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Yes, Schizandra is a berry, but don’t think of it as another superfruit like goji or acai. Think strange, exotic, and only used for medicine. The berry of Schisandra chinensis owes its name Wu Wei Zi (five flavored berry) to the fact that it is at once sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent. Nobody eats this stuff with yogurt. Rather, schizandra berry is made into various medicinal preparations for longevity and overall vitality. The first time I ever experienced schisandra, I was in northeast China with some people involved in the medicinal plant trade. We were eating a stew at a restaurant, and I bit into a soft berry in the stew. Instantly my mouth was filled with a flood of somewhat conflicting flavors. You see, in China, it is typical to include medicinal plants of various kinds in foods, to boost the overall health value of those foods. My first experience biting into schizandra berry was an eye-opener.
Schisandra is the berry of a climbing vine native to northeast China and parts of Russia. It is cultivated in long rows, and harvest takes place at the end of July and the beginning of August. In the current climate of berry crazes, schisandra could sound like one more fruit to toss into your morning blender drink, but this unusual berry holds a top spot in Traditional Chinese Medicine for its superior medicinal benefits.
Two summers ago I visited the main area of schisandra berry cultivation, in China’s northeast Liaoning province. In that area, people grow a large amount of this berry to satisfy Chinese and foreign demand. In Liaoning I sampled the berry fresh off the vine at harvest, dried, and in alcoholic preparations. Besides having a memorable if strange taste, schisandra has made a big impression in the scientific community, as numerous studies demonstrate its potent health benefits. By visiting the center of schisandra berry cultivation, I was ale to meet with growers, scientists and health experts who work with this berry.
Most schizandra is dried in the sun and then used in various formulas to improve vitality. But some berries are deep refrigerated, and eventually used to make health juices, primarily for the Korean market. Interestingly enough, where I live in Massachusetts, a Chinese man named mister Chang has planted a large schizandra orchard, and currently makes a juice that sells in local shops. As long as the plant endures a cold, frosty winter, the plant seems to thrive.
Schisandra chinensis enjoys millennia of traditional use for prolong life, retarding the aging process, increasing energy, as a fatigue-fighter, and as a sexual tonic. Schizandra also possesses significant protective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Thus it helps to maintain healthy cells throughout the body. It is considered one of the most highly protective of all medicinal plants, and the berry is included in many traditional herbal formulas for improving energy and mental health.
Schisandra berry demonstrates significant adaptogenic activity. What does this mean? To qualify as an adaptogen, an herb must be completely safe and non-toxic, it must have broad uses for health, and it must specifically reduce stress, both mental and physical. As an adaptogen, schizandra is a potent general tonic, decreasing fatigue, enhancing physical performance, and promoting endurance. The berry counters stress by reducing the levels of stress hormones in the blood. Additionally, schisandra offers great benefits for athletes. In human studies schisandra berry and its extracts have improved performance among long distance runners, skiers and gymnasts. For this reason schisandra berry is often found on the training tables of Chinese athletes.
Schisandra also offers special benefits for the mind. Several human studies show that schisandra extract improves concentration, coordination and endurance. Schisandra helps to prevent mental fatigue and increases accuracy and quality of work. In various human clinical studies with doctors, students, soldiers and other groups, schisandra demonstrated superior mind-sharpening powers.
As if all these benefits were insufficient, schisandra also offers first-rate liver-protective benefits. Schisandra helps in the treatment of hepatitis, as noted in over 500 cases. In fact, an antihepatitis drug was developed from Schisadrin C.
Schisandra has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 2,000 years. Despite this long history, schisandra is still relatively unknown in the US market. But due to its age-old use for enhancing vitality and its strong science base, schisandra and its preparations should get a good market boost in the years ahead. Once people experience the mental and physical benefits of this super berry, they will want it as part of their health regime.
You can find schisandra in a couple of forms. In Chinese groceries and medicine shops, you can find dried schisandra berries. Just a few dried berries daily will impart the benefits described there. Or, you can also find schisandra supplements. Look for ones that are standardized to the schisandrins, which are active compounds.
Like so many botanicals, schisandra can make a difference in your health that you feel. And the feeling is good indeed.
Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at www.MedicineHunter.com