Schisandra benefits are significant and wide ranging. Today we look at schisandra benefits to the Chinese Kidneys, immune system, and nervous system.
Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis and Schisandra sphenanthera — the northern and southern species, respectively) is considered a superior adaptogen. In China it is called Wu wei zi, and has been referred to by other common names as well, like five-flavored seed, Chinese magnolia vine, and orange magnolia vine.
There are many schisandra benefits to understand. From a Chinese medicine standpoint, schisandra’s main health benefits are due to its ability to Tonify the Yin and the Yang and to Fortify (protect and bolster) the Jing (Life Essence, what we inherit from our parents). Its astringent nature also helps to tone and enliven organs and mucus membrane tissue, effectively keeping things working at peak efficiency and offsetting the aging process.
Background information on schisandra
Schisandra is native to China, Northern Japan, Korea, and Russia. It can be found wild in mixed forests under full and dappled shade in mountains, woodlands and woodland edges. It is a deciduous climbing vine that can grow up to 30 feet tall. Hardy to agricultural Zone 4, schisandra is widely cultivated in fields, gardens and farms (also here in the US) and, similar to grapevine, it likes to trellis around supports. When fully dormant, the plant is hardy to -17C (~ 0F), but young growth is sensitive to frost in the late spring. Pruning is best done in the spring. A healthy plant produces prodigious amounts of berries.
Schisandra prefers rich, well-drained, moisture-retentive, and slightly acidic soil. It can tolerate slightly alkaline soils if organic matter is added. It is intolerant of drought and requires some protection from direct sunlight, preferring north-facing walls.
Schisandra produces sweetly scented, dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants), creamy-white flowers during the spring in the lower axils of young shoots. Leaves are bright green, aromatic, smooth and narrow, growing 2”-3” in length. Mature schisandra vines produce prodigious amounts of small round, smooth, bright red berries that form clusters and droop like grapes and ripen between September and November.
Schisandra benefits for the Chinese kidneys
The first of the schisandra benefits discussed here relates to the Chinese Kidneys and Jing. Schisandra strengthens, fortifies and preserves the Kidney Yin and Yang as well as the Jing (ancestral, or inherited, “Life Essence). Like other adaptogens, schisandra increases an organism’s ability to deal effectively with stressors of all kinds. It also improves endurance and the regulation of gastric juices, protects the liver from toxins, benefits the mind and nervous system, strengthens the immune system, and provides endocrine support to the hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal, and thyroid glands.
From the Chinese point of view, schisandra benefits both Kidney Yang Deficiency Patterns and Kidney Yin Deficiency Patterns. Here’s a look at each of these.
Schisandra benefits Kidney Yang Deficiency Patterns by helping to address depleted reproductive vigor and performance, including correcting nocturnal emissions, premature ejaculation, spermatorrhea, leucorrhea, frequent urination, and loss of libido and energized vitality.
Schisandra benefits Kidney Yin Deficiency Patterns by helping to rejuvenate and prevent the further leakage of depleted Kidney Yin, or what I like to call the core reservoir of vitality and energy. Symptoms are physically and psycho-emotionally wide ranging and generally of a deficient, atrophic (dryer, more brittle) nature. It can include fatigue, lethargy, difficulty getting a second wind in heavy activity or later in the day, less resiliency and greater intolerance to stimuli, achy support joints, heavy stress, neurasthenia and reduced cognitive function, weakened immune system, frequent urination, ringing in ears, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), debilitating effects of HIV-AIDS, cancer, autoimmune illnesses and wasting illnesses, and more. Schisandra is also useful in protocols for recovering from severe illness or debilitating cancer therapies as well as supports anyone who consistently “burn the candle at both ends”.
Schisandra benefits for the lungs and respiratory system
Schisandra also fortifies Lung Qi by way of its astringing nature. Schisandra’s astringency is toning to atonic, flaccid lung tissue and enlivening to lax lung function, hence very effective at both increasing lung capacity and resolving cough disorders, especially chronic coughing and wheezing due to Deficient Lung Qi and/or Deficient Kidney Yin. This is impactful when the “Kidneys Cannot Grasp the Lung Qi”, a deficiency condition recognized in Chinese medicine, where depletion makes it difficult for the Lung Qi (Upper Burner) to complete the circuit of the Triple Burner and enrich the Kidney Qi (Lower Burner). This inability can be physically felt as the dissatisfaction and lack of capacity people feel when they cannot take a complete, lung-filling breath that they know they are capable of. I have personally experienced an immediate change with one dose of schisandra tincture when I have felt this kind of unfulfilling breath. Schisandra is useful in all chronic Lung Deficiency patterns, including asthma, emphysema, and any weakness due to chronic respiratory illness.
Schisandra benefits for the nervous system
Schisandra benefits the nervous system by Calming the Heart and Quieting the Shen (Spirit).
For deficiency issues, schisandra treats Disturbed Shen patterns, especially because of depletion and fragility, including neurasthenia, irritability, palpitations, sleep disorders such as Yin (or deficiency) insomnia, dream-disturbed sleep, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and foggy brain.
Schisandra also enhances performance of the nervous system, working as a restorative, antiaging tonic for the central nervous system. Schisandra increases alertness, concentration, and memory. It improves visual acuity and peripheral vision, sharpens tactile awareness, and both quickens and strengthens reflexes.
Schisandra is multifaceted and can both stimulate and sedate the central nervous system. It sedates it by stimulating the cholinergic response, which mimics the action of acetylcholine, the main neurotransmitter responsible for stimulates the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system. The parasympathetic branch is in charge of resting and restoring core vitality and all organs and tissues, perhaps especially the nervous system, and is most active when we are sleeping and resting. Schisandra’s respiratory-strengthening effect also comes by way of the central nervous system.
Schisandra benefits for the lymph immune system
Schisandra also benefits lymph health and the immune system. It is immunostrengthening, immunomodulating and immunostimulating. In particular, lignans in the seeds are immunomodulating and useful in formulas for strengthening and balancing the immune system. This means that if you want to have this effect you must include the seed of the berry in the herbal preparation.
Like most adaptogens, schisandra is useful in the treatment of chronic illness, autoimmune illness, cancer, and for general strengthening of weakened, atrophic systems. Schisandra is also beneficial for those who have allergies, as it modulates surface immune response, and is especially useful for allergy-induced asthma and asthma that accompanies deficiency states. It is also useful in formulas for pet dander allergies.
Furthermore, schisandra is antibacterial, and particularly inhibitory toward Bacillus dysentery. Schisandra, however, should not be taken during an acute pathogenic illness like a cold or flu, as the herb’s ability to astringe and retain can extend the life of the illness by harboring the pathogen instead of pushing it out. There is a Chinese saying in regard to this phenomenon: “Don’t lock the door and set the alarm until you have kicked the robber out of the house!”
Schisandra benefits shown in studies
According to the study Current knowledge of Schisandra chinensis (Turcz.) Baill. (Chinese magnolia vine) as a medicinal plant species: a review on the bioactive components, pharmacological properties, analytical and biotechnological studies, “Research conducted in recent years has focused on studying the biological activity of the polysaccharide fraction from extracts of the fruits of S. chinensis. The immunostimulatory, immunomodulatory and antitumor action of water-soluble low-molecular-weight polysaccharide from S. chinensis has been proved.”