Nu Zhen Zi
Botanical name: Ligustrum lucidum
Common name: Ligustrum, Chinese privet
Literal name translation: female chastity seed
Family: Oleaceae, olive family
Part used in Chinese medicine: fruit
Major Chinese medicine actions:
Nourishes and tonifies the Liver and Kidney yin,
clears heat from deficiency, brightens eyes
Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Ligustrum lucidum; 06/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 2: Ligustrum lucidum; 06/2005; author Fanghong; permission under GFDL
Photo 3: Ligustrum lucidum; 08/2008; author Bidgee; permission under GFDL
Privet is a genus of the olive family with over 50 species, including both deciduous and evergreen shrubs and small trees. Many privets are native to Asia, though some come from Europe, North America and Australia. Ligustrum lucidum is commonly grown as an evergreen hedge shrub in United States where temperatures do not dip below 0 degrees F, while a closely related species, Ligustrum vulgare is widely planted in formal English and European gardens. Both plants were originally introduced to England from China in 1794 and have since been cultivated around the world. In some regions, such as Australia and New Zealand, it is considered a weed.
Chinese privet grows on sunny mountainsides and is sometimes cultivated as a border hedge around farmland in China. It is a large shrub with glossy evergreen leaves, growing to 30 feet high. Clusters of fragrant white flowers appear in summer, followed by bunches of small blue-black fruit in the fall.
Growing and Propagation
The plant grows easily in most soils and does best in full sun, though is not hardy in very cold climates. It is said to thrive with neglect, and is hardy in USDA zones 8 to 10. Propagation can be achieved by taking semi-ripe cuttings in the summer, hardwood cuttings in winter, or by seed sown directly in the ground. After 2 years of growth, seedlings should be transplanted to a permanent location in a spot where they have room to grow and spread. It takes four or five years for privets to begin bearing fruit.
Harvesting and Preparation
Fruits are harvested in when ripe, usually in December but anytime from late fall to early winter. They are then washed or steamed and dried in the sun. Though not used in Chinese medicine, privet leaves are edible and considered to be a “famine food” in China.