Schizandra berry, also known as Fructus Schisandrae in pharmaceutical Latin, is a top restorative that was first enrolled in The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica (Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing). The Newly Revised Herbology (Xin Xiu Ben Cao), compiled in the Tang dynasty (618~907 A.D.), reviewed that the reason why it was named Wu Wei Zi, literally Five Flavored Berry, is because of its sweet, sour, and salty peel and flesh and acrid, bitter pit. It is used so frequently in traditional Chinese medicine that it is viewed as one of the 50 fundamental Chinese herbs these days. So, what is schizandra used for? Now let’s take a close look at this amazing tonic.
What is schizandra?
Actually there are two kinds of schizandra berries that are commonly used medicinally. They are the ripe fruits of Schisandra chinensis (Turcz.) Baill. or Schisandra sphenanthera Rehd. et Wils. Both of them are plant species of family Magnoliaceae. In China the former one is better known as “North schizandra” since it is mainly produced in the Northeast; the latter is better known as “South schizandra” since they are mainly from the southwest and south of the Yangtze River. And the south one is typically believed with better medicinal properties. Other common names include Schisandra Fruit, Schisandra Seed, Five Taste Fruits, Five Flavors Fruit, and more. Medicinally they are collected in fall when the fruits are ripe. And then they are just needed to be dried in the sun. It is normally used raw or steamed with vinegar and honey.
Schisandra chinensis berry is in the shape of irregular ball or flat ball, in the diameter of 5 to 8mm. The surface is red or purplish red, wrinkled, and oily. Some are dark red, covered with frost. Seeds are 1 to 2 and kidney-shaped; surface is brown and shiny; seed coat is thin and brittle; pulp is soft, with slight aroma and sour taste. The crushed seeds are aromatic, spicy, and bitter.
Schisandra sphenanthera berry is spike-like aggregate fruits. They are spherical, fleshy, dark red when ripe. The dried fruits are smaller in size, shriveled, and wrinkled, with reddish brown to dark brown surface and flesh that is often close to the seed.
It contains schizandrin, deoxyschizandrin, neoschizandrin, schizandrol, schisantherin, and so on.
Modern pharmacological actions of schisandra berries
1) It produces stimulation to all levels of the central nervous system;
2) It affects both the excitatory and inhibitory processes of cerebral cortex to therefore bring balance;
3) It stimulates the respiratory system. As a result, it is antitussive and expectorant;
4) It lowers blood pressure;
5) It promotes the discharge of bile, lowers serum transaminases, and protects liver cells;
6) It has ginseng-like adaptogen, which can enhance the body’s defense capabilities to non-specific stimulation;
7) It increases cellular immune function and thus significantly enhances the SOD activity of brain, liver, spleen SOD. Hence, it has immunity-improving, anti-oxidation, and anti-aging effects;
8) It inhibits Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Salmonella enterica, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and more.
Schizandra berry benefits
In the TCM point of view, it is commonly used to help treat night sweats, polydipsia, frequent urination, urinary incontinence and premature ejaculation because it tonifies kidney and promotes the secretion of body fluid. More importantly, it possesses astringent and tonic properties although the astringency is stronger. The medical sage Zhang Zhongjing loves to combine it with Gan Jiang (dried ginger) and Xi Xin (Herba Asari) to stop cough and asthma by astringing the lung. It makes sense since these herbs oppose each other and yet also complement each other by respective opening and closing nature. Another great finding is its function of reducing excitability and astringing Promordial Qi, typifying by Du Qi Wan, composed of Liu Wei Di Huang Wan plus schizandra. This formula was first recorded in Zhang Shi Yi Tong (Comprehensive Medicine according to Master Zhang) in Qing dynasty and it is traditionally used to treat asthma and vomiting due to kidney deficiency. Today it is confirmed that it protects liver and reduces serum transaminases. In addition, in recent years it has been reported that it could treat myocardial infarction too.
It is conventionally believed with the ability to protect the five internal organs – heart, liver, spleen, lung, and kidney. It is all the rage worldwide now, in particular in China and Japan. As early as 2 thousand years ago, this tonic has been widely used in kings, millionaires, and herbalists. As its name implies, it is a berry that is with 5 kinds of flavors – spicy, sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. This makes it easily stand out from the rest herbs that are usually with 1 or 2 flavors. Thanks for that, it helps play an important role in balancing the relationship of five internal organs.
Schisandra is rich in organic acids, vitamins, flavonoids, phytosterols, and lignans. Lignans, e.g. schizandrin and schisandrin B, has a potent recovery effect. It is also one of the few herbs that benefit essence, vital breath and spirit at the same time. In other words, it tonifies vital energy, protecting liver, increasing the efficiency of removing waste in cells, supply more oxygen, create and use energy, improve memory and sexual stamina. That explains well why ancient Russian must take it for the purpose of beefing up each time they went hunting.
However, the schizandra berry health benefits don’t end here. Here are more.
1) It can improve decreased vision, enhance impaired hearing, improve lung health, relieve respiratory diseases like chronic cough and respiratory infections, and heal eczema and hives;
2) It promotes detoxification function of liver, protects the liver from damage of the respiratory tract by accelerating the metabolic rate of acetaminophen and reducing GSH depletion, and promotes the regeneration and reorganization of damaged liver cells;
3) It has good anti-inflammatory effect and activates the metabolism in order to facilitate the repair of synthesis rate of damaged liver cells. So, it helps the regeneration and reproduction of the impaired liver cell;
4) It can strengthen the body’s immune system, help people develop immunity to various diseases, and restore energy. Schisandra is one of the most effective plant based adaptogens, which can improve intelligence, stamina, sensory functions, and resistance to stress force. In short, it can help the body to withstand stress factors, such as cold, heat, noise, emotional overload and the like. So, it helps improve performance, enhance endurance and reduce fatigue;
5) Schisandrin B and schisanhenol have anti-oxidant effect, which can scavenge free radicals and inhibit the formation of lipid peroxidation. In other words, it can delay aging.
Sample schisandra recipes on herbal remedies
The “Chinese Pharmacopoeia” reveals that it is sour, sweet in flavor and warm in nature. It goes to lung, heart, and kidney. Basic functions are astringing lung Qi, stopping diarrhea, enhancing Qi while nourishing fluid, tonifying kidney, and calming the heart. Main schizandra uses and indications include chronic cough, deficiency-type asthma, nocturnal emission, enuresis, frequent urination, chronic diarrhea, spontaneous sweating, night sweats, thirst due to fluid loss, shortness of breath accompanied with feeble pulse, diabetes caused by internal heat, heart palpitations and insomnia. Recommended schizandra berry dosage is from 1.5 to 6g in decoction. In addition, you can buy it in the forms of schizandra berry tea, extract, supplement, powder, capsules, tincture,
1) Wu Wei Xi Xin Tang from Ji Feng Pu Ji Fang (Universal-Relief Prescriptions from Jifeng). It is combined with Bai Fu Ling (White Poria cocos), Gan Cao (Licorice Root), and Xi Xin (Herba Asari) to treat coughing incessantly;
2) Wu Wei Zi Wan from Wei Sheng Jia Bao Fang (Treasured Family Prescriptions for Health). It is coupled with poppy shell to cure cough;
3) Sheng Mai San from Qian Jin Fang (Thousand golden essential prescriptions). It is formulated with Ren Shen (Ginseng) and Mai Men Dong (Ophiopogon Tuber) to heal the primordial Qi impaired by heat, physical fatigue, shortness of breath, laziness to speak, dry mouth for thirst, constant sweating, and so on;
4) Wu Wei Zi Gao from Yi Xue Ru Men (Gate of Entry to Medical Studies). It is simmered with winter honey to make cream for the treatment of wet dream and collapse;
5) Wu Wei Zi San from Pu Ji Ben Shi Fang (Prescriptions for Universal Relief). It is matched with Wu Zhu Yu (cornel) to treat diarrhea before dawn;
6) Wu Wei Zi Wan from Jing Yan Liang Fang (Experiential Fine Formulas). It is fried and made into pills with vinegar to cure gonorrhea, kidney deficiency, and pains in waist and back.
Schizandra berry side effects and contraindications
Schizandra berry is considered a drug with a little toxicity and taking it orally may cause some certain adverse reactions, e.g. belching, acid reflux, gastric burning sensation, bowel sound, drowsiness, or sometimes allergic reactions. Some individual patients may also see fever, headache, exhaustion, dry mouth, feeling of peculiar smell, urticaria, nausea, vomiting, and so on. Besides, it excites the respiratory system, increases the respiratory rate, and lowers blood pressure.
Nevertheless, generally the toxicity and side effects of schizandra is less obvious. Even so, long-term use of it is not recommended.