We once had a privet hedge instead of a garden wall, but it didn’t recover after a very heavy snowfall and bad winter sometime in the 1960s in Britain. Privet is a semi-evergreen, and grows wild in Britain, the rest of Europe and North Africa. It is a medium to fast-growing shrub so was popular at one time as a hedge, although it has now been overtaken in the hedge stakes by Ligustrum ovalifolium which is apparently a more reliable evergreen species.
     In Britain its main claim to fame is that along with the Ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior), it is a member of the olive family of plants, the Oleaceae, of which only these two species are native. Wild privet is an invasive weed in North America, New Zealand and Australia and it has been banned from sale and cultivation in New Zealand because its pollen exacerbates asthma and eczema in sufferers of those ailments. The berries contain toxic substances although these usually only provoke vomiting and more often no symptoms at all are reported. The leaves can also provoke allergic reactions if taken internally, although at one time they were used as a stomachic, as was the bark of bigger plants.
  The leaves have astringent properties and can help cleanse wounds as they have detergent actions too. As well as this they can assist in wound healing, if they are bruised.
 The black or purple berries which form clusters are poisonous to horses and as they contain lignan glycosides, saponins, and seco-iridoid bitter substances these are deemed to be responsible. Unfortunately they are attractive to children too, as are the berries of the deadly nightshade.
  Despite the toxins the plant contains the Physicians of Myddfai employed privet in some remedies as this one shows:-
   “The mugwort, madder, meadow sweet, milfoil, hemp, redcabbage, and the tutsan, all these seven herbs enter into the composition of the medicine required.  Whosoever obtains them all, will not languish long from a wounded lung, or need fear for his life. Any of the following herbs may be added thereto, butcher's broom, agrimony, tutsan, dwarf elder, amphibious persicaria, centaury, round birth wort, field scabious, pepper mint, daisy, knap weed, roots of the red nettle, crake berry, St. John's wort, privet, wood betony, the roots of the yellow goat's beard, heath, water avens, woodruff, leaves of the earthnut, agrimony, wormwood, the bastard balm, small burdock, and the orpine.”
  Nicholas Culpeper writing in the 17th century also believed that privet could be beneficial and wrote this about the shrub:-
 “Government and virtues. The Moon is lady of this. It is little used in physic with us in these times, more than in lotions, to wash sores and sore mouths, and to cool inflammations, and dry up fluxes. Yet Matthiolus saith, it serves all the uses for which Cypress, or the East Privet, is appointed by Dioscorides and Galen. He further saith, that the oil that is made of the flowers of Privet infused therein, and set in the Sun, is singularly good for the inflammations of wounds, and for the headache, coming of a hot cause. There is a sweet water also distilled from the flowers, that is good for all those diseases that need cooling and drying, and therefore helps all fluxes of the belly or stomach, bloody-fluxes, and women's courses, being either drank or applied; as all those that void blood at the mouth, or any other place, and for distillations of rheum in the eyes, especially if it be used with tutia.”
  While Culpeper refers to the ancient uses of this shrub, he also points out that it was used in his day too. Times change though and the privet is no longer even used as much as it once was for a hedge.

1 comment: