What is Schizandra Berry?
Schizandra (Schizandra chinensis), sometimes written schisandra, or referred to botanically, as Chinese Magnolia Vine, Wu Wei Zi or Five Flavor Berry, is a climbing vine native to parts of China, Russia, and Korea. It grows to approximately 8 metres tall, and produces oval-shaped leaves and large flowers that range from white and yellow to red and pink. In autumn, the plant produces round, bright red berries that grow in clusters similar to grapes. The dried berries of the Schizandra vine are the part of the plant that is used medicinally, and occasionally along with the potent seeds.
Schizandra Berries have been used traditionally in Russia, where they were consumed as a remedy against fatigue, as well as in Japan and Korea. However, they are best known for their role in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where the berries are called wu-wei-zi, meaning “five taste fruit.” This reflects the flavors the berries are said to contain: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and warm or pungent. These were believed to affect the stomach, liver, heart, testicles, and lungs, respectively. It was used, somewhat paradoxically, both as a sedative or sleep aid to cure insomnia, and as a means to combat exhaustion (as in the Russian example above). It was also used as an expectorant to loosen mucus from the lungs; to treat coughs and asthma; to treat genitourinary disorders, and as a “qi invigorating” tonic, boosting energy throughout the body.
Schizandra Berry Benefits and Uses
While Schizandra chinensis has not undergone extensive human trials, it has shown extremely promising results in animal studies, and its beneficial compounds are well-known. The chief components of the berries are lignans, which make up about 2% of the fruit by weight. The berries also contain triterpenoids, organic acids such as citric and malic acid, melatonin, and vitamins C and E, among other compounds. However, lignans are the main agents that provide the following benefits:
Schizandra is considered a natural mood booster. It prevents the overproduction of cortisol. If too much cortisol is produced it can can cause a decline in natural serotonin levels. Serotonin of course is referred to as “the happy hormone” so low levels are not a good thing.
Improving age-related cognitive health
Deoxyschizandrin, a lignan, has been shown to improve memory and cognitive ability in rats. This may be due to improved flow of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and may suggest future treatment methods for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington disease.
Reducing Psychological Stress
In a study, 40 healthy women in a condition of psychological stress were given either a placebo or the herb combination ADAPT-232 (containing Schizandra chinensis, Rhodiola rosea, and Eleutherococcus senticosus). After taking a series of tests, it was found that those who had taken ADAPT-232 did noticeably better in regards to speed, attention, and accuracy. This may be due to Schizandra reducing levels of stress-related chemicals in the body, such as cortisol.
Protecting and improving liver health
The compound Gomisin A can increase liver blood flow and improve liver function in rats, and the additional compounds Schizandrin B and Schizandrol B have been shown to increase liver weight in rats. Additionally, a study using mice found that Schizandra pollen extract reduced liver damage caused by the carcinogen carbon tetrachloride.
In a study using healthy individuals with low blood circulation, those who consumed 130mg of Schizandra per day had an increase of 9% in circulation. Animal studies have also shown potential improvements in cardiac health from Schizandra.
Potential cancer-fighting effects
A 2009 study found that the lignan Schizandrin C may prevent the growth of human leukemia cells. However, data is limited in this area.
Schizandra chinensis acts as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and adaptogen, meaning it controls and relaxes your body’s response to stress. By reducing inflammation and free radicals in the body, it has the potential to improve health in several different organ systems, similar to the traditional Chinese interpretation of the “five tastes.” Studies suggest that its mechanism is hormetic: this means in a way similar to physical exercise, small damages are induced for the purpose of repairing them to make them stronger. While human studies of Schizandra are scarce, its properties are significant enough to have been the basis of two pharmaceutical liver medications, Diphenyl Dimethyl Dicarboxylate and Bicyclol. It has also been used as a liver treatment since the 1970s in Western Herbal Medicine, confirming that its most effective usage discovered to date is treating liver complications. However, the Schizandra berry is a remarkably safe herb when taken correctly, so individuals can explore its other beneficial effects without undue worry.
Schizandra Berry Side Effects
Reports of side effects from consuming Schizandra chinensis are rare, and research is inconclusive as to what, if any, its adverse effects are. It is known that the seeds of the berry are toxic to mice at a dose of 3.6 g/kg. In an experiment, mice experienced convulsions and paresis when given injections of seed-derived lignans; however, none of them died. More importantly, Schizandra may interact with medications, such as reducing the blood-thinning effects of Warfarin. It may also interact with liver and gastric enzymes. There is no safety information regarding its use by pregnant and lactating women, and as with all herbal medications, you should consult with your doctor before consuming it. Some people may be concerned by a white film which can appear on dried Schizandra berries, however this is simply crystallized sucrose from the fruit.
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— MedicinalHerbals (@MedicinalHerbal) February 27, 2017
How to take the Schizandra Berry
There are many ways, traditional and modern, to consume the Schizandra Berry. In Japan, a tea made from Schizandra is called gomishi, while a Korean Schizandra berry wine is called omija cha. In Russian medicine, tinctures are often taken. An infusion drink can be made by soaking half a cup of dried berries in a gallon pitcher of fruit juice for one day, straining, it, and drinking as needed. It’s also recommend to soak the berries in glycerin for one month to make a syrup. Alternatively, a tea can be made by simmering 3g of berries in water for 40 to 60 minutes. Schizandra berry extract can also be found in pills, capsules, and liquids.
Occasionally, Schizandra is combined with other herbs, such as the patented blend ADAPT-232 (mentioned above), or the Chinese blend Sheng-Mai-San, comprised of Schizandra chinensis, Radix ginseng, and Radix ophiopogon japonicus. A blend produced by the company Health Concerns, called Schizandra Dreams, is intended for treating insomnia and anxiety. It contains Schizandra chinensis, Valeriana officinalis (valerian root), and Eschscholzia californica (california poppy), and is available in tablet form.
Schizandra Berry Dosage
There is no official dosage for the Schizandra berry, but the following dosages have been derived from traditional methods:
Tincture: Fruit extract in a 1:6 w/v ratio against alcohol. 20-30 drops can be taken daily under the tongue or with water or juice.
Infusion: Fruit extract in a 1:20 w/v ratio against water. A half cup can be taken twice daily with food.
Powdered extract: 1-3g daily with food.
Mass-produced extracts and pills will have their own dosages, which should be followed carefully, as the Schizandra berry is meant to be taken over a period of time. Seed extracts can also be taken, but usually only on an acute or one-time basis.
Consumers may wish to begin with a pill or extract of Schizandra berry, as these doses will be clearly marked, unlike a homemade tea or infusion. Although side effects appear to be rare, it is best practice to start with a low, controlled dosage to see how your body reacts to the herb.
Schizandra Final Recommendations
The Schizandra Berry has been clearly shown to combat liver damage and boost liver health, as well as promote attention and mental clarity. While a greater number of human studies are needed to properly assess its benefits, animal studies have revealed that Schizandra can be an effective natural remedy against a variety of complaints. Particularly, its potential cognitive and anti-aging benefits are reason for optimism. As there are few to no side effects at the correct dosage, Schizandra is generally safe to use as long as you are aware of any possible interactions with medications, and you seek medical advice as needed. Schizandra is versatile, as the whole fruit is available for use, as well as extract and capsule forms, and it can be taken in a variety of ways. The Schizandra Berry is a truly beneficial addition to herbal treatment regimens.