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Schisandra

Common name: Wu-wei-zi

Botanical name: Schisandra chinensis

Photo

© Steven Foster

Parts used and where grown

Schisandra is a woody vine with numerous clusters of tiny, bright red berries. It is distributed throughout northern and northeast China and the adjacent regions of Russia and Korea.1 The fully ripe, sun-dried fruit is used medicinally. It is purported to have sour, sweet, salty, hot, and bitter tastes. This unusual combination of flavors is reflected in schisandra’s Chinese name wu-wei-zi, meaning “five taste fruit.”

Schisandra has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
2Stars

Irritable bowel syndrome (Chinese herbal combination formula containing wormwood, ginger, bupleurum, schisandra, dan shen, and other extracts)

1Star

Common cold/sore throat

Fatigue

Hay fever (Sho-seiryu-to: contains licorice, cassia bark, schisandra, ma huang [ephedra], ginger, peony root, pinellia, and asiasarum root)

Hepatitis

Infection

Liver support

Stress

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)

A classical treatise on Chinese herbal medicine, Shen Nung Pen Tsao Ching, describes schisandra as a high-grade herbal drug useful for a wide variety of medical conditions—especially as a kidney tonic and lung astringent. In addition, other textbooks on Traditional Chinese Medicine note that schisandra is useful for coughs, night sweats, insomnia, thirst, and physical exhaustion.2 Adaptogenic herbs, like schisandra, have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to improve the ability of the body to respond to stress.

Active constituents

The major constituents in schisandra are lignans (schizandrin, deoxyschizandrin, gomisins, and pregomisin) found in the seeds of the fruit. Modern Chinese research suggests these lignans have a protective effect on the liver and an immunomodulating effect. Two human trials completed in China (one double-blind and the other preliminary) have shown that schisandra may help people with chronic viral hepatitis.3 4 Schisandra lignans appear to protect the liver by activating the enzymes in liver cells that produce glutathione, an important antioxidant substance.5

Schisandra fruit may also have an adaptogenic action, much like the herb Asian ginseng, but with weaker effects. Laboratory work suggests that schisandra may improve work performance, build strength, and help to reduce fatigue.6

How much is usually taken?

Use of schisandra fruit ranges from 1.5–15 grams per day.7 The tincture, 2–4 ml three times per day, can also be used.

Are there any side effects or interactions?

Side effects involving schisandra are uncommon but may include abdominal upset, decreased appetite, and skin rash.8

Are there any drug interactions?
Certain medicines may interact with schisandra. Refer to drug interactions for a list of those medicines.

References:

1. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 469–72.

2. Shu HY. Oriental Materia Medica: A Concise Guide. Palos Verdes, CA: Oriental Healing Arts Press, 1986, 624–5.

3. Liu KT. Studies on fructus Schizandrae chinensis. Annex 12: Studies on fructus Schizandrae chinensis. Plenary lecture, World Health Organization (WHO) Seminar on the Use of Medicinal Plants in Health Care, Sept 1977, Tokyo, Japan. In: WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific, Final Report, November 1977, Manila, 101–12.

4. Chang HM, But P (eds). Pharmacology and Applications of Chinese Materia Medica 1. Singapore: World Scientific, 1986.

5. Ip SP, Poon MKT, Wu SS, et al. Effect of schisandrin B on hepatic glutathione antioxidant system in mice: Protection against carbon tetrachloride toxicity. Planta Med 1995;61:398–401.

6. Foster S, Yue CX. Herbal Emissaries: Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1992, 146–52.

7. Foster S, Yue CX. Herbal Emissaries: Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1992, 146–52.

8. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, et al. American Herbal Product Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, 104.

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