SCHISANDRA BERRY (Schisandra chinensis)

Latin: Schisandra chinensis
Chinese: Wu wei zi
English: Five flavored fruit

WHAT IT DOES: Schisandra berry is sour in taste, astringent and warming.  It calms the mind and nerves, nourishes the Yin, generates fluids, strengthens general vitality and tonifies and protects the heart, liver and lungs.


SAFETY ISSUES: Use with caution if pregnant.  Avoid if you have elevated intracranial pressure or epilepsy.  May increase stomach acidity.  May potentiate barbituates.  (reported in Upton, 1999).

• Dried powder: three to nine grams per day
• 4:1 dried decoction: one to three grams per day
Note: For treatment of hepatitis, administer three grams three times per day.

Schisandra berries are one of my first choices in the treatment of neurasthenia, along with milky oat seed tincture, scullcap tincture and ashwagandha root.  Neurasthenia–nerve weakness, fatigue and pallor–is a condition that has reemerged as a synonym for chronic fatigue or other stress-related disorders.  Historically, TCM doctors have always considered this fruit to be a superior medicine, able to prolong life.  One reason for its reputation is that it contains five tastes.  Interestingly, Ayurvedic herbs that are said to contain multiple tastes–haritaki fruit, vibhitaki fruit and amla fruit–are also revered as life-prolonging (rasayana) tonics.

Medicinally TCM doctors use the tonic/astringent actions of schisandra berries to treat chronic cough and wheezing due to lung deficiency, as well as for chronic diarrhea.  They are also used to quiet the spirit and calm the heart, and to treat irritability, palpitations, night sweats, disturbed dreams and insomnia.  The modern Chinese understanding states that these clinical effects result from an amphoteric (balancing) effect on the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.  The way I understand it, schisandra berries stabilize the nervous system.
Schisandra berry is one of the three ingredients in “Generate the Pulse” powder, along with ginseng root and ophiopogon root, routinely used in Japanese and Chinese hospitals to treat coronary artery disease.  Animal studies have shown it effective to protect against and to treat cerebral ischemia (stroke or blockage of blood flow to the brain).  None of three individual herbs were able to prevent damage when administered alone, an impressive demonstration of herbal synergy (Xuejiang et al., 1999).

Research Highlights

• Pharmacological studies have demonstrated the liver-protective effects of schisandra berry extracts.  Rat livers were “remarkably” protected by an extract of schisandra berries against deadly poisons (Mizoguchi et al., 1991).

• Male mice that received diets containing 5% schisandra berries exhibited a threefold increase in the important liver cytochrome P-450 antioxidant system (Hendrich et al., 1983).  Equally important is the enhancing effect of schisandra on the status of liver mitochondria in rats (Ip et al., 1998).

• Schisandra berries were shown to lower elevated liver enzyme levels in patients with chronic viral hepatitis (Chang and But, 1986, Liu et al., 1982).

• Schisandra berries have been shown to promote heightened learning ability in animals and increased anti-depressant effects and endurance in humans (reported in Bone, 1996).

• The combination of ginseng root and schisandra berries reportedly improves memory (reported in Huang, 1999).

• Human clinical studies have shown antiinflammatory actions of schisandra seed powder (reported in Upton, 1999).

• Human studies in Russia hindicate that schisandra has an adaptogenic activity, prompting telegraph operators to transmit messages more accurately, increasing recovery after exercise, and improving blood levels of nitric oxide after heavy exercise.  It was also shown to promote recuperation in racehorses after exercise (reported in Upton, 1999).