Schisandra chinensis

By Steven H. Horne

A native to China, Russia, Korea and Japan, schizandra is a highly valued herb in Oriental medicine. Its Chinese name, wu wei zi, means five flavored herb. This is because schizandra has all the five flavors recognized in the TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). It is contains all five tastes in Chinese medicine (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent), which means it balances all five of the Chinese elements (earth, wood, water, metal and fire). Schizandra’s various flavors signal the presence of a variety of phytochemicals, which are responsible for its many health benefits.

Schizandra contains about 40 lignans, many of which have very positive effects on the liver. Schizandra also contains volatile oils, organic acids (citric, malic and tartaric), Vitamins A, C, and E, and fixed oils containing linoleic, oleic, linolenic, lauric and plamitic fatty acids. All these substances give schizandra benefits on the liver, nervous, glandular, cardiovascular, respiratory, reproductive and urinary systems.

The lignans have a strong hepato-protective effect. They enhance glutathione production in the liver (glutathione is a very important cellular antioxidant), stimulate liver glycogen and protein synthesis, inhibit lipid peroxidation, improve bile acid metabolism, promote blood flow to the liver and liver regeneration, and protect the liver against substances like alcohol, industrial solvents (like carbon tetrachloride) and drug medications. Schizandra is a very good herb for reducing liver inflammation (hepatitis), whether the cause is viral, bacterial or chemical. It can be used in formulas with other hepatoprotective herbs like milk thistle to reduce damage to the liver when one is exposed to a lot of chemicals.

For the nervous system, schizandra acts as a nervous system stimulant. In Chinese medicine, the herb is said to calm the shen (spirit). In Western terms, it enhances memory and reflexes and has antidepressant and anticonvulsant effects. Schizandra fruits are also adaptagenic, so they reduce the output of stress hormones from the adrenals. This makes them a tonic and restorative for fatigue, chronic stress and insomnia.

One can easily see why schizandra berries are the number one ingredient in Nervous Fatigue Formula, which is used to treat “burn-out” from chronic stress. They are also included in Nutri-Calm, Master-Gland, Energ-V, Adrenal Support, Adaptamax and Trigger Immune. All of these formulas enhance energy and aid the nervous and glandular systems.

The cardiovascular system also benefits from schizandra. It has antioxidant effects on the heart and reduces stress-induced heart palpitations. It has also been shown to improve athletic performance.

For the respiratory system, schizandra helps ease dry coughs, wheezing and allergic asthma. This is why it is an ingredient in Lung Support and Breathe EZ.

Schizandra also stimulates the uterus and can help strengthen uterine contractions. For this reason some herbalists caution its use during pregnancy.

In TCM, schizandra is also used to astringe the jing. In Western terms, this means it is useful for preventing loss of bodily fluids. It is an effective herb for treating frequent urination, night sweats, early morning diarrhea and heavy menstrual bleeding. This is why it is present in both Urinary Maintenance, a tonic for the urinary system, and HY-C, a formula that helps hydrate the tissues.

Schizandra is also being used in China for rashes, eczema, diarrhea and failing eyesight and hearing. It can even help with a low sex drive. When the stresses of life take their toll on our body, we can be grateful we have schizandra as an herbal ally to balance the body and restore strength and vigor to the body.


Selected References

The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Chevallier.

The Comprehensive Guide to Nature’s Sunshine Products by Tree of Light Publishing

Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica compiled and translated by Dan Bensky and Andrew Gamble

Herbal Therapy and Supplements by Merrily A. Kuhn and David Winston