Common name: Schisandra
Other names: Five-taste berry, gomishi, wu-wei-zi, hoku-gomishi
Latin name: Schisandra chinensis
Affinities: Immune system, nervous system, respiratory system, digestive system, endocrine system, circulatory system, reproductive system
Actions: Adaptogen, stimulant, Qi tonic, immune amphoteric, nervine tonic
Specific indications: Fatigue, cognitive problems, anxiety, liver disorders, weak digestion, sexual debility, heart palpitations, bad dreams, insomnia
Diseases: Fatigue(2), ADHD(3), hypertension(2), hypotension(2), insomnia(3), anxiety(3)
Parts used: Berries
Energetics: Warming, drying
Characteristics: Schisandra is native to north-eastern and north central China, growing up to 20 feet high it produces of clusters of small, bright, red berries (Castleman, 2001). Its name in Chinese, wu-wei-zi, means five taste berry. It is special in Chinese medicine because it is one of their herbs that incorporates all five tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and spicy. It also is cultivated in Russia for its medicinal properties (Panossian et al., 2008).
History: Schisandra has been long used in traditional Chinese medicine and it was used to balance herbal formula. In Chinese medicine, the plant was used for example, as a stimulant in sexual weakness and impotence, frequent urination, diarrhoea, asthma, urinary tract disorders, palpitations, and insomnia (Panossian et al., 2008). The herb also made its way to Eastern Russia where the berries and seeds were used by Nanai hunters to improve night vision, as a tonic, and to reduce hunger, thirst, and exhaustion, “it gives forces to follow a sable all the day without food”. In the period between 1940-1960 many clinical and pharmacological experiments were carried out on Schisandra in the USSR. These extensive studies on Schisandra revealed important stimulatory effects and it was incorporated into the official medicine of Russia. Much of this research has only recently become available in English.
Current applications: Schisandra is definitely a more calming adaptogen, similar to ashwagandha, reishi, and holy basil. Like other adaptogens, it is thought by herbalists to have a normalising effect on the immune and nervous systems. It especially stands out because of its benefits to the liver, it is said to detoxify, heal, and protect the liver (Groves, 2016). Also with it’s sour and bitter flavours, it stimulates digestion. Schisandra is supposed to be constitutionally balanced because it includes all 5 tastes. David Winston has said it calms the shen, (shen meaning emotional balance), and is effective in people suffering with stress-induced heart palpitations, insomnia, anxiety, and bad dreams (Winston, 2007). It normalises blood pressure, and he applies it alongside bacopa, fresh milky oats, and rhodiola in treating ADHD.
Science: Schisandra has been extensively studied in Russia with some recent translation of findings into English. A recent review article (Panossian et al., 2008) discusses some research in humans conducted in Russia. The authors noted; increased endurance, accuracy of movement and physical/mental working capacity; stimulation of CNS; improvement of impaired visual function and vision in darkness; local anti-inflammatory effects; prevention of chemotherapy-induced immunosuppression in cancer; effective in influenza and pneumonia treatment; normalization of arterial blood pressure and cardiac rhythm in hypertensive patients.
Safety: High, but may cause over-stimulation if overused. Avoid while pregnant and breastfeeding.
Dosage: Tincture; 10-60 drops 2-3 times daily. Capsules; see packaging for guidance.
Castleman, Michael. “The new healing herbs.” Bantam Book, New York (2001): 465-471.
Groves, Maria. Body into Balance. Storey Publishing, 2016.
Panossian, Alexander, and Georg Wikman. “Pharmacology of Schisandra chinensis Bail.: an overview of Russian research and uses in medicine.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 118.2 (2008): 183-212.
Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2007.