Latin Name: Schisandra chinensis
Herb Class/Action: Adaptogen, kidney and essence tonic, “immune amphoteric”, antioxidant, hepato supportive
Parts Used: Dried fruit
Flavors: All five flavors: sour, bitter, pungent, salty, sweet
Traditional Benefits: Lung and kidney support, Jing support, Shen support, HPA axis support, immune support, liver support, brain support, heart support, mood support, digestive support, adrenal support, sleep support, energy support, stress support
As a harmonizing adaptogen and “immune amphoteric,” this beloved remedy supports the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-thyroid (HPAT) axis while maintaining a normal and stable immune response.
Schisandra—also known as the “king” remedy or “five-flavored fruit”—is a fruit-bearing vine native to Eastern Asia. Its recorded uses as a longevity herb date back to the first century BC, and it’s been used in various TCM remedies ever since.
Like one of its nicknames suggests, this balanced herb contains all five flavors—sour, bitter, pungent, salty, and sweet—but the sour flavor tends to take center stage to give Schisandra its “stabilizing” actions. The sour flavor in botanicals often represents phytochemicals that have a ‘containing’ or ‘astringing’ effect, helping to maintain normal and stable bowel movements, a normal and calm immune response, and even helping to astringe and contain scattered thoughts.
You’ll often find Schisandra cooked as a tea, dried and ground into capsules or powder form, extracted into a tincture, dried and left whole for tea preparations, or even made into a syrup for flavoring cocktails and other beverages.
So, what benefits have earned Schisandra its “king” remedy title? First and foremost, it’s loaded with nutrients—including vitamins A, C, & E, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and phytosterols. It also contains lignans, which are polyphenolic compounds that provide adaptogenic, microbial terrain balancing, and antioxidant properties.
As a tonic herb, Schisandra works its magic throughout the body—strengthening and balancing the Qi (energy), Jing (essence), and Shen (spirit) in TCM. With those astringing and containing properties mentioned earlier, Schisandra is indicated when Qi is “leaking” from the body (excess sweating, overthinking, stress, heavier cycles, or excessive/loose BMs) – ie when vital energy is slowly dissipating from the body and the leak needs to be stopped before energy can be restored and built back up. It’s said to be a longevity/anti-aging herb, revered for its protective, strengthening, and detoxifying actions on the kidney, lungs, liver, and endocrine glands.
With its cooling and nourishing actions on the liver meridian (nourishing liver yin and supporting the liver’s functions), Schisandra is perfect for a “liver type” of person who tends to be thrown out of balance and fatigued by excessive stress, overworking, anger and perfectionism. It’s great for type A people who may feel burnt out and are feeling in their HPAOT (hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal, ovarian, thyroid) axis with sluggishness, mental fog, and more.
Russian scientists officially classified Schisandra as an adaptogen after a series of studies carried out from the 1940s–1960s. Having been used to support stamina and strengthen the body’s resilience to stress for centuries prior, this classification was a long time coming.
In modern Western culture, Schisandra is most widely used as an adaptogen—often paired with other adaptogenic or calming herbs like reishi or chamomile in teas or supplements. Because it helps calm and nourish the mind and body, schisandra has benefits for stress, anxiety, insomnia, low mood, and memory/concentration issues. It can help minimize fatigue, improve mental clarity, and even help reduce altitude sickness for its oxygenation-enhancing effects.
Hunters and athletes in China and Russia have historically consumed Schisandra to help with long and taxing physical endeavors – to support healthy stamina and cognitive focus.