Common privet is a perennially growing shrub that is frequently used for enclosures and the plants may grow up to a height of nine feet or even taller. Stems of common privet are firm, straight and the bark has grey-brown spots with petite brown lenticels (numerous pores in the stem of a wooded plant enabling exchange of gases between the plant and the outside). Privet bears leaves in pairs that are perpendicular to other pairs on the stem (decussate). The leaves of this shrub are partially glossy green with shapes varying from oval to lance-like. They are usually 2 cm to 6 cm in length and 0.5 cm to 1.5 cm in width. The shrub blooms in mid-summer and the flowers appear on 3 cm to 6 cm long panicles and have a creamy-white hue. Each flower has a tube-like base and four petals that are about 4 mm to 6 mm across. The flowers exude a sweet, potent aroma, which is disagreeable to several people.
The fruit of common privet is a little smooth black berry that measures 6 mm to 8 mm across and encloses one to four seeds. The berries of privet are venomous for humans, but thrushes consume them readily and disperse the seeds along with their droppings.
During the days of European colonialism, people transported common privet to North America with the view to grow them as hedge plants and ever since, the plants have been held in high esteem in the region. The profusion of leaves of common privet helps to form a dense screen and provided the plant is let free to grow unrestricted, it can grow up to a maximum height of 15 feet. Plants grown in the warm climatic regions normally retain the foliage throughout the year and it appears that they are air pollution resistant. Clipping of the plants encourages speedy growth that helps to replace what has been lost. In effect, expert gardeners often clip the common private plants to give them shapes of animals and other imaginary designs - an art known as topiary.
Considering these attributes, several gardeners may be astonished to know that common privet also has an excellent reputation as a therapeutic plant. About a century back, medical practitioners used the berries of this plant in the form of a potent laxative. The flowers of common privet were used as a remedy for headache and used by placing them on the aching head. Similarly, the leaves of privet were used as an astringent in the form of gargles and mouthwashes. The flowers as well as the leaves of common privet have also been used to alleviate a number of female problems, for instance vaginal irritations and irregular menstruation. In addition to what has been mentioned so far, common privet possesses more remedial properties. The bark of this plant yields a yellow dye, while the berries produce green and black colorants. Occasionally, the tender branches of common privet are employed to make baskets.
Berry, leaf, flower, bark.
Researchers are yet to be ascertained as to how this plant got its common name ‘privet'. While some scholars relate the origin of the plant's name to the term ‘private', since the use of common privet as hedge plants began since the ancient times. In fact, before people discovered and understood the actual nature of infection, many people held the flowers, for instance common privet, for spreading ailments and, hence, kept them out of their house. As mentioned earlier, the small berries of common privet yield green and black colorants, while an unrelated plant species having an identical name - Egyptian privet or Lawsonia inermis, produces the well-accepted dye henna, which is applied to color hair. Usually, common privet is used by skilled gardeners for topiary art by clipping the plants to give them shapes of animals or other imaginary designs. The bark of common privet produces a yellow dye, while the wood forms a supply of charcoal.
Occasionally common privet was employed in England to treat sore lips, the mumps and in the form of an astringent in mouthwashes and gargles. Early European settlers bought with them common privet to North America and used it to make therapeutic preparations. When the flowers of this plant are placed on the head, it alleviates headaches. While the leaves and flowers of the plant are used to cure menstrual disorders, the berries or fruits of common privet were employed as a potent laxative. A related plant species was used by the Asians as a stimulant or tonic. According to a section of herbalists, the common privet reinforces the immune system. It is known that tumours have the aptitude to hold back the capability of macrophages (cells that eliminate bacteria as well as other wastes) from functioning. Several researches have demonstrated that a blend of common privet and astragalus might help to reverse this action of the tumours.
Common privet possesses diuretic, astringent, antiseptic, immuno-stimulant, anti-cholestrolemic as well as anti-cancer properties. A decoction prepared with common privet leaves is taken internally to cure diarrhea, bladder disorders, stomach ulcers, indigestion as well as to enhance appetite. It is also employed to heal sore throat and eyes, ulcers, swellings, mumps, chapped lips, throat cancer and in the form of mouthwash and gargle.
The leaves as well as the bark of common privet are employed to cure headaches, tumours, bronchitis, coughs, to drive out phlegm as well as light-headedness. The seeds of common privet berries are primarily used for treating liver and kidney ailments, to augment energy, symptoms of menopause, insomnia, put off premature aging, gray hair, heart palpitations, rheumatoid arthritis, tinnitus (a ringing or similar sensation in the ear), backache as well as eye problems, counting glaucoma and cataract.
Since it has been found that common privet invigorates the immune system, it is employed in treating contagious ailments, for instance hepatitis B. and sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Usage of this herb is also known to produce excellent results in the treatment of cataracts in the initial stage and high blood pressure (hypertension). It is also useful in curing Pneumocystis Carinii pneumonia (a fungal infection of the lungs) as well as a number of respiratory problems.
Habitat and cultivation
Common privet is indigenous to Europe, Asia and several regions of North Africa.
The plants of this species are extremely accepting and can be grown without any difficulty. Common privet thrives on all soil conditions, especially those that are not extremely depleted. Common privet grows excellently in heavy clay (loam) soils, but has a preference for calcareous soil. It also succeeds in thin arid soils. The plans grow excellently in light forestlands or in the complete shade of a wall. However, a sunlit position is ideal for the plants to produce flowers and fruits. As mentioned earlier, common privet has the aptitude to tolerate air pollution and when the plants are well established, they are also able to endure drought conditions. However, they do not thrive in water-logged land. Common privet is basically a sucking shrub that forms a thick thicket and makes an excellent cover for birds. The leaves of privet also form a vital food for several caterpillars, counting the larvae of the privet hawk moth. Common privet is extremely susceptible to honey fungus.
Common privet is propagated by its seeds in a cold frame during spring. Stored seeds of the plant germinate much better provided they are stratified. Prior to sowing the seeds, ensure that you get rid of all fruit flesh from around the seed, since it can slow down the germination process. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently large to be handled, prick them out individually and plant them in separate pots, where they need to be grown in the cold frame during their first winter. You may transplant the young plants in their permanent positions outdoors during the later part of spring or early summer when the last anticipated frost is over.
Alternately, the seeds may also be sown directly outdoors in seed beds during autumn. Allow the plants to grow in the seed beds for as many as four years following which you may transplant them in their permanent positions during the winter. Common privet may also be propagated very easily by wood cuttings. To propagate the plant in this method, cut half-mature wood in lengths of 5 cm to 10 cm each having a heel during the July-August period and plant them in a frame. In case you are making cuttings of mature wood, each cutting should be about 20 cm to 30 cm long and they should be planted in a protected outdoor bed during November-December. Alternatively, if necessary, the cuttings may also be placed in situ (in their permanent place).
Common privet contains: