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A deep adaptogenic medicine that supports nearly all body systems including the lungs, liver, kidneys and the immune system

Schisandra

Schisandra chinensis Schisandraceae

Schisandra is a five-flavour berry, a deep adaptogenic tonic native to China that supports against the effects of stress, supports cellular health and directly protects some of the most vital organ systems in the body.

  • How does it feel?

    Schisandra has an incredible flavour profile that truly excites the senses. Initially sweet, with a potent sourness that instantly stimulates the salivary glands. Schisandra embodies all of the five primary flavours (hence the name five flavour berry). A truly delightful tasting medicine.

  • What can I use it for?

    Schisandra is a deep medicine for supporting a full body system, used traditionally as a Chinese Herbal Medicine, much of the understanding of this herb comes from this tradition.

    Schisandra is a primary adaptogen that is also uniquely affiliated to the kidneys and the lungs. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there is a different model and understanding of what each organ does and how they connect. TCM has its own philosophy and understanding of bodily systems that has been built up over thousands of years of observation. In TCM the kidneys are very closely linked with the lungs, in the understanding of this the kidneys help the lungs to fully inhale. Where someone is experiencing difficultly taking a full breath this indicates weakness in the kidneys (1).

    Schisandra has a potent anti-inflammatory action whilst being specifically anti-asthmatic making it particularly useful for asthmatics or those with weak lung function, where symptoms may be wheezing and productive coughing (1, 3). This would include chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (1).

    As an adaptogen (a herb that supports the systems most effected by high stress hormones) schisandra is nourishing for anyone experiencing chronic or long term exposure to stress hormones. High levels of stress hormones cause a wide range of health problems. Schisandra is specifically helpful where there are stress induced palpitations, anxiety, deficient insomnia and bad dreams (1, 3, 5).

  • Into the heart of Schisandra

    In TCM, schisandra is used to ‘astringe the jing’. In practice this is applied where there is excess of secretions such as diarrhoea, frequent urination, leucorrhoea or excess discharge and premature ejaculation. It is also used for excess sweating, such as in menopause, night sweats often used in combination with Astragalus and Chinese dogwood.

    Schisandra is a powerful adaptogen that supports the nervous, immune and endocrine systems. It is herb that has a gently stimulating effect on the central nervous system, enhancing reflexes, work performance, focus and mental clarity whilst it is also specific for those who are afflicted with the mental troubles such as anxiety.

    In TCM, schisandra is believed to calm the Shen (the spiritual element of a person’s psyche). This action makes schisandra an effective medicine to use where a patient is experiencing stress induced palpitations, anxiety, deficient insomnia and bad dreams (1).

  • Traditional uses

    Schisandra has been used for millennia in ancient Chinese medicine, where it is still a highly revered anti-aging tonic. Traditionally this herb is thought to promote longevity and TCM this herb is used widely as a life-long medicine to optimise health. It was first written about in the first century BC in China’s first herbal Encyclopedia, Shen Nong’s Materia Medica, where it was listed as a Superior Herb. Though Schisandra is believed to benefit all systems of the body with its dynamic full range of the five tastes it is said to benefit all the five yin organs; the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs and spleen.

    Schisandra is frequently featured in ancient Chinese art as the symbol of beauty and longevity, some even to suggest immortality. In one painting, Magu, the goddess of beauty and eternal youth, is shown serving a tray of schisandra, reishi (the herb of immortality) and a “peach of longevity” to her immortal allies. Magu is said to forever appear the age of eighteen.

    In Japan, Schisandra is known as Gomishi and is used for people with weakness in the lungs, often displaying symptoms such as cough; weakness; excess phlegm and ‘hood vertigo’ (a feeling of congestion and constriction around the head).

    The Russians first classified Schisandra as an adaptogen in the Russian Pharmacopeia for its ability to assist the body’s adaptive responses to excess and prolonged stress exposure. The Nanai (Siberian) hunters used the herb to improve stamina and the tough hunting conditions with long, cold days and nights, and scarce food and water.

  • Traditional actions

    Western herbal medicine actions:

    • Adaptogenic
    • Analgesic
    • Antimicrobial
    • Antioxidant
    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Antitussive
    • Aphrodisiac
    • Astringent
    • Cholagogue and Choloretic
    • Emmenagogue
    • Expectorant
    • Hepatic
    • Hepatoprotective
    • Immunomodulant
    • Nervine
    • Relaxant
    • Trophorestorative

     

     

  • What practitioners say

    Nervous system: As mentioned previously schisandra is a nourishing medicine for the nervous system, and therefore can help with managing acute and chronic stress. As stress can manifest in so many ways schisandra can potentially help with anxiety, insomnia, irritability and low mood where stress is the root cause. It is important to note that these symptoms can also be due to other factors, and a clinical herbalist can help decipher the root cause and give a precise and personalized herbal prescription.
    Schisandra may also be used where cognitive enhancement is required, to improve memory or to enhance brain function as a neuroprotective medicine (6).

    Immune system: Schisandra is a deep immune activator (4) that is used where low immune function is caused by prolonged exposure to stress hormones. Schisandra enhances the function of the non-specific endocrine mediated immune system. The non-specific part of the immune system is most affected by stress and is inhibited by chronic anxiety, depression, anger and fear (1). Prolonged exposure to stress hormones is well known to reduce the immune function and may be induced where a patient is highly susceptible to viral infections (1, 5). Patients may be more susceptible to immune deficiency syndrome or chronic fatigue.

    Digestive system: Herbalists often focus on liver function, as the liver is a hugely important organ that process and detoxes all of the blood supply from the digestive tract whilst also metabolising and storing nutrients. The liver is often indicated in treatment of inflammatory conditions.

    Schisandra is hepatoprotective, and has been show to regenerate hepatocytes and increase hepatic glutathione which is an essential liver antioxidant. Schisandra berries also offer effective liver protection against chemical and drug induced liver damage, whilst assisting with healing of any existing damage (1, 2, 3, 4).

    By the same mechanism Schisandra may also be indicated for cases of cirrhosis and hepatitis both for its wide antioxidant benefits and action on the nonspecific immune function (1, 2, 3).
    There may also be a case for applying Schisandra where there are food sensitivities / allergies caused by poor liver function, to help improve hepatic surveillance and detoxification (2).

    Respiratory system: It is frequently used in TCM where the kidneys are not grasping the lung qi. In Chinese medicine the kidneys are very closely linked with the lungs, in the understanding of this the kidneys help the lungs to fully inhale. Where someone is experiencing difficultly taking a full breath this indicates weakness in the kidneys.

    Schisandra has a potent anti-inflammatory action whilst being specifically anti-asthmatic making it particularly useful for asthmatics or those with weak lung function, where symptoms may be wheezing and productive coughing (1, 3). This would include chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, though for chronic, dangerous and complex conditions it is wise to see a herbalist(1).

    Reproductive system: Schisandra is useful for the excess of secretions such as in leucorrhoea or excess vaginal discharge or premature ejaculation. It is also used for excess sweating, such as in menopause, night sweats often used in combination with Astragalus and Chinese dogwood for this application (1).

    Schisandra may be of use in hormonal conditions where poor liver function leads of higher levels of hormones in circulation. Schisandra enhances the liver function and therefore acceleraties the breakdown of hormones. Therefore, schisandra may be used as a conjunctive approach along with other herbs such as for PMS, endometriosis and oestrogen excess (2).

    Skin: Schisandra is a well known anti-aging and revitalising tonic used within external preparations for the skin. Schisandra is sometimes used within a blend for its toning and soothing properties. It makes an excellent anti-aging and revitalising tonic given its potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions. The same may be applied for wound-healing, reducing dilatation of blood vessels and restoring the skin protective barrier (5).

  • Research

    Cellular health: A systematic review of schisandra extracts and its bioactive compounds puts forward a unanimous finding that explains how it helps to restore impaired mitochondrial functions, acting as mitoprotective agent. The review concludes on a number of studies that Schisandra and a number of its active compounds show potent antioxidant activity. Schisandra compounds scavenge ROS (reactive oxygen species – molecules that cause the degradation of cells and tissues) directly. It also activates the cellular antioxidant defence system components, and inhibits pro-oxidant enzymes, thus suppressing inflammation signal transduction pathways and protecting them from apoptosis (programmed cell death). Schisandra’s bioactive compounds decrease the levels of liver function markers, block pro-oxidant enzyme activities, suppress inflammation, and exert anticancer effects, activating apoptosis and autophagy in cancer cells (5).

    Nervous system: A systematic review of studies using various cell line models and neurotoxicity induction methods to evaluate the neuroprotective effect of lignans revealed that schisandra lignans show neuroprotective and cognitive enhancement properties through various mechanisms such as anti-apoptosis, inhibiting mRNA and protein expressions of inflammatory mediators, antioxidative actions, and modulating different signalling pathways (6).

    Menopause: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial where women between the ages of 40 and 70 years who complained of menopausal symptoms were randomly assigned to treatment with either an extract from Schisandra chinensis (BMO-30) or placebo. Results were measured by the Kupperman Index (KI). Treatments continued over a period of 6 weeks and results were followed for 12 weeks. The primary endpoint was the mean interval change in KI score from baseline to week 12. Laboratory studies and the Menopause Rating Scale (MRS) were also included as secondary measures focusing on score for sexual and bladder problems. The study concluded that BMO-30 from schisandra can be a safe and effective complementary medicine for menopausal symptoms, especially for hot flushes, sweating, and heart palpitations (8).

    Obesity: In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 28 obese women were given schisandra extract or placebo. The study was conducted over a period of 12 weeks. Anthropometry, blood and faecal sampling were performed before and after treatment. Gut microbiota in faeces were analysed using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis and quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Although the values did not differ significantly between the 2 groups, the schisandra extract group tended to show a greater decrease in waist circumference, fat mass, fasting blood glucose, triglycerides, aspartate aminotransferase, and alanine aminotransferase than the placebo group. The study showed that Bacteroides and Bacteroidetes were both increased by SCF. The study concluded that Schisandra extract was able to modulate the gut microbiota composition in Korean obese women, and significant correlations with some bacterial genera and metabolic parameters were noted. However, further research is needed to identify better parameters for the dosing of Schisandra for this application using different dosage and over different time spans (7).

Additional information

  • Safety

    Not for use during pregnancy or lactation

  • Interactions

    Schisandra may increase the effects of barbiturates.

    Schisandra is hepatoprotextive it may prevent liver damage that is sometimes caused by hepatotoxic medications, such as acetaminophen and tetracycline (1).

  • Contraindications

    In TCM, Schisandra is not recommended to be taken by people with acute viral or bacterial infections such as colds, flus, influenza and pneumonia.

  • Preparation

    • Dried berry
    • Decoction
    • Tincture
    • Powdered herb
    • Capsule
  • Dosage

    Tincture (1:5 in 60%): 40- 80 drops three to four times a day.

    Decoction: Add 1- 2 tsp of dried berries. To 8-10oz water, decocting for 15- 20 minutes on a gentle heat. Remove from heat and allow to steep for a further 20- 30 minutes, strain and drink 4oz three times a day

    Capsules: Take one to two 400-500mg capsules two or three times a day.

  • Plant parts used

    Fruit (berries)

  • Constituents

    • Lignans – Schisandrin; Gomisin
    • Triterpene lactones
    • Saponins
    • Polysaccharides
    • Phenolic acids
    • Flavonoids
    • Resin
    • Volatile oil – sesquiterpenes, triterpenes
    • Vitamin C and E (5)
  • Habitat

    Schisandra is native to northern and northeastern China (Mongolia) and far eastern Russia. Usually found in mixed forest margins with dappled sunlight on the banks of a sandy brook or stream.

  • Sustainability

    Schisandra is not yet included on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants database, however there are reports of it being over-harvested from the wild and it now being endangered therefore it is best to buy from suppliers who grow it and can explain their sustainability processes if they are harvesting from the wild

    Habitat loss and over harvesting from the wild are two of the biggest threats faced by medicinal plant species. There are an increasing number of well known herbal medicines at risk of extinction. We must therefore ensure that we source our medicines with sustainability in mind.

    The herb supplement industry is growing at a rapid rate and until recent years a vast majority of medicinal plant produce in global trade was of unknown origin. There are some very real and urgent issues surrounding sustainability in the herb industry. These include environmental factors that effect the medicinal viability of herbs, the safety of the habitats that they are taken from, as well as the welfare of workers in the trade.

    The botanical supply chain efforts for improved visibility (transparency and traceability) into verifiably sustainable production sites around the world is now certificated through the emergence of credible international voluntary sustainability standards (VSS). Read our article on sustainable sourcing of herbs to learn more about what to look for and questions to ask suppliers about sustainability.

  • Quality control

    Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to supply herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific / botanical name is used and that suppliers states clearly the source of ingredients used in the product.

    A supplier should also be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration where supply chain is unknown.

  • How to grow

    Schisandra can be grown from seed although it is difficult to germinate and slow to get started. The seeds also require cold stratification, which is the process of treating seeds prior to sowing to replicate the winter conditions that they would have experienced in their native habitat. Young vines are sometimes found in specialist garden centres.

    • Seedlings and young vines should be planted outdoors in the spring when any danger of frost has passed. Preferably located in partial shade, they do not fare well in full sun and will likely be unsuccessful in full shade.
    • Soil should be well-drained and slightly acidic. Schisandra will not grow in clay soils. Schisandra thrives best in a slightly acidic soil, Optimal soil pH is 5.0 – 6.0. Place the root ball about 2 inches into the soil, it should be completely covered and gently firmed in.
    • Space plants 3 to 5 inches apart and be sure to have at least one male and one female in order to get fruit.
    • They are not self pollinating so at least two plants will be needed to produce fruit, one male one female, ideally if you are growing multiple plants, one male is needed for every 3 or 4 females. Berries start to appear by the second season, sometimes the 3rd.
  • References

    1. Winston, D. and Maimes, S. (2019). Adaptogens : herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press.
    2. Bone, K. and Mills, S. (2013). Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. 2nd ed. Edinburgh Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier.
    3. Menzies-Trull, C. (2013). Herbal medicine keys to physiomedicalism including pharmacopoeia. Newcastle: Faculty Of Physiomedical Herbal Medicine (Fphm).
    4. Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices Of Herbal Medicine. Hardback (1st Edition). Independently published
    5. Kopustinskiene D.M, Bernatoniene.J. Antioxidant Effects of Schisandra chinensis Fruits and Their Active Constituents. MDPI Antioxidants. Published. 18 Apr 2021. Available on: https://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar_url?url=https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3921/10/4/620/pdf&hl=en&sa=X&ei=DvdHY6TgEoW7ywThvYWgCQ&scisig=AAGBfm0D0vaymIK-ZN22fTde39TJH9JfCQ&oi=scholarr.
    6. Sowndhararajan, K., Deepa, P., Kim, M., Park, S.J. and Kim, S. (2018). An overview of neuroprotective and cognitive enhancement properties of lignans from Schisandra chinensis. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, [online] 97, pp.958– doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2017.10.145.
    7. Song, M., Wang, J., Eom, T. and Kim, H. (2015). Schisandra chinensis fruit modulates the gut microbiota composition in association with metabolic markers in obese women: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. Nutrition Research, 35(8), pp.655– doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2015.05.001.
    8. Park, J.Y. and Kim, K.H. (2016). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of Schisandra chinensis for menopausal symptoms. Climacteric, 19(6), pp.574– doi:10.1080/13697137.2016.1238453.
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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