What to do if your son is better naturalist than you with a side reference to privet.

One of my goals for this year is to explore each and every plant, organism, and landscape in our extensive yard. As Max and I tried to identify a tree near the river yesterday, it dawned on me that I had a lot to learn in order to keep up with Max’s conversation. So I began this morning with an attempt to learn more about the strange purple grape-like berries in our yard.

This plant grows along the edge of our yard near the clay-rich garden soil. It is a woody, shrub-like plant.

Max immediately informed me that this plant was a privet, but I insisted that not all the privets had these berries and so this must be something else. Max laughed and said, “No mom, it’s just privet.”

Max was right.

There are many uses for this nefarious, fast-growing evergeen which was first brought to the US from Korea in 1794 as an ornamental. It forms thickets and grows rapidly (up to 35 feet in height), requiring regular trimming, shaping, and cutting. It has leathery, glossy leaves with a sharp tip and brownish-gray branches with many lenticels. The glossy privet colonizes by root sprouts and is prevalent in lowlands. It tolerates shade quite well and is an extremely hardy plant.

From April to June, glossy privet has white, fragrant flowers with four petals.

Fruits appear from July to February. The fruits are ovoid drupes arranged in clusters. The drupes are pale green in the summer, ripening to a blue-black in the winter.

There is more to there fruits than meets the eye. Glossy privet has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 1,000 years. According to Plants For A Future:

The fruit is antibacterial, antiseptic, antitumour, cardiotonic, diuretic and tonic. It is taken internally in the treatment of complaints associated with weak kidney and liver energy such as menopausal problems (especially premature menopause), blurred vision, cataracts, tinnitus, rheumatic pains, palpitations, backache and insomnia. Modern research has shown that the plant increases the white blood cell count and is of value when used to prevent bone marrow loss in cancer chemotherapy patients, it also has potential in the treatment of AIDS. Extracts of the plant show antitumour activity. Good results have also been achieved when the fruit has been used in treating respiratory tract infections, hypertension, Parkinson’s disease and hepatitis.

The fruit is harvested when fully ripe and is dried for later use. It is often decocted with other herbs in the treatment of a wide variety of ailments and also as a general tonic. Some caution is advised in their use, since the fruits are toxic when eaten in quantity. The leaves are anodyne, diaphoretic, febrifuge, pectoral and vulnerary. The bark of the stems is diaphoretic.

Even a mainstream source like WebMD acknowledges its medicinal uses.

How exciting to think we have a thriving natural pharmacy in our yard! I think it is time to harvest some privet fruits and dry them out.

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