Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)


Shisandra Summary

Schisandra is known in Chinese medicine as the 5-flavor berry — sweet, salty, sour, sweet, and umami.

In traditional Chinese medicine, schisandra is used as a tonic for the liver, skin, and endocrine systems.

Modern herbal medicine values this herb for its ability to stimulate the liver — supporting the metabolism of hormones, metabolic byproducts, or xenobiotic compounds. It's also used for lung conditions like asthma, and to improve cognitive performance.


+ Indications

  • Acute or chronic liver diseases
  • Asthma
  • Chemical liver damage
  • Chronic alcoholism
  • Chronic cough
  • Cirrhosis
  • Depression
  • Enuresis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Frequent urination
  • Hepatitis
  • Insomnia (Sleep maintenance)
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • Nocturnal emissions
  • Poor liver function
  • Skin conditions
  • Spermatorrhea
  • Substance Abuse
  • To improve cognitive performance
  • To improve detoxifying capacity of liver

+ Contraindications

  • Pregnancy

Herbal Actions:

  • Hepatoprotective
  • Antioxidant
  • Adaptogenic
  • Nervine tonic
  • Antitussive
  • Oxytocic
  • Female Tonic
  • Antidepressant (mild)

What is Schisandra Used For?

Schisandra is mainly used to increase liver detoxification and as a hepatoprotective. They are also used to improve cognitive performance, relax spasms in the lungs such as with bronchitis or asthma.


Traditional Uses of Schisandra

+ Traditional Chinese Medicine

Pinyin: Wu Wei Zi

Taste: Sour and sweet, with salty, pungent, and bitter overtones. [5]

Energy: Warm [5, 17]

Channels: Lung, kidneysheart [17],

Treasures: Jing, Qi, Shen [5]

Actions: Astringes the lung, nourishes kidney, promotes fluid production, stops sweating, eases the mind [17].

Indications: Chronic cough due to lung deficiency [17].

Cautions: Do not use during the early stages of a cough or rash, as well as with excess heat patterns [16, 17].

Chinese herbalist Ron Teeguarden in The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs lists the fruit of Schisandra chinensis as entering all twelve meridians, with a warm energy. He reports it contains all 5 flavours: sour and sweet with salty, pungent, and bitter overtones. It addresses all three of the "treasures" jing (life energy), Qi (force), and Shen (soul), making it one of the quintessential supertonic herbs of the Chinese medicinal herbs.

Since this herb possesses all of the 5 flavours, it thus contains all 5 of the elemental energies as well (fire, wood, earth, metal, and water). Due to its ability to tone all of these elemental energies, as well as all 3 of the treasures (jing, Qi, and Shen), this herb is used in much the same way as the highly esteemed Ginseng or Ganoderma. [5].

Although this herb has beneficial effects throughout the body, it's main action is often considered to be through improving the Qi of the kidneys. This as such has a powerful effect on the reproductive organs of both men and females. [5].

Shisandra fruit has a long history of use in China, especially by those who practice the art of beauty. For this purpose schisandra was esteemed for its beauty enhancing qualities. There are a lot of stories around its usage for beauty enhancement and its ability to provide vitality to the skin. One such story involves a man named Huai Nan Gong who took shisandra regularily for over 16 years. His skin was described as that of "a Jade girl" which was a huge compliment in ancient China. It has been said that Huai Nan Gong was able to keep dry in water and unburned in fire. This is obviously not an accurate ability of schisandra but draws a connection to the significant distinction schisandra had on protecting the skin from the elements, increasing the recoverability of skin from damage, and providing radiance through an improvement of the overall health of the skin and body. [5].

In China, this herb was used most often on a regular basis to improve memory, beauty, overall strength and vitality, to purify the blood, sharpen the mind, detoxify the liver and as an aphrodisiac and astringent. One of its main actions however, was considered to be through its ability to rejuvenate the kidneys [5]. This organ is seen a little differently in traditional Chinese medicine than it is in western medicine. It is considered the source of Jing (life) energy in Chinese medicine which is responsible for all processes of life, especially sexual health. When the kidneys are strong, Jing is maintained and the body is considered strong and much more resistent to disease and fatigue, and our sexual function is greatly improved.

The ancient Taoists of China often used this herb for its ability to strengthen life, and ability to empower the mind and aid in developing their spiritual power. Master Sung Jin Park considered it to be one of the quintessential herbal substances of the world. [5].


Schisandra Monograph

Weekly Dose

Part Used

  • Fruit/Berry

Family Name

  • Shisandraceae


  • Southeast Asia

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Constituents of Interest

  • Schizandrins
  • Gomisins
  • Triterpenic lactones

Common Names

  • Schisandra
  • 5-Flavor Berry
  • Wu Wei Zu (Chinese)
  • Wurenchum




Sweet, salty, bitteer, sour, umami


Not recommended for use while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Duration of Use

  • Long-term use acceptable for this herb.

Botanical Information

The Schisandraceae family only contains three genera and 85 species. Before this family was created, the species under it were listed as Magnoliaceae.

Schisandra is a creeping, climbing vine, and can grow in both shaded and sunny locations.


Harvesting Collection, & Preparation:

There are considered to be two varieties of schizandra, Northern, and Southern.

Northern schizandra is usually determined to be the superior varieties [5]. This herb is primarily cultivated in the provinces of Jilin and Liaoning, and southern China [17].

The best Shizandra in shops can be described as dried, dark purple berries with some pinkish tone still present. If they're too dark with no pinkish overtone and doesn't have a pleasant sweet-sour aroma, it's likely too old or not of high quality. [5].


Pharmacology & Medical Research


Schisandra chinensis fruit has been shown to possess anti-proliferative and apoptotic actions against a variety of cancer cell lines including renal and hepatic cancer cell lines [10-12]. The active constituents are considered to be mainly the lignans shisandrin A, schisandrin B, gomisin A, gomisin N, as well as the essential oils, and polysaccharides [10].


Liver damage, as a result of alcohol ingestion, can be due to both alcohol and its primary metabolite acetaldehyde. Both of these chemicals produce reactive oxygen species (ROS), and hydroxyl radicals in the liver. [6].

Some older research has found schisandra to prevent carbon tetrachloride (a well-known liver toxin) induced liver damage [7-9].

A similar species, Schisandra sphenanthera, has been shown to produce protective effects in acetaminophen-induced liver damage (ethanolic extract) [2, 3]. These effects were investigated further when a team of researchers investigated the specific actions of the constituent Schisandrol B, which has been suggested to be one of the most important active components of Schisandra chinensis. This study found that an extract of Schisandrol B has significant hepatoprotective effects, at least partially due to an activation of the NRF2-ARE signaling pathway which regulates GSH synthesis, conjugation, and excretion. This action then leads to an enhancement of antioxidant, and detoxification capacity of the liver to reduce the damage of reactive or hepatotoxic metabolites [1].

Recently, schizandra has been discovered as a key herb for boosting phase I and phase II detoxification processes by the liver. Phase I and II detoxification are involved in the metabolism of xenobiotic substances by the liver. Phase I requires cytochrome p-450 enzymes and can result in the production of even more toxic compounds. Despite being suggested as an inducer of phase I enzymes, schisandra does not appear to cause harmful bioactivation in vivo [1]. Phase II enzymes result in the clearance of these potentially toxic metabolites.

Plenty of other research has been conducted on the hepatoprotective effects of Shisandra over the past 20 years [13-15].

Hepatitis C

A crude extract of Schisandra sphenanthera was found to inhibit HCV infection directly by impairing its original establishment, as well as through inhibition of its spread in both free virus infection, as well as cell-to-cell spread. The mechanism of action was found to be at least partially to the chemical schisandonic acid and is interaction with the virus membrane [4]. This is a significant finding and may prove to be an important prevention for HCV in the future. More research is needed to see how far this action will go, however, and to determine its role in patients already diagnosed with HCV.


Clinical Applications Of Schisandra:

Shisandra is a reliable herb for upregulating the phase I and II detoxification pathways in the liver, and can be used as a protective agent or treatment for liver conditions like hepatitis C or fatty liver disease. It has also shown promise towards cancer, especially that of the liver.



Schisandra should be avoided during pregnancy.



Justin Cooke, BHSc

The Sunlight Experiment

(May 2019)


Recent Blog Posts:


  1. Jiang, Y., Wang, Y., Tan, H., Yu, T., Fan, X., Chen, P., … Bi, H. (2016). Schisandrol B protects against acetaminophen-induced acute hepatotoxicity in mice via activation of the NRF2/ARE signaling pathway. Acta Pharmacologica Sinica, 37(3), 382-389. doi:10.1038/aps.2015.120

  2. Bi H, Li F, Krausz KW, Qu A, Johnson CH, Gonzalez FJ. (2013). Targeted metabolomics of serum acylcarnitines evaluates hepatoprotective effect of Wuzhi tablet (Schisandra sphenanthera extract) against acute acetaminophen toxicity. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2013; 985257.

  3. Fan X, Jiang Y, Wang Y, Tan H, Zeng H, Wang Y. (2014). Wuzhi tablet (Schisandra sphenanthera extract) protects against acetaminophen- induced hepatotoxicity by inhibition of CYP-mediated bioactivation and regulation of NRF2-ARE and p53/p21 pathways. Drug Metab Dispos. 42: 1982–90.

  4. Qian, X., Zhang, X., Zhao, P., Jin, Y., Chen, H., Xu, Q., … Qi, Z. (2016). A Schisandra-Derived Compound Schizandronic Acid Inhibits Entry of Pan-HCV Genotypes into Human Hepatocytes. Sci. Rep, 6, 27268. doi:10.1038/srep27268

  5. Teeguarden, R. (2000). The ancient wisdom of the Chinese tonic herbs. New York, NY: Warner Books.

  6. A. I. Cederbaum, Y. Lu, and D. Wu, (2009). Role of oxidative stress in alcohol-induced liver injury, Archives of Toxicology, vol. 83, no. 6, pp. 519–548.

  7. K.-M. Ko, D. H. F. Mak, P.-C. Li, M. K. T. Poon, and S.-P. Ip, (1995). Enhancement of hepatic glutathione regeneration capacity by a lignan-enriched extract of fructus schisandrae in rats, Japanese Journal of Pharmacology, vol. 69, no. 4, pp. 439–442

  8. S. Yamada, Y. Murawaki, and H. Kawasaki, (1993). Preventive effect of gomisin A, a lignan component of shizandra fruits, on acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity in rats, Biochemical Pharmacology, vol. 46, no. 6, pp. 1081–1085

  9. S. Maeda, S. Takeda, Y. Miyamoto, M. Aburada, and M. Harada, (1985). Effects of gomisin A on liver functions in hepatoxic chemical treated rats,” Japanese Journal of Pharmacology, vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 347–353

  10. Chen, Y., Shi, S., Wang, H., Li, N., Su, J., Chou, G., & Wang, S. (2016). A Homogeneous Polysaccharide from Fructus Schisandra chinensis (Turz.) Baill Induces Mitochondrial Apoptosis through the Hsp90/AKT Signalling Pathway in HepG2 Cells. IJMS, 17(7), 1015. doi:10.3390/ijms17071015

  11. Liu, S.J.; Qu, H.M.; Ren, Y.P. SCP, (2014). A polysaccharide from Schisandra chinensis, induces apoptosis in human renal cell carcinoma Caki-1 cells through mitochondrial-dependent pathway via inhibition of ERK activation. Tumor Biol. 35, 1–6.

  12. Zhao, T.; Mao, G.; Zhang, M.; Zou, Y.; Feng, W.; Gu, X.; Zhu, Y.; Mao, R.; Yang, L.; Wu, (2013). X. Antitumor and immunomodulatory activity of a water-soluble low molecular weight polysaccharide from Schisandra chinensis (Turcz.) Baill. Food Chem. Toxicol. 55, 609–616.

  13. Hikino H, Kiso Y, Taguchi H, Ikeya Y. (1984). Antihepatotoxic actions of lignoids from Schisandra chinensis fruits. Planta Med., 50, 213–218

  14. Hwang IS, Kim JE, Lee YJ, Kwak MH, Choi YH, Kang BC, Hong JT, Hwang DY. (2013). Protective effects of gomisin A isolated from Schisandra chinensis against CCl(4)-induced hepatic and renal injury. Int. J. Mol. Med., 31, 888–898

  15. Kim SH, Kim YS, Kang SS, Bae K, Hung TM, Lee SM. (2008). Anti-apoptotic and hepatoprotective effects of gomisin A on fulminant hepatic failure induced by D-galactosamine and lipopolysaccharide in mice. J. Pharmacol. Sci., 106, 225–233

  16. Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs: Herbal formulations for the individual patient. Edinburgh [u.a.: Churchill Livingstone. (Pg 405-408).

  17. Wu, J. N. (2005). An illustrated Chinese materia medica. New York: Oxford University Press. (Pg. 574-575).