Privet & the Healing Potential of Invasive Species

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Privet in bloom (I use the leaves and twigs only, not the flowers)

Privet (Ligustrum sinense)

I just survived the privet trimming. Of course, this dance with privet (and what a wild dance as it grows like crazy) got me thinking about the traditional use of this plant as well as new scientific information coming out about it.

I’ve always had a thing for invasive plants.  In my early planty years…of course…I detested them.  I volunteered in parks and wildlife habitats and ripped them from the ground with a therapeutic fervor.  It really was cheap therapy for me to get out any angst I might have stored up.

However, over time, and as my herbal and plant knowledge grew, I began to see their role in stabilizing disturbed habitats and soil.  Invasive species are a special class of plants that anticipate microbial imbalance and curb pollution and toxicity of our land (see the book “Invasive Plant Medicine,” I highly recommend it).

Privet has its own star role to play in restoring balance to our human bodies (just as it does for the earth).  High in Kaempferol, a potent flavonoid, privet is viewed by some in the herbal community as a potential chelation therapy of certain heavy metals and toxins. It is this very potent flavonoid composition that also makes it great for the immune system.

Two other Southern herbalists I know find that it has an affinity for the throat and mouth. They attribute this to its cooling, astringent nature and its flavonoid content. I also learned from a local herbalist to combine it with culinary sage for cold & flu symptoms that begin in the throat.  I like to tincture these two herbs together and make an elixir by adding honey for sore throat season.  Sometimes I also add tag alder and/or propolis from the beehive.

Another interesting constituent of privet is oleanolic acid which is an antioxidant. It has been researched to exhibit antitumor and antiviral properties. It is said to be relatively nontoxic.

Finally, privet is also a good source of zinc. Zinc plays a role in healthy nervous system function and immune system function. This key trace mineral also protects against free radical damage and is a key player in many enzymatic processes.  Enzymes are proteins involved in complex reactions in the body and are relevant to all life processes.

I’m not sure of the amount of zinc and I haven’t made a tea from the plant material yet (only tinctures).  However, zinc would be made available to we humans by making a tea or infusion of the leaves and twigs of the plant.  They would need to be dried first.

Based on what I knew about privet’s plant energetics (astringent, cooling, etc), I also use privet in a formula with hawthorn leaves and twigs, peach leaves, holy basil, and rose petals.  I formulated this for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), rapid transit (or diarrhea), too much digestive heat, and for those with leaky gut syndrome. We’ve had great results with this formula we call Total Tummy.  I’ve even had a couple Crohn’s patients use it with great success for when they have a “flare up.”

So, even though this shrub has become a pesky presence in the Deep South, it’s time we embraced the presence of this plant and considered deeper inquiries.  Why it has it come to our landscape and spread so readily? And, most importantly, what is privet’s role in healing our land and healing our bodies?

Please note that the berries are purgative.  So, do not use the berries in any herbal preparation (that is, unless you want to throw up).  Like I mentioned above, I use the twigs and leaves mainly.  I have used privet mainly as a tincture.  However, there is much to explore with teas and decoctions as well!

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