The Schizandra berry is the fruit of the Schizandra chinensis plant, native to China and the Far East. For centuries, the berries have been considered to have several medicinal qualities. Schizandra fruits are said to taste salty, sweet, sour, hot and bitter at the same time. In Chinese, Schizandra is called wu-wei-zi. The name means "five-taste fruit."
Schizandra chinensis is a woody vine that typically grows up to 25 feet high and 10 feet wide. Its bark possesses a fragrant odor, similar to that of Daphne odora. The vine blooms in spring, but the flowers themselves are insignificant. The shiny red berries ripen in summer in 4-inch clusters. You can propagate Schizandra by rooting suckers that grow from the plant base.
Schizandra berries have long been considered by Chinese women to have antiaging qualities. According to Bay Flora, they are "one of the 50 essential ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine." Chinese herbalists believe that Schizandra is a "balanced" herb, representing both yin and yang. For many years, the berries have been part of the Chinese herbal medicine practice known as Shenmai San, in which they are used for the treatment of heart disease. The berries also have a history in China as a treatment for coughs, thirst and exhaustion.
Research in the late 1940s by Russian scientists confirmed that Schizandra is an adaptogen. Such herbs are defined by Natural Elixir as those that "increase the body's ability to cope with internal and external stress factors, and normalize the functions of the body." Schizandra has been shown to benefit the nervous, gastrointestinal and immune systems. It can also help repair damage to the kidneys, liver and lungs, as well as improve long- and short-term memory.
How Schizandra is Used
Healing Herbs suggests Schizandra berries make a delicious tea. The recipe involves immersing 2 to 4 tbsp. of berries in 2 cups water, and then bringing the water to a boil. The mixture is left to simmer for 12 minutes or until the liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Schizandra can also be purchased as an herbal supplement, either in pill form or as a liquid extract.
Side effects of Schizandra are fairly uncommon, according to Natural Elixir. You should consult a doctor before embarking on any herbal regimen. Schizandra may cause upset stomach, a loss of appetite or rash. It may also cause heartburn in some cases. Schizandra may also react negatively with other medications. If you take too much, you may experience shortness of breath or difficulty sleeping.