Schisandra berry is a superfood that is part of the magnolia vine family. It’s native to parts of Russia, Japan, Korea, and China. As one of the top 50 nutrients used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, schisandra has been used for thousands of years to support general health, maintain optimal liver functioning, increase mental performance, and enhance physical stamina. That’s because it enhances qi, the body’s life force energy.
It’s also known as the longevity herb for its powerful antioxidant effect on the body. As one of nature’s most powerful adaptogens, schisandra balances energy and helps return the body to a state of homeostasis when under stress. It also keeps inflammation levels low, defending against the onset of illness or disease.
Schisandra berry is indeed one of the most potent and delicious berries in alternative medicine. Its powerful taste delivers therapeutic benefits to many of our visceral organs, and delights our taste buds too. Take as a tea, tincture, extract, or supplement, schisandra fit into your daily diet easily. In this article we’ll take a look at the history, science, benefits, and dosage of schisandra berry.
Benefits, Dosage, & Uses
You’re about to discover a super berry that will boost your brainpower, increase your physical stamina, protect your liver, and keep you feeling young, fit, and a force to be reckoned with. What else does this newest (but oldest) superfood berry do? It might be less trouble to note what it can’t do, which would indeed make a very short list!
Chances are you’ve heard of schisandra berry, and you’re on the hunt for some clear, wholesome information about how it can benefit your health. Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about schisandra is its broad spectrum of therapeutic and enhancement effects on the whole body. It can help treat serious health issues that cause someone to struggle with symptoms like motor dysfunction while it boosts the physical performance of athletes.
In the first century herbal compendium, the Divine Husbandman’s Classic of the Materia Medica (Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing), schisandra is classified as a superior medicine. According to this text, the berry is claimed to support longevity, promote qi, treat fatigue, support male virility, and treat asthma (4). While ancient knowledge supports its long-standing use as an effective herbal remedy, you’re likely interested in more modern, science-based information about its benefits. After all, we’re not exposed to the same types of health issues we were thousands of years ago!
But before we break down all the evidence-based benefits of this super berry, let’s get to know it botanically and find out why it has such far-reaching benefits. If you’re like us, it’s not enough to know what effects a medicinal herb like schisandra has on the body. You want to know why and how to reap the most benefit from it. That requires an understanding of its composition and history:
What are the active compounds doing all the good work?
Why has schisandra spanned thousands of years as one of the most potent plants in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?
How does schisandra exert its effects?
What’s the best form in which to consume it?
We’ll tackle all these questions and additional fascinating information in this 10-minute read.
What Is Schisandra?
Schisandra chinensis is a luscious, five-flavor, deep red colored berry from the magnolia vine family. You’re probably familiar with the goji berry, one of nature’s candies (the chew you get from a dried berry is delightful). Schisandra berry is similar, sharing some of the effects, but it has a unique nutrient profile. Like the goji berry, it drops a taste bomb in your mouth when eaten fresh, though it has a variety of forms. You can consume it dried, ground, steeped, in extract form, or via a capsule.
In Russia, schisandra grows in the Primorsk and Khabarovsk regions, the Kuril islands, and southern Sakhalin. It’s also indigenous to north-eastern China, Japan, the Korean peninsula, and some parts of North America where it thrives in temperate climates (6).
Although it’s been a therapeutic substance in the traditional medicine of the Far East for thousands of years, it only just reached Europe in the 1850s via Russia. For more than 50 years, scientists in Russia have focused on its use as an adaptogen to increase endurance and enhance concentration (4).
The Herb That Does Everything
Adaptogenic nutrients help to stabilize the body’s response to stress by prolonging our resistance to it. Adaptogens stimulate us enough to counter fatigue without the ensuing crash that other stimulants like caffeine produce. They give you a boost when necessary while also calming the nervous system, thus helping the body adapt to its energy requirements. So rather than crashing after a short burst of energy or a stressful event, we find equilibrium. This is one reason why schisandra is such a powerful and effective nutrient for athletes.
Schisandra berry directly benefits nearly every body system. It exerts an effect on the central nervous system, as well as the sympathetic, endocrine, immune, respiratory, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal systems (9). Studies have also shown that it also has a positive influence on circulation and helps cleanse the blood.
A Powerful Nutrient in Chinese Medicine
Chinese herbalism has existed for thousands of years, and schisandra is one of the top 50 herbs still used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) today. Wu Wei Zu, literally means “five-flavor herb” because it contains the entire treasure trove of taste: sweet, sour, bitter, astringent, and salty. Each taste corresponds to five visceral organs:
|Pungent / Astringent||Lungs|
Note: In TCM, pungent and astringent tastes are used interchangeably, while according to the six tastes classification in Ayurvedic medicine, they are separate.
We might assume that schisandra’s strong taste comes from the combination of these flavors, but “taste” in both TCM and Ayurveda also refers to how it affects the body. When all five tastes are present, such as in the case of schisandra, they impact multiple meridians, also known as energy channels. Via those energy pathways, they also balance yin and yang and nourish all three primordial treasures essential to sustaining life: jing, qi, and shen.
Jing refers to our essence and is the basis of our growth and development. Qi, our life force energy, is the source of all our movement. Shen is our spirit of mind and is responsible for consciousness, cognition, and emotion.
Qi-invigorating substances like schisandra are classified with the yang family of herbs. Still, its taste profile and adaptogenic properties suggest a dynamic equilibrium, so we may also classify it as a yin herb too.
What Makes Schisandra So Powerful?
Through the support of scientific evidence, we’re discovering some fascinating information about the influence of herbal medicine on health. We can say a lot about the power of belief when it comes to a traditional approach to health care, but many of us like to know that science backs up homeopathy––and it can.
The seeds of the schisandra berry are packed with lignans. These powerful polyphenols are a rich source of soluble and insoluble fiber, and they benefit our health in many ways. Flaxseeds contain one of the richest sources of lignans. As a phytoestrogen, lignans help to balance hormone levels, making them essential nutrients for easing the symptoms of menopause. They also enhance cognitive function and have the potential to treat various neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (5, 10).
One reason lignans are so powerful is their antioxidant activity. Schisandran B and Schisandra C, are the plant’s bioactive chemical compounds extracted from the berries. They are two such lignans that help protect the body from free radical damage and chronic inflammation and reduce toxic fatty acids in the liver. These protective actions strengthen the body’s natural resilience to illness and suggest that proper nutrition may be one of the most significant ways we can prevent disease and promote longevity.
Indeed, most of our favorite berries––blueberries, strawberries, raspberries––are packed with antioxidants. Now we can add super schisandra berry to the list. But, as you’ve probably noticed, you’re not going to find them easily in your local farmer’s market. If you have a chance to try these super berries fresh, do! Chances are though, you’ll find them in other forms, such as tea or supplements.
Schisandra Tea, Schisandra Extract & Its Other Forms
What are all the different ways we can benefit from schisandra berry? It really depends on what you’re after. While all forms will benefit your health, some have a more powerful influence than others.
One important thing to note is that adaptogens are more effective when they’re taken consistently. For that reason, supplements are an ideal choice because they’re convenient, and they provide an exact measurement so you know you’re getting a consistent dose every day.
Tea - One of the easiest ways to make schisandra berry tea is to mix 1 tablespoon of extract into a liter of hot water. If you want to boost the health benefits, consider making a fermented schisandra tea using a simple kefir recipe and adding a cup of dried berries. Alternatively, you can simmer 1-2 tablespoons of the dried berries in 2 cups of water for about 20 minutes. This method delivers a flavorful and medicinal cup of tea.
Juice - Schisandra juice maintains the enzymatic life of the berry so you get the most nutrients out of it, but it’s a bit overpowering on its own. Soak approximately 1 tablespoon of schisandra berries or extract in about four liters of dark fruit juice, like cherry juice for 24 hours.
Extract - A concentration of the active ingredient, lignans, as well as other compounds, and prepared as a tincture or powder.
Tincture - A solvent like alcohol extracts a considerable amount of the plant’s medicine and helps preserve in longer than powders or dried herbs. A tincture can last up to three years.
Dried berries - Make a delicious and convenient snack.
Powder supplement - A concentrated preparation of schisandra extract that you can mix into smoothies and juices.
Capsule supplement - Typically includes a recommended dosage on the label.
Schisandra Benefits: The Superfood for Functional Nutrition
- Detoxifies the liver
- Prevents adrenal fatigue
- Regulates the nervous system
- Balances energy
- Boosts cognitive function
- Cleanses the blood
- Fights aging and promotes longevity
- Modulates gut bacteria
- Lowers inflammation
- May improve circulation
Although schisandra has been used as a natural medicine for thousands of years, very few human trials have studied its benefits. Most experiments rely on rodent testing, which we don’t support. However, numerous studies have been conducted that demonstrate its considerable diversity of benefits when used as a natural medicine (9). The results shown here are sourced from scientific articles and involve ethical human testing.
Traditionally, schisandra berry has been used to treat nervous conditions, coughs, liver fatigue, stress, and as a tonic to alleviate the effects of aging. Because it has a powerful astringent quality, it is useful in treating conditions that produce excess secretions such as night sweats (think hot flashes) and chronic diarrhea. But keep this in mind – there is evidence that it also helps modulate gut microbiota, which may explain why it helps diarrhea and has whole body benefits (5).
While such actions are certainly interesting, there are many more compelling uses for schisandra that will impact your daily life: how you do your work, the degree of anxiety you experience (we all have some), how quickly you recover from minor illnesses, and even your workout goals.
If you live with any level of stress, enjoy physical activity, experience occasional brain fog or memory lapse, or feel age affecting you more than it should, schisandra is an essential all-in-one herbal support for promoting better functional health.
Schisandra berry is one of the most potent nutrients for supporting liver function. While you know that the health of your liver is vital, you may not know why. With over 500 functions, the liver is our most vital and main detox organ. It is far more powerful at clearing the body of toxicants than any intense detox protocol you could subject it to. It synthesizes proteins and filters the blood from our digestive tract before it goes to other parts of the body. By supporting the health of the liver, schisandra berry also acts as a blood cleanser.
According to Chinese Medicine, the liver is the body’s filter allowing an unobstructed flow of qi and emotions throughout the body. It connects to our sense of direction in life, and is the seat of intense emotions like anger, frustration, and resentment. If you ever feel stuck or prone to fits of rage, you may want to check in with your liver.
Similar to milk thistle, schisandra protects the liver from toxicity. It supports phase 1 and 2 liver detoxification and the elimination of xenobiotics, such as environmental pollutants, synthetic drugs, and food additives that become concentrated in the liver (1). (Check out this handy visual to learn more about the stages of detox).
But that doesn’t mean you have to be on a strict detox diet to benefit from schisandra. Holistic health experts recommend schisandra as a top herb for promoting liver circulation and overall health. It is, after all, the super berry that does everything.
If you’re looking for a liver clean up without going to full detox, check out Omnibiotics for a pure, ethical source of schisandra berry powder in a synergistic supplement called Liver Reboot. Omnibiotics also produces milk thistle capsules that have a similar benefit to the liver as schisandra. Find it here.
Energy, Stress & Physical Stamina
Packed with adaptogenic and qi-invigorating properties, schisandra mediates the body’s stress response by supporting adrenal functioning, strengthening the endocrine system, and stabilizing the autonomic nervous system.
These systems modulate specific involuntary functions by lowering or raising the levels of neurotransmitters released by the brain and adrenal glands. This action helps the body adapt to its immediate needs with the goal of returning to a state of balance. While it has stimulating effects, they are subtle, natural, and lasting, working toward homeostasis rather than bringing you up or down. Unlike what a cup of coffee does to your nervous system, you’ll never feel like you’re buzzing from schisandra because it only mildly stimulates the central nervous system.
As you can imagine, mitigating the body’s stress response has many benefits. When stress is low, our ability to concentrate on a task, process information, and remember details are at optimal levels. Physically, low stress reduces our risk of disease too. But what is stress exactly besides unpaid bills, divorce, or an evil boss?
It’s worthwhile to note here that stress takes many forms. Technically speaking, stress is the body’s physiological response to a stimulus. As much as we’re in the habit of attributing our stress to work, a relationship, or some unpleasant responsibility, how we experience stress has a lot to do with how well equipped our body is to handle it. If we continuously expose our body to pollutants, junk food, and other substances that place a heavy demand on our physiological defenses, over time, those defenses weaken, and we lose our ability to fight disease and illness.
Sometimes stress motivates us (eustress) to work hard and get stuff done. Other times, it has a negative effect that, if sustained for a period of time, can lead to any number of health conditions, such as anxiety and inflammation. Sometimes too, stress is just how we think about those environmental triggers. Does that mean we can avoid ill health just by improving our conscious response to life? In a sense, yes. We can certainly build a resistance to the negative consequences of stress by keeping ourselves healthy, both in mind and body.
The cognitive benefits of schisandra are one of the primary reasons this super berry is becoming more popular. Although it’s not officially classified as a nootropic, some uncontrolled trials have discovered that schisandra helps to reduce fatigue, supports mental concentration and performance, and boosts working capacity (7).
The physical benefits of schisandra are clear too. It improves reflexes, builds strength, and increases the endurance in healthy people by enhancing oxygen exchange in tissue cells.
There is a lot of buzz out there in the health discourse about the benefits of lowering inflammation. But like stress, some confusion surrounds inflammation. The body has two inflammatory response mechanisms wired into its intelligent circuitry. The first is the acute inflammatory response, which occurs quickly and intensely when there is an injury. Indicators are redness, swelling, and pain. The second occurs when we’re repeatedly exposed to stress. This type, known as chronic, low-grade inflammation is less obvious than the acute variety. It takes an insidious and persistent route through the body, showing up in places where it’s not needed. Such systemic inflammation is believed to be at the root of every known disease.
Simply put, we want to do our best to keep inflammation levels low, and schisandra can help. It has a positive influence on the immune system and can help fight inflammation by controlling the release of leukocytes. Schisandra also balances blood sugar levels, which can help prevent diabetes and maintain a healthy acid-base balance.
Fights Aging & Promotes Longevity
It’s reasonable to assume that any substance that has the potential to increase physical and mental stamina and boost energy levels will also slow the aging process and help prolong life.
But there’s another fascinating science-based reason why schisandra is hailed as an anti-aging herb. The lignans contained in schisandra berry produce a hormetic antioxidant action. In effect, Schisandran B, one of the berry’s active ingredients, induces oxidation, which causes the cell’s mitochondria to respond by producing a greater number of antioxidants. This process, known as hormesis, is a phenomenon similar to that of the minor tissue damage resulting from physical exercise that signals the body’s healing mechanisms to respond. Perhaps that’s why this particular compound is regarded as a qi-invigorating substance useful in the treatment of age-related illness (2).
The production of antioxidants through the process of hormesis is the purported reason why schisandra has such a powerful therapeutic and preventative effect on our organs, most notably the five organs recognized in TCM (8). Antioxidants contribute to healthier blood cells, vessels, and arteries, improve circulation, and support the biosynthesis of inflammatory compounds. They are a major reason why schisandra is so beneficial for endurance, agility, mental performance, and working capacity, especially during stress.
According to one study, healthy individuals with impaired blood flow demonstrated a 9% increase in circulation after they consumed 130 mg of schisandra each day. Scientists attribute this outcome to the berry’s effect on smooth muscle cells and estrogen receptors (8).
Determining how much schisandra to take depends on how you want to consume it. The range is 1.5 to 6 grams daily, brewed as tea or taken as a powder. A typical dose is about 1.5 grams. If you’re eating the dried berries, a well-rounded teaspoon is about 4 grams. If you’re taking a supplement, the proprietor’s label will provide dosage instructions. Below are some standard recommendations:
- Tincture: 20-30 drops in water
- Powdered: 3 grams per day
- Extract: 100 mg twice a day (3)
Schisandra Side Effects
When starting any new herbal supplement, it’s always wise to seek the advice of a health care practitioner, follow the consumption recommendations on the label, and test it out. If you have a known sensitivity to some foods, start with a small amount to see how your body reacts, then proceed.
While there are no known serious side effects of schisandra, it may cause heartburn and other conditions related to gastric distress. If you have a history of ulcers or related conditions, schisandra may not be the right adaptogen for you. It also has the potential to cause upset stomach and decrease appetite. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should always consult a doctor before taking schisandra therapeutically.
Nature’s Delicious Super Power
Benefitting nearly every body system, lowering inflammation, improving gut microbiota, and boosting the body’s antioxidant production, schisandra truly is the herb that does everything. It’s no wonder why it is among the medicinal gems in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It rejuvenates the body’s life force energy, has impressive effects on cognition and physical performance, and helps keep the liver functioning optimally.
Whether you want to boost your workouts, improve your concentration, or just maintain a general state of physical wellness, schisandra is an excellent supplement that meets every mark. Take it as a tea, a tincture, or part of a superfood smoothie every day and notice its effects begin to manifest after just a couple of weeks. Its adaptogenic action will keep your energy consistently lifted and your stress low.
But before we expect any miracles from a plant, we must recognize the impact of lifestyle. There is no plant or synthetic medicine on the face of the earth that can right all our wrongs. Unless that is, we submit ourselves to psychedelic distractions; we can at least forget about our lousy health for a while! A healthy diet, regular exercise, and mindfulness are key ways to promote longevity and feel good. When the body is in a state of health, medicinal herbs like schisandra have a much more powerful effect than if used as a stand-in for good nutrition. Simply put, to get the most out of this berry’s benefits, cut the junk like smoking and excessive alcohol, eat right, and move your body every day. Then top it off with a schisandra berry smoothie.
As a last tip––and one for all the foodies out there––dried schisandra berries are a robust and textured salad topping, and they add a unique colorful garnish to any small plate.