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Schisandra chinensis

Category: Medicines - plant based



Introduction and description


Schisandra chinensis (五味子 in Chinese, pinyin: wǔ wèi zi, literally "five-flavor berry" is a deciduous woody vine.  Common names include:

  • Chinese magnolia-vine  (Source: Zander Ency) - English
  • five-flavor-fruit  (Source: Herbs Commerce) - English
  • magnolia-vine  (Source: Herbs Commerce) - English
  • schisandra  (Source: Herbs Commerce ed2) - English
  • chinesisches Spaltkölbchen  (Source: Zander Ency) - German
  • fjärilsranka  (Source: Vara kulturvaxt namn) - Swedish
  • wu wei zi  (Source: Herbs Commerce) - Transcribed Chinese
  • omija  (Source: F Korea) - Transcribed Korean
  • gomishi (Japanese: ゴミシ).

Its Chinese name comes from the fact that its berries possess all five basic flavors: salty, sweet, sour, pungent (spicy), and bitter. Sometimes, it is more specifically called běi wǔ wèi zi ((Chinese: 北五味子); literally "northern five-flavor berry") to distinguish it from another traditionally medicinal schisandraceous plant Kadsura japonica that grows only in subtropical areas.

The spelling of the name is also sometimes Schizandra chinensis – with a z. The name Wu Wei Zu may also be used.


It is of great importance in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where it is considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs.

 There has also been considerable interest in the plant medicinally in Russia, where it is called limonnik.  The interest stems from ethnopharmacological investigations by Russian scientists in the Far East regions.  In these areas, the berries and seeds are used by the Nanai  - Goldes or Samagir peoples.  So important has it become that in 1998, Russia released a postage stamp depicting S. chinensis.

In addition to its medicinal uses, the berries of S. chinensis are made into juices, teas, wine and even sweets.  Thus we could equally well have placed this plant under the food category.  Tens of tons of berries are used annually in Russia in Primorsky Krai and Khabarovsk Krai for the commercial manufacture of juices, wines, extracts, and sweets.

In China, a wine is made from the berries.  In Korea, the berries are known as omija (hangul: 오미자 - five flavours). The cordial drink made from the berries is called omija cha (hangul: 오미자 차), meaning "omija tea".


S. chinensis is native to forests of Northern China and the Russian Far East. It is hardy in USDA Zone 4. It is found in:

  • China: China - Gansu, - Hebei, - Heilongjiang, - Jilin, - Liaoning, - Nei Monggol, - Ningxia, - Shandong, - Shanxi
  • Eastern Asia: Japan - Hokkaido, - Honshu; Korea
  • Russian Far East: Russian Federation - Khabarovsk, - Primorye, - Amur, - Sakhalin

Schisandra is also cultivated in these areas.  Plants require conditions of moderate humidity and light, together with a wet, humus-rich soil.  The plants prefer light shade to sun.


Schisandra chinensis is a deciduous climber growing to 9 m (29ft 6in) at a medium rate.  It has started to be sold by commercial growers in other countries besides those above and it has acquired the additional name of the ‘Youth Berry’.  This is what one grower says:
 “The Youth Berry is an unusual deciduous hardy climber which makes a lovely feature for a wall or fence. The twining stems of Schisandra chinensis bear clusters of small but beautiful creamy-pink blooms in early summer, which are followed in autumn by pendants of edible, scarlet red berries.”

The species itself is dioecious, thus flowers on a female plant will only produce fruit when fertilized with pollen from a male plant.

Medicinal uses


S. chinensis berries are used in traditional Chinese medicine, where it is considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs. We have provided an analysis of its constituents from the Dr Duke Phytochemical database. 

In traditional Chinese medicine, S. chinensis (known as wu wei zi (Chinese: 五味子)) is believed to act as an astringent for the Qi of the lungs and kidneys, restrain the essence to treat diarrhoea, arrest excessive sweating from deficiency of yin or yang, calm the spirit by refreshing the heart and kidneys, and generate body fluid and reduce thirst.

The Nanai (Goldes or Samagir) hunters used the berries to improve night vision, as a tonic and to reduce hunger, thirst and exhaustion since “it gives forces to follow a sable all the day without food”.  The Ainu people used this plant, called repnihat, as a remedy for colds and sea-sickness.

Panossian A. Wikman G. - Pharmacology of Schisandra chinensis Bail

Pharmacological studies on animals have shown that Schisandra increases physical working capacity and affords a stress-protective effect against a broad spectrum of harmful factors including heat shock, skin burn, cooling, frostbite, immobilisation, swimming under load in an atmosphere with decreased air pressure, aseptic inflammation, irradiation, and heavy metal intoxication. The phytoadaptogen exerts an effect on the central nervous, sympathetic, endocrine, immune, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal systems, on the development of experimental atherosclerosis, on blood sugar and acid-base balance, and on uterus myotonic activity.


Plants for a Future

Wu Wei Zi is commonly used in Chinese herbalism, where it is considered to be one of the 50 fundamental herbs[218]. It is an excellent tonic and restorative, helping in stressful times and increasing zest for life[254]. It is considered to be a substitute for ginseng and is said to be a tonic for both the male and the female sex organs[238]. The fruit is antitussive, aphrodisiac, hepatic, astringent, cardiotonic, cholagogue, expectorant, hypotensive, lenitive, nervine, pectoral, sedative, stimulant and tonic[174, 176, 178, 218]. Low doses of the fruit are said to stimulate the central nervous system whilst large doses depress it[218]. The fruit also regulates the cardiovascular system[218]. It is taken internally in the treatment of dry coughs, asthma, night sweats, urinary disorders, involuntary ejaculation, chronic diarrhoea, palpitations, insomnia, poor memory, hyperacidity, hepatitis and diabetes[238]. Externally, it is used to treat irritating and allergic skin conditions[238]. The fruit is harvested after the first frosts and sun-dried for later use[238]. The fruit contains lignans[254]. These have a pronounced protective action on the liver. In one clinical trial there was a 76% success rate in treating patients with hepatitis, no side effects were noticed[254]. The seed is used in the treatment of cancer[218]. The plant is antirheumatic[218]. A mucilaginous decoction obtained from the branches is useful in the treatment of coughs, dysentery and gonorrhoea[218].

what more could you ask?

The observations provide more detail. 


Two major lignans, schisandrin and gomisin A, have been shown to induce interleukin (IL)-8, macrophage inflammatory protein-1β, and granulocyte-macrophage-colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) release by THP-1 cells. Therefore, S. chinensis may be therapeutically beneficial in promoting the body's humoral and cell-mediated immune responses.
Schisandrin is one of the main dibenzocyclooctadiene lignans present in the fruit of S. chinensis. In vitro biological activities including hepatoprotective, antiviral, and neuroprotective effects of schisandrin and other dibenzocyclooctadiene lignans have been reported.
Other chemical constituents include schisandrin B, γ-terpinene, bisabolene (+)-gomisin K2, gomisin S, pregomisin, schisantherin A, schicantherin B, angeloylgomisin Q, and rubrildilactione.


References and further reading

  • Panossian A. Wikman G. "Pharmacology of Schisandra chinensis Bail.: an overview of Russian research and uses in medicine. [Review]" Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 118(2):183-212, 2008 Jul 23.
  • Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China - Details of over 1,200 medicinal plants of China and brief details of their uses.

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