The berries of the glossy privet tree, Ligustrum lucidum, have a long history of use in traditional Chinese herbal medicine as an herb that helps “tonify the yin.” This expression cannot be fully explained without entering into the theoretical framework of traditional Chinese medicine, but it may be said loosely to indicate a strengthening effect on some of the functions of the body. As part of herbal combinations (traditional Chinese herbal medicine seldom uses single-herb preparations), ligustrum is used for such purposes as turning gray hair black, alleviating ringing in the ear, and treating vertigo.
One of the most famous combination therapies containing ligustrum is named Erzhi Wan, or “Two-Solstices Pill.” It consists of ligustrum berries harvested at the winter solstice, combined with another herb ( Eclipta alba) harvested at the summer solstice. The combined treatment is thought of as providing a balance of two opposite “energies.”
Ligustrum is currently marketed as a treatment for strengthening the immune system, and on this basis is often recommended for use by people undergoing treatment for cancer or HIV. However, there is no meaningful scientific evidence that ligustrum provides any benefit for these, or any other, conditions.
Very weak evidence from test-tube and animal studies hints that ligustrum might have anti-parasitic,1 anti-viral,2 liver- protective,3 immunomodulatory (this means “altering” immune function, rather than, as commonly misunderstood, “strengthening” it),4,5 and cancer-preventive6 effects. However, this evidence is too preliminary to rely upon at all. Only double-blind, placebo-controlled studies can prove a treatment effective, and none have been performed on ligustrum. (For information on why such studies are essential, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies?)
A typical dose of ligustrum berries is 5 mg taken two or three times daily.
Although use of ligustrum appears to be well tolerated in general, the herb has not undergone any meaningful safety evaluation at the level of modern scientific standards. Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease is definitely not established.
1. Lirussi D, Li J, Prieto JM, et al. Inhibition of Trypanosoma cruzi by plant extracts used in Chinese medicine. Fitoterapia. 2004;75:718–23.
2. Ma SC, He ZD, Deng XL, et al. In vitro evaluation of secoiridoid glucosides from the fruits of Ligustrum lucidum as antiviral agents. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 2001;49:1471–3.
3. Yim TK, Wu WK, Pak WF, et al. Hepatoprotective action of an oleanolic acid-enriched extract of Ligustrumlucidum fruits is mediated through an enhancement on hepatic glutathione regeneration capacity in mice. PhytotherRes. 2001;15:589–92.
4. Baronikova S, Nagy M, Grancai D. Changes in immunomodulatory activity of human mononuclear cells after cultivation with leaf decoctions from the genus Ligustrum L. Phytother Res. 1999;13:692–695.
5. Sun Y, Hersh EM, Lee SL, et al. Preliminary observations on the effects of the Chinese medicinal herbs Astragalus membranaceus and Ligustrum lucidum on lymphocyte blastogenic responses. J Biol Response Mod. 1983;2:227–237.
6. Niikawa M, Hayashi H, Sato T, Nagase H, et al. Isolation of substances from glossy privet ( Ligustrum lucidum Ait.) inhibiting the mutagenicity of benzo[a]pyrene in bacteria. Mutat Res. 1993;319:1–9
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 12/15/2015
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