Ligustrum

Ligustrum lucidum

Family: Oleaceae

This plant is also called Chinese privet or wax privet, and it’s known in China as Nu Zhen Zi. Ligustrum is a very common landscape subject that is considered a weed in hot climates. You may have removed one of its relatives when you were modernizing your garden. The dark purple fruits are attractive, and birds, especially cedar waxwings, flock to them. However, as common as ligustrum is, not many people know that the berries are a classic and widely used tonic herb in traditional Chinese medicine.

Description:

Ligustrum is a shrub or tree with thick, glossy, dark green leaves and white flower clusters that give way to small, dark purple or blackish berries. It is sometimes pruned into hedges, which prevents it from forming berries, but if it is allowed to take on tree form, it can grow to 40 feet tall and, in warm climates, positively drip with fruit during the fall to winter months. However, don’t confuse Chinese or Japanese privet with European privet {L. vulgare}, which is mostly grown in hedge form and is reputed to be mildly toxic.

Preparations and Dosage:

Make a tea by decocting the fresh or dried fruits for 40 to 60 minutes, and drink a cup two or three times each day. You can also make a dried tea concentrate and add 1/2 teaspoon of it to a little hot water to make an instant tea. Tinctures and syrups can be purchased, and many products in capsule and tablet form contain the herb. Follow the package instructions.

Healing Properties:

Ligustrum berries are considered a premier tonic in Chinese herbal medicine. They are added to many formulas that treat chronic adrenal weakness due to stress and overwork, which is accompanied by symptoms such as low back pain, ringing in your ears, premature graying, blurry vision, and weakness in your legs.

Some studies show that the berries strengthen your immune system during cancer treatment and also act as an adaptogen, helping to beneficially regulate your hormonal and nervous system functions. Ligustrum is often recommended for long-term use in traditional Chinese herbal literature, especially for the elderly and for those who are run-down. The berries are also  used to treat hot flashes, irritability, dizziness, and other liver-related deficiency symptoms.

Safety:

No concerns have been noted.

In the Garden:

Ligustrum is typically hardy only in warm climates, but it will survive frosts and even occasional freezes. Within its range, your biggest concern will be how to manage it – sometimes you’ll swear it grew 3 feet in a day. Do not trim it into a hedge, as this will eliminate the possibility that the plant will bear fruit. Instead, give it a lot of room to become a tree and commit to yearly pruning to keep the berries within reach. In four-season climates, you will probably want to grow ligustrum in a pot and keep t sheltered from a harsh weather. It is easy to grow from seed or stem cuttings, and it is readily available as a nursery plant. Full sun or partial shade is okay. The plant has no special soil requirements, and it’s drought tolerant. Just remember that the dropped fruit can be messy and that the tree won’t produce any until it is 4 or 5 years old.

Harvesting Ligustrum:

Collect the berries when they have ripened to a dark bluish purple color, and wash and separate them promptly. Dry them thoroughly and slowly, so that they don’t mold in storage.