Schisandra Summary:

The shisandra berry is one of the most famous of the Chinese herbs. It is commonly referred to as the 5 flavour berry (wu wei zi). This is because it contains all 5 flavours: salty, sour, sweet, pungent, and bitter. In Chinese medicine, the flavour of the herb has an effect on the herbs action. In this way, shisandra is considered a tonic to all 5 flavours and their associated organs.

It was commonly used as a beauty tonic for its ability to improve vitality and appearance of the skin. There are a lot of Chinese stories involving shisandra, and the beauty it brings to the people who choose to eat this herb or drink its tea on a daily basis.

Modern science has confirmed many of its old uses as a tonic for overall health and vitality, and its ability to improve memory and concentration. We have also discovered that schisandra has the ability to improve the detoxification enzymes of the liver significantly, and more and more evidence is coming out each year showing support for shisandra as a treatment for hepatitis, alcholic liver disease, high cholesterol, and various other liver-related disorders.

Schisandra is an amazing herb for overall health, and can provide a lot of support for those with weak libidos, poor memory and concentration, difficulty in conceiving, those with liver conditions including hepatitis, and those with poor skin health. To take this herb, a gentle decoction can be made, which usually benefits from the addition of other similar herbs such as reishi or ginseng. The dried or fresh berries can also be eaten but the taste is not agreeable by everyone. Schisandra is best taken consistently over a long period of time.

Botanical Name

Schisandra chinensis

Schisandra sphenanthera



Part Used

Fruit (berry)

Herbal Actions:

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


Liquid Extract (1:2)

3.5-8.5 mL/day


[5, 16]

  • Acute or chronic liver diseases
    • hepatitis
    • Chronic alcoholism
    • Cirrhosis?
  • To improves detoxifying capacity of liver
  • To improves cognitive performance
  • Chemical liver damage
  • Poor liver function
  • Chronic cough
  • Asthma
  • Nocturnal emissions
  • Spermatorrhea
  • Enuresis
  • Frequent urination

Common Names:

  • Shisandra
  • Shizandra
  • Wu wei zu (Chinese)
  • Wuweizi (Chinese)
  • Wurenchum

Traditional Uses:

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]. 

    Botanical Description:

    Schisandra berry comes from the female plants of the dioecious, deciduous, woody vine. 

    Habitat Ecology, and Distribution:

    Schisandra can be found growing in China [5]. 

    Harvesting Collection, and Preparation:

    There are considered to be 2 varieties of schisandra, Northern, and Southern. Northern schisandra is usually determined to be the superior varieties it is stronger. [5]. It is mainly grown in the provinces of Jilin and Liaoning, and in southern China [17]. 

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


    • Schizandrins
      • Schisandrol B
    • Gomisins
    • Triterpenic acid
    • Triterpenic lactones
    • Essential oil
    • Citric acid
    • Vitamin C

    Pharmacology and Medical Research:



    Shisandra 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 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 signalling 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, schisandra 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 involves cytochrome p-450, 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].


    Specific Effects on 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 paertially 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. 



    Not for use in pregnancy except to assist childbirth [16].  



    None reported [16]

    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]. 


    • To tone the liver and kidneys and promote the production of hormones, combine with prepared rehmannia and lycium [5]. 
    • To cleanse the liver and lungs, combine with liquorice root [5]. 
    • To sharpen the mind and protect the liver combine with Ganoderma [5]. 
    Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary


    Justin Cooke

    The Sunlight Experiment

    Updated: July 2017

    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).