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What is Schisandra?

By C. Ausbrooks
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Schisandra is a deciduous perennial vine native to East Asia that produces small red fruit valued for its medicinal properties. Other names for the plant include magnolia vine or its Chinese name, Wu Wei Zi, which translates to “five flavor fruit” or “five flavor berry.” The Chinese gave the plant this name because its berries consist of all five flavors recognized in traditional Chinese herbal medicine: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and spicy.

Reaching up to 25 feet (7.62 meters) in length, schisandra bears attractive oval leaves, delicate pink flowers and of course, spikes of red berries beloved by herbalists for their numerous healing benefits. The berries are most commonly dried for use in herbal remedies. Gardeners in temperate climates around the world cultivate the easy-to-grow vine for ornamental or medicinal purposes. The plant prefers partial shade, moist but well-drained soil and about 1 inch (2.54 centimeters) of supplemental water per week. The berries can be harvested in mid- to late-summer when they are reddish-brown in color.

The small, red berries are a traditional herbal remedy used to treat a variety of ailments including asthma, colds, coughing and excessive thirst. Chinese physicians often prescribe schisandra as a tonic to improve overall health and restore balance to the body and mind. Lignans contained in the plant also encourage the revival of liver cells, which makes the herb an important natural treatment for liver damage caused by alcoholism or hepatitis. In addition, the plant contains phytochemicals that improve reflexes, enhance coordination and concentration and increase physical stamina.

Folk uses of the schisandra herb include promoting soft skin and treating diarrhea, impotence, excess urination, fatigue and stress. The plant is believed to increase sexual stamina in men and relieve sexual fatigue in both men and women. It is calming and has mild pain-relieving properties, which may contribute to its use as a stress reliever. The herb is found in numerous sports endurance and weight loss products, likely because of its reputation for increasing physical stamina. It purifies the blood, rejuvenates the body, protects the skin against environmental toxins, improves vision and hearing, and supports a worry-free mind.

Schisandra is available as a dietary supplement in extract, tincture and capsule form, and in multiple herb formulas. The recommended dosage of the herb is ½ to 2 ½ teaspoons (2.46 to 12.32 milliliters) of a liquid extract or ½ to 1 teaspoon (2.46 to 4.93 milliliters) of liquid tincture each day. Dosage of capsules varies among manufacturers but should not exceed 1000 milligrams (1 gram) per day.

Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine often use the dried berries to make tea by steeping them in boiling water. To make schisandra tea, steep 1/2 teaspoon (2.46 milliliters) of the dried berries in 1 cup (236.59 milliliters) of boiling water for at least 15 minutes, strain, sweeten with honey and drink immediately. Fresh berries may be used instead of dried, but double the amount should be used. The recommended dosage is 1 cup (236.59 milliliters) of tea per day.

Because schisandra increases the body's flow of bile, individuals suffering from gallbladder disease, gallstones or blockages of the bile ducts should not consume the herb in any form. The plant also stimulates the uterus and can induce labor, so it should be avoided by pregnant women. Individuals with high blood pressure, peptic ulcers or epilepsy should also avoid taking the herb. Mild side effects of schisandra include indigestion, itchiness of the skin and suppressed appetite.

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