Alternative names: Chinese Magnolia Vine, Five Flavored Fruit, (Misspellings:) Shizandra Berry, Schizandra Berry, Shisandra Berry.
Schisandra is a woody vine with numerous clusters of tiny, bright red berries. It is distributed throughout northern and northeast China and the adjacent regions of Russia and Korea. The fully ripe, sun-dried fruit is used medicinally.
The berries of Schisandra chinensis are given the name Wu Wei Zi in Chinese, which translates as "five flavor fruit", due to the fact that they possess all five basic flavors: salty, sweet, sour, pungent (spicy), and bitter. These five distinct flavors correspond to the five phases or Elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine; Sour (Wood), Bitter (Fire), Sweet (Earth), Acrid (Metal) and Salty (Water).
Schisandra is considered a Harmonizing Tonic or "King" remedy in Chinese Medicine because of its well-balanced energetic nature. Other Herbs in this category include – but are not limited to – Licorice, Dong Quai, Panax Ginseng, Jujube Dates, and Bupleurum.
Schisandra is included in every classic text on Traditional Chinese Medicine and has been used to support a healthy functioning endocrine system, digestive system, and to support normal liver function as well as a convalescent tonic herb when the kidney system is involved.
The major chemical constituents in schisandra are schisandrin, deoxyschizandrin, schisanhenol, schizandrol, sesquicarene, gomisin, citral, beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol, pregomisin, and vitamins C and E.
The extract and its isolated constituents are being extensively researched, especially in China. Much of the clinical research has focused on the effects of Schisandra on liver function, especially its protective effect on the liver, its effect on the production of various liver-detoxifying enzymes, the activation of the CYP450 enzyme system, as well as the antioxidant activity of the extract. More research is needed to fully understand the exact biochemical activity of this very useful plant.
Schisandra is known as an excellent tonic and restorative herb. Schisandrin is known to stimulate the nervous system, increasing the speed of reflex nervous responses and improving mental clarity. Chinese practitioners have used schisandra in the treatment of depression, irritability, and forgetfulness.
Schisandra is classified as an adaptogenic herb. Some of its effects – similar to rhodiola – may be due to these adaptogenic properties, protecting against stressed-induced metabolic alterations in blood glucose and/or serotonin. These aberrations have been shown to result in changes of behavior and mood.
Russian Scientist Nicolai Lazarev discovered adaptogens in 1947 and defined them as such:
In traditional Chinese medicine Schisandra is used as a remedy for many ailments: to resist infections, increase skin health, and combat insomnia, coughing, and thirst.
Human trials completed in China (one double-blind and the other preliminary) have shown that schisandra may help people with chronic viral hepatitis. Schisandra lignans appear to protect the liver by activating the enzymes in liver cells that produce glutathione, an important antioxidant substance.