Herb of the Month – Schisandra chinensis

🌿This month’s Herb of the Month is Schisandra or Chinese Magnolia Vine (Schisandra chinensis)
Family: Schisandraceae
Part Utilised: Seeds & Fruit

🌿Botanical name and description

Schisandra is a perennial deciduous woody vine which can grow within partial to full shade requiring well-drained but moist clay soil to support its development (1). Despite Schisandra’s native growth and entrenched origins in China and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the plant is also native to Japan, Manchuria and South Korea and has even been found in distant areas of Eastern Russia (4).

Its distinctive maroon berries have a complex flavour profile of sweet, pungent, salty, bitter and sour, all believed to contribute to its astringent properties and the tonifying one’s qi or vital force in TCM (3). This complexity has also earnt the plant its moniker of ‘The Five Flavoured Fruit’, colloquially alluding to its immense and potent therapeutic components (3, 4).

🌿History and traditional use

Schisandra has an extensive, well chronicled history of therapeutic use as a traditional Chinese herbal medicine (3). The long-established salutary extract, of the fruit in particular, has historically demonstrated the plant to be a curative for a variety of conditions such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, chronic coughs, obesity and a nervine tonic (3, 4). Along with these conditions, Russia utilised Schisandra medicinally, applying the extract as a potent adaptogenic and endurance increasing plant which also supported resilience to stress, increasing stamina and physical performance (4).

🌿Actions and contemporary usage

The clinical versatility of Schisandra is vast and cannot be underestimated. Present-day usage sees Schisandra therapeutically applied as an adaptogen to support resistance to stress as well as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and agent to mitigate multiple chronic diseases (3).

Additionally, research into Schisandra’s fruit extracts have shown antibacterial effects which may penetrate the permeable outer layer of bacterial membranes within a variety of systems, particularly the gastrointestinal tract (6). Clinical studies into the hepatoprotective, hypoglycaemic and antioxidative properties of Schisandra have revealed potential treatment protocols for type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and systemic effects of obesity (6). Additionally, active ingredients such as lignans, volatile oils and polysaccharides effects over the cardiovascular system have been shown to exert anti-myocardial dysfunction, myocardial ischemia and injury (8).

Schisandra’s neuroprotective properties have been researched in Alzheimer’s disease with comorbid kidney disease and excess phlegm production. The TCM approach of organ tonification has inspired many contemporary clinical applications of Schisandra with treatments aimed at supporting stasis in various organs, such as the brain, heart, liver and spleen to minimise symptoms of dementia and kidney disease, reducing the accumulation of stagnant phlegm (5).  This holistic application has also been employed in the treatment of complex diseases such as cancer, mitochondrial dysfunction and idiopathic fatigue as well as for wound healing, anti-ageing and toning protective skin barriers (9).

🌿Science and clinical Trials

Contemporary analyses delving into the composition of the fruit have revealed biologically active compounds such as lignans, triterpinoids, sesquiterpenes (within essential oils), polyphenols, flavonoids, both poly and monosaccharides along with a host of vitamins and minerals (7).

Trials exploring the molecular makeup and function of Schisandra have revealed that the above constituents contribute to and may trigger cellular apoptosis and inhibition of cell cycle arrest to exert anti-cancer effects over metastasis and antiproliferative activity in both animal and human findings (6, 7). The lignans present within Schisandra demonstrate mechanistic defences which reduce levels of aspartate aminotransferase, alanine aminotransferase and inhibition of CYP450 and nitric oxide as well as cyclooxygenase pathways (4).

Many clinical trials have noted the complex and difficult process of extract standardisation within clinical trials. The variabilities in plant age, origin, climate, season, general conditions and cultivation can only be monitored in regulated, predetermined environments which can then modify the ‘wild’ components and potential benefits of the extract (5,6,7).

The potential application of Schisandra is seemingly endless when reviewing its biochemistry, historical context and pharmacognostical relevance. As with any therapeutic tool within the herbalist’s arsenal, practitioners should keep their environmental impact at the forefront of their prescriptive proficiency, ensuring best practice aligns with safe yet sustainable herbal treatments.

🌿References

1. Sergeeva I, Kiseleva T, Pomozova V, Shkrabtak N, Frolova N, Vereshchagin A. Experimental Studies of the Effect of Schisandrachinensis Extract on the State of Adaptive Capabilities of Rats under Chronic and General Exposure to Cold. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Nov 10;18(22):11780. doi: 10.3390/ijerph182211780. PMID: 34831536; PMCID: PMC8619167.

2. Park J, Han S, Park H. Effect of Schisandra Chinensis Extract Supplementation on Quadriceps Muscle Strength and Fatigue in Adult Women: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Apr 4;17(7):2475. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17072475. PMID: 32260466; PMCID: PMC7177795.

3. Jia M, Zhou L, Lou Y, Yang X, Zhao H, Ouyang X, Huang Y. An analysis of the nutritional effects of Schisandra chinensis components based on mass spectrometry technology. Front Nutr. 2023 Jul 25; 10:1227027. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2023.1227027. PMID: 37560060; PMCID: PMC10408133.

4. Kopustinskiene DM, Bernatoniene J. Antioxidant Effects of Schisandra chinensis Fruits and Their Active Constituents. Antioxidants (Basel). 2021 Apr 18;10(4):620. doi: 10.3390/antiox10040620. PMID: 33919588; PMCID: PMC8073495.

5. Chen J, Hao W, Zhang C, Cui M, Sun Y, Zhang Y, Wang J, Mou T, Gu S, Zhao T, Wei B. Explore the Therapeutic Composition and Mechanism of Schisandra chinensis-Acorus tatarinowii Schott on Alzheimer’s Disease by Using an Integrated Approach on Chemical Profile, Network Pharmacology, and UPLC-QTOF/MS-Based Metabolomics Analysis. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2022 Jul 11;2022:6362617. doi: 10.1155/2022/6362617. PMID: 35860432; PMCID: PMC9293517.

6. Nowak A, Zakłos-Szyda M, Błasiak J, Nowak A, Zhang Z, Zhang B. Potential of Schisandra chinensis (Turcz.) Baill. in Human Health and Nutrition: A Review of Current Knowledge and Therapeutic Perspectives. Nutrients. 2019 Feb 4;11(2):333. doi: 10.3390/nu11020333. PMID: 30720717; PMCID: PMC6412213.

7. Szopa A, Ekiert R, Ekiert H. 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. Phytochem Rev. 2017;16(2):195-218. doi: 10.1007/s11101-016-9470-4. Epub 2016 May 12. PMID: 28424569; PMCID: PMC5378736.

8. Zhang M, Xu L, Yang H. Schisandra chinensis Fructus and Its Active Ingredients as Promising Resources for the Treatment of Neurological Diseases. Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Jul 6;19(7):1970. doi: 10.3390/ijms19071970. PMID: 29986408; PMCID: PMC6073455.