- Family Schisandraceae
- Schisandra chinensis (Wu-Wei-Zi, Chinese Mock-Barberry, Lemonwood)
- Schisandra sphenanthera (Nan Wu Wei Zi, Lemon-Wood)
- Large doses can cause heartburn.
- It should not be used during pregnancy as it can stimulate the uterus.
Indigenous to northeastern China and Korea, schisandra is cultivated in northeastern China, especially in the provinces of Jilin, Lianoning, Heilongjiang, and Hebei. It is an aromatic, woody vine reaching up to twenty-five feet with pink flowers and spikes of red berries. The crushed seeds taste hot and aromatic. The fruit is harvested in the fall when fully ripe.
There are two types of schizandra plants – one that produces red berries, and the other, black. The red berries are often seen in Chinese herbalist shops, while the black ones are rarely seen outside of Asia. The fruits also have five distinct flavours: sweet, sour, pungent, bitter, and salty. This feature gave rise to the Chinese name, Wu Wei Tsu, meaning “five-flavoured plant,” indicating the tastes of the five main elemental energies.
The plant first appeared about a thousand years ago in the Divine Husbandman’s Classic of the Materia Medica, and used to treat a diverse range of illnesses, including coughs, premature ejaculation, chronic dysentery, and insomnia.
- nervous system stimulant
- protects liver
- uterine stimulant
- lignans (including schizandrin, schizandrol A and B, deoxyschizandrin, and gomisin)
- phytosterols (beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol)
- volatile oil
- vitamins C and E
- fatty oil (oleic acid and linoleic acid)
Up to thirty different types of lignans have been researched and identified, and all have been found to be liver-protecting.
Schizandrin and schizandrol are not only liver-protecting acting, but also act as radical scavengers and promote liver regeneration. They have also exibited anti-inflammatory and tumor-protecting characteristics.
Schizandrol A is said to be neuroleptic, anticonvulsive, and sedative in effect.
Research from 1972 onward indicates the beneficial action of schisandra on the liver, with one clinical trial showing a 76% success rate in treating patients with hepatitis, with no side effects noted.
Used as a liver treatment herb, it has proven to be effective for hepatitis and poor liver function.
As it stimulates the nervous system, it causes an increase in the speed of reflex nervous responses, thereby improving mental clarity. It has traditionally been prescribed to treat such mental illnesses as neuroses, but also given to improve concentration and coordination, a practice which has been borne out by research.
The fruit of the plant has proven to stimulate the spinal cord and brain and to strengthen and quicken reflexes. Those who eat it, work better and more efficiently. Although stimulating, it does not have the nervous after-effects found in caffeine. It has also shown to stimulate breathing and works so powerfully that the plant is used in morphine overdoses to counteract the respiratory paralysis that results.
When taken intravenously, it decreases blood pressure; and, in alcohol solutions, it acts as a vasodilator.
It is used to strengthen rhythmic contractions and in procuring healthy deliveries.
It also aids in digestion and the absorption of nutrients.
It improves sensory perception by increasing visual acuity and the field of vision, as well as to discern different types of touch. It helps individuals deal with stress and improves endurance.
The berries are thought to be potentially useful in treating depression and are known to improve irritability and forgetfulness.
The herb is an adaptogenic, a concept familiar in Chinese medicine, but hard for Westerners to grasp. Adaptogens help an individual adapt to his environment, particularly stress. Garlic and ginseng are classic examples. In essence, all tonic plants are adaptogens.
It is also used to stimulate the uterus and strengthen rhythmic contractions.
As a tonic, it strengthens and tones various organs of the body. In China, berries are chewed every day for 100 days.
It is also used as a sexual stimulant for both men and women, improving stamina.
Although a stimulant, it is used in Chinese medicine to “quiet the spirit and calm the heart”. It is given for insomnia and dream-disturbed sleep. It is a prime example how one herb can work in apparently contradictory ways to restore normal body function.
It is used in the treatment of such respiratory infections as chronic coughs, shortness of breath, and wheezing.
It is used to tone up and strengthen kidney function and to help the body to balance fluid levels, making it useful for treating night sweats, thirst, and frequent urination.
Recently, Chinese herbalists have started using schisandra for treating hives (urticaria) and such other skin problems as eczema.
It is used for a wide variety of other physical disorders, including diarrhea and dysentery and to improve failing sight and hearing.
In Chinese medicine, the plant is also used for conditions of the digestive tract, including intestinal inflammations, as well as for insomnia, nightly ejaculation, coughs, chronic diarrhea, dyspnea, insomnia, spontaneous outbreaks of sweating, hepatitis, and anxiety states.
Schisandra sphenanthera is less therapeutically active, but it is commonly used in Chinese medicine for coughs.