometimes small tree) not very compact, with opposite leaves, composed of 5 or 7 lanceolate fragments arranged in a radius. The color can range from deep green to greyish-glaucous. The flowers, long lasting and very fragrant, are gathered in panniculus inflorescences, erect and thin, about 15 cm long, sometimes ramified, on the branches of the year. They make their appearance from the beginning to the end of spring even if it is not particularly rare that the plant continues to produce new ones, in a less accentuated way, even until the autumn.
The species has purple-lilac flowers, but there are also cultivars with white, pink or blue inflorescences.
If left on the plant they lead to the development of black berry fruits, which contain the seeds.
Precisely these have become very popular in the pharmacological and phytotherapeutic fields, taking the name of "false pepper" or "pepper of the monks". They have a very strong taste, while the leaves and flowers give off an aroma that is pleasant for both humans and insects. It is in fact a plant very suitable to attract bees and butterflies.

Watering



The agnocasto tends to be satisfied with the rains, even if it is advisable to sporadically water the specimens recently placed at home, during the warm months; it may be necessary to intervene by supplying water during particularly dry periods. At the end of winter it spreads at the foot of the slow release granular fertilizer shrub or mature manure, lightly burying the mixture.
The agnocasto loves fresh soils; generally, however, after a few years of life, it tends to become very autonomous and our water supply will therefore be superfluous.
The advice is to intervene during the first two years from the planting with abundant irrigations but very far from each other. In this way the plant will be stimulated to the formation of a deep and well branched root system, able to withstand even the most persevering summer drought.
Consequently on an adult plant it is advisable to intervene only in case of prolonged lack of precipitation, especially if we notice an evident suffering.

Ground


Locate in a very well drained soil, avoiding water stagnations; any land can be indicated for the agnocasto, even the common garden soil. It is a very tolerant shrub in terms of substratum and generally has no difficulty adapting and growing under different conditions.
Surely because it grows better we must guarantee it a habitat similar to the one in which it is found in nature, therefore a fresh but well-drained soil, with a good quantity of silica sand and gravel.
It could have some problems with too heavy and compact soils. These in fact can cause radical asphyxiation or rot. In that case it will be good to intervene at the time of planting creating on the bottom a good draining layer based on gravel and possibly mixing to the soil a fair amount of sand and soil conditioner in order to lighten it.

Multiplication



The small dark seeds are sown in spring or autumn; we remember that the young plants obtained from seed will be placed at home only after a couple of years of cultivation in a sheltered place. During the summer it is possible to take semi-woody cuttings from the branches that have not brought flowers.
If you want to get new seedlings you can proceed either by seed or by cutting.
In the first case it will be necessary to take the now-dried fruits and obtain the seeds from them. They can be planted both in autumn and in spring, but always in a warm greenhouse, with at least 18-20 ° C constant. Germination generally occurs in a few weeks, but the initial development of the seedlings is rather slow. It will therefore be good to keep them in pots in a sheltered position until at least the second spring. They can then be transferred to the final home.
The cutting should be carried out by taking semi-woody segments of about 20 cm with some apical leaves at the end of the summer and placing them in a very light and draining compound, for example of sand and perlite. They should always be kept moist and in a warm but rather shady area. The ideal way to encourage rooting is to cover them with a transparent plastic bag, remembering to air at least once a day to prevent the onset of mold.
Once the seedling begins to vegetate and the root system is well developed, it can be transferred to a richer substrate and proceed with subsequent pruning to support the preparation of the specimen.

Pests and diseases



a poorly draining soil or considerable summer rains can favor the onset of radical rot. It is a very healthy shrub that is rarely attacked by insects or other pathogens. As we have said, we only need to pay particular attention to the substrate if it is particularly heavy.
In that event, it is of paramount importance to proceed with a planting that allows an optimal drainage of the water.

RusticitŠ°


The agnocasto is a rather cold shrub. It usually has no problems up to -15 ° C and is therefore suitable for the whole national territory, with the exception of the mountain areas above 800 meters.
We keep in mind in any case that it is a plant that loves the heat and manages to give its best especially on the coasts or in the Center-South.

Composting



To have abundant and colorful blooms it is good to intervene at least twice a year: the first one on the arrival of winter, then in October-November, spreading a good quantity of mature flour manure (or pelleted) so as to cover the foot of plant. During the cold season, thanks to rainfall, the product will penetrate the soil, enriching it, lightening it and making it more vital.
The beginning of spring will be the right time to scatter some handful of slow release granular fertilizer (characterized by a good amount of phosphorus and potassium). This and what is left of the manure, will be incorporated into the soil by light hoeing.

Pruning


One of the few treatments that this plant requires is pruning. Since this is a shrub that blooms on the branches of the year, our goal will be to stimulate the creation of new branches as much as possible.
Consequently, we will proceed with rather drastic cuts, leaving at most two or three buds from below, in February-March.
This work will also help us maintain a compact shape, encouraging the growth of new branches both in the upper part and in the lower part.

Variety



Among the cultivars of vitex agnus castus more interesting, besides the species, we can report:
- latifolia which can reach 3 meters in height, with blue flowers. It is characterized by larger leaves and panniculus than those of the species.
- Rosea with pink flowers, up to 3 meters high
- Sunrise with white inflorescences, also up to 3 meters.
In cultivation, much more rarely, is also the vinex negundo. Coming from China it is similar to the agnus castus; characterized by digitated leaves it is however smaller, graceful and with a lighter green vegetation. The racemes grow on the branches of the year and also have violet flowers. Suitable for small gardens and large pots.

Agnocasto: Therapeutic uses


The agnocasto is used in medicine and herbal medicine for its many medicinal qualities.
The powder obtained from its dried berries can have effects on the endocrine system, in particular on the pituitary gland.
It is recommended to relieve menstrual pain, to regularize the appearance of the female cycle, to make the symptoms related to menopause less irritating (such as irritability, breast and abdominal tension, sudden sensation of heat).
  • Vitex agnus castus



    The vitex agnus-castus, commonly known as' agnocasto ', is a shrubby plant that belongs to the' ver family

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