what are schisandra berries

I am so excited to write about Schisandra berries here on the blog. I first discovered Schisandra berries a couple of years ago through a naturopath in Australia. I made a syrup that I took by the spoonful each day and watched as my body settled into a rhythm. 

Cherished by Chinese royalty for its beauty and anti-aging qualities, Schisandra Chinensis is a vine found in China, Japan, Korea, and Russia. Its berries have a unique taste, which has been described as a mix of five different flavors: sweet, salty, bitter, pungent, and sour. It should be no surprise then that its fruit is also called five flavor fruit.

Ancient Chinese believed the plant worked on all 12 “meridians”, channels through which energy flows throughout the body. Therefore, it can restore the whole body’s internal balance and health.

Today, many of the traditional uses have been validated by scientific research, which confirms the positive beneficial effects that Schisandra has on nearly every organ of the human body.

Let’s look at the multifaceted health benefits of this plant together.

Schisandra benefits

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Schisandra has been used for thousands of years to promote a balance between yin and yang. This balancing effect is to be traced in its bioactive components, Schisandra lignans, which have a positive effect on the brain, kidneys, liver, and lungs, thus providing balance in the whole body.

In Russia, Schisandra has been used during the past centuries by the Nanai hunters, as a tonic to reduce thirst, hunger, and exhaustion, and to improve night vision. Thanks to these properties, these berries came to be of considerable value for Soviet soldiers during WWII, which subsequently led to much research being published in their WWII military journals.

Russian research has been focusing since the 1950s on the positive effects that Schisandra has on the nervous system and on its potential uses as an adaptogen. Adaptogens are substances that help the body adapt to stressful conditions, and the efficiency of Schisandra for this has led to it being integrated into conventional medical and pharmacy practice in Russia.

Current research has been focusing on Schisandra’s application in treating diabetes and liver-related diseases like chronic hepatitis.

schisandra berries benefits

The most important benefits of this plant, which have also been corroborated by extensive research, relate to:

Anti-inflammatory effects

In vitro studies suggest that Schisandra is a strong anti-inflammatory and may have anticancer effects, thanks to the down regulating effect played on inflammatory cytokines. This has a big role in fighting free radicals, which are known to be at the root of modern diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart diseases.

Other consequences of Schisandra’s anti-inflammatory properties are that it can contrast the hardening of the arteries observed in arteriosclerosis and, by bringing the body to an optimal acid-base balance, it may help prevent diabetes.

The antioxidant activity might also have a positive effect on skin health, and that’s why Chinese magnolia vine has found a long history of use, especially by Asian women, in treating or healing dermatitis and other skin disorders, and in helping skin retain its elasticity. However, more human studies need to be performed to verify these properties.

Schisandra also improves the body’s ability to repair tissues, since it helps control the release of white blood cells, a group of cells involved in the body’s defense mechanisms and reparative activity.

Alzheimer’s disease 

The anti-inflammatory properties play a big role in preventing and ameliorating diseases caused by neuroinflammation which include, among others, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. According to a study conducted in 2017, Schisandrin B, an active substance derived from Wu Wei Zi (the Chinese name for Schisandra) has significant beneficial effects in ameliorating Alzheimer’s disease. This is possible thanks to the blocking effect that Schisandrin B exerts on the formation of components that are at the base of amyloid plaque formation, a substance found in the brains of people affected by this disease.

Menopause 

According to a placebo-controlled trial conducted between 2014 and 2015, Schisandra Chinensis can be a safe and effective complementary medicine to cure and prevent menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, sweating, and heart palpitations.

During this study, a group of women aged 40-70 received a treatment of Schisandra extract for 6 weeks. At the end of the study, women who had been administered Schisandra extract showed significantly lower menopausal symptoms compared to the placebo group.

Mental and physical energy and health 

The positive effects that these five-flavor berries have on blood circulation make it so that their consumption also helps increase endurance and accuracy of movement, together with mental performance and working capacity.

Recent human studies suggest that Schisandra Chinensis may also increase muscle strength. In one study, two groups of older adults have been tasked to perform low-impact exercise three days a week for 12 weeks. One group has been administered Schisandra extract every day, while the control group was solely performing a low-impact exercise. At the end of the experiment, the treatment group observed enhanced skeletal muscle strength compared to the control group. However, no increases in muscle mass could be observed.

In addition, animal studies have found that Schisandra might reduce anxiety symptoms, but further studies need to be performed in order to assert these properties in humans. 

Liver support 

Schisandra fruits contain at least 30 different lignans, estrogen-like activity compounds which are known to have a hepatoprotective effect. This means that they can help treat, cure or prevent liver diseases. But there’s more to it: Because liver health is tied to stronger immunity, this five-flavor berry also protects against infections, indigestion, and various stomach disorders. The hepatoprotective effects of Schisandra have been backed up by several human studies, which also took into consideration liver transplant patients

In these patients, Wu Wei Zi consumption led to a bigger concentration of Tacrolimus (Tac), a substance that prevents allograft rejection after liver transplantation. Another study conducted by the Taichung Hospital Department of Health in China showed that patients experienced improvements in liver function and relief from fatty liver disease when using a mixture of Schisandra fruit extract and sesamin.

Potential risks and side effects

Although the Schisandra plant has been used for generations safely and effectively, it’s important not to exceed the recommended dosages provided by TCM or available on product labels.

Because Schisandra lignans impact the way the liver processes drugs, possible interactions with other medications or supplements could arise, so always be sure to consult your healthcare provider if you currently take prescriptions. This is also true in case you are suffering from an existing health condition or disease. The side effects, although uncommon, could result in troublesome conditions like stomach disorders, anorexia, and urticaria.

schisandra berries risks

Schisandra consumption should be avoided in cases of:

Pregnancy 

The same pharmacological properties that make Schisandra dietary supplements useful for inducing or promoting prolonged labor could, on the other hand, represent a risk for healthy pregnant women. In fact, Schisandra lignans might increase uterine contractility, leading to potential miscarriage.

Existing disease or health condition 

According to research published in “Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health” (chapter 6), consumption is contraindicated for patients with high gastric acidity or peptic ulcers, as their symptoms could be worsened. Patients with epilepsy, hypertension and intracranial pressure should also stay away from it, as they could experience side effects like restlessness, insomnia, and dyspnea. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it’s clearly stated that Schisandra should not be used in cases of excess heat, or in the early stages of a rash or cough.

Patients who are taking other meds 

Drug interactions have been observed with warfarin or other medications which are broken down by the liver. Schisandra can reduce the effectiveness of some medications or can increase their side effects. However, there doesn’t appear to be any adverse interactions between Schisandra and other herbs and supplements.

Allergic reactions 

Strong allergic reactions are quite rare, but in sensitive subjects, they could lead to skin rashes, itching and swelling, especially on the face, tongue, or throat, dizziness, and trouble breathing. Abstain from its use if you should notice any of these symptoms.

Forms and doses 

Schisandra is classified as a superior medicine in the classic herbal compendium “Materia Medica” by S. N. Ben Cao Jing, as it can prolong longevity, increase qi energy and treat fatigue and emaciation, by also acting as a sexual tonic. Due to these all-encompassing benefits, many ways of consuming this plant have developed throughout history.

In northern China and eastern Russia, Schisandra berries are typically manufactured as juices, wines, extracts, and sweets.

The berries can be macerated in fruit juice, tinctured, and infused as Schisandra herbal tea. On the market, Schisandra is available as a powder or as capsules and pills. The typical dosage for Schisandra extract is 100 mg twice daily. However, since research in the West regarding dosages is lacking, current estimates are based on traditional dosages observed in TCM or directly available on product labels. We have grouped these dosages for quick reference, as follows:

  • Dried fruit extract in a 1:6 w/v ratio against liquid (95% ethanol) and administered at 20-30 drops daily
  • Dried fruit extract in a 1:20 w/v ratio against water, 150mL drank twice a day with meals
  • 1 capsule of Schisandra extract per day. Take before or during a meal and with plenty of water to improve liver function and to feel more energized.

Recipes 

There are many cruelty-free recipes that feature Schisandra as their key ingredient. We will share our favorite vegan recipes here with you:

Schisandra berries tea 

schisandra berry tea
Image source: Superfood Evolution

For this recipe, you will need a pot and a tea infuser ball or a large tea filter. If you don’t have a tea infuser or filter, you can put the dried berries directly into the teapot, but you’ll need to strain them out before pouring the tea into your cup.

  1. Start by soaking the berries or ground powder (less preferred) in water for several hours or overnight. 
  2. Proceed to boil the water. 
  3. Then, measure 1 to 2 tablespoons (7 to 14 g) of dried Schisandra berries into the infuser or filter. 
  4. Add the Schisandra berries to the water and simmer the tea for 15 to 20 minutes.

Drink Schisandra berry tea 3 or 4 times a day for better focus or to improve liver health.

Schisandra berries hot cocoa 

Schisandra berries hot cocoa
Image source: My Tiny Laguna Kitchen

Indulge in a sweet moment of relaxation with this delicious vegan hot chocolate that will not only delight your senses but also help you fight stress and anxiety.

For this recipe, you will need:

Start by heating the coconut milk on the stove. Then pour it into a high-speed blender with the rest of the ingredients until the cocoa is smooth and creamy. Add water if the cocoa should come out too thick… Enjoy!

Sparkling Strawberry Punch with Schisandra Berries

For this recipe you need:

First, start by steeping the dried fruits in the water overnight. The next day, strain the berries and keep their water. Then, mince the strawberries with a masher or fork, and combine the mashed strawberries with the vegan honey.

In a jug, mix the strained water, strawberry, and honey mixture together with the carbonated water.

Add some sugar syrup according to your liking. To make the sugar syrup, you just need to add sugar to a saucepan and boil over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Let the syrup cool down and then add it to the punch. Stir well and serve in a chilled glass. Optionally, you can add some mint leaves for decoration.

Learn more about herbal medicine

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