This berry has our hearts, livers, immune systems, adrenals... Come to think about it, what can't this plant do?
Schisandra is a longstanding adaptogen with the sort of gentle healing touch we could all use. With the summer heat in full-force, we have been enjoying Schisandra as a cool drink paired with Licorice root powder, Holy Basil and lemon. We decoct 1-2 tsp. of Schisandra berries in 10 oz filtered water for 5-10 minutes. We remove from heat and add fresh Holy Basil and an organic lemon wedge. Cap this with a lid and let steep for 15 minutes. Add a bunch of ice to the hot water or let cool in the fridge before enjoying the cooling, calming, enriching benefits of this powerful tonic strength berry. Read on for the full Materia Medica on our favorite "Five Flavor Berry".
Schisandra Materia Medica
Scientific Name: Schisandra chinensis
Taste/Energetics: Sour, sweet, bitter, pungent, warm, dry
Actions: Adaptogen, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, astringent, antiasthmatic, hepatoprotective, immune amphoteric, refrigerant, stimulant, cardiovascular tonic
Parts Used: berries/seeds
Uses: Schisandra is a prolific herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where it is known as Wu Wei Zi, which translates to the 5-Flavor Fruit. We call it the everlasting gobstopper of the herbal world. Its broad spectrum of flavor means it has the breadth to benefit many organ systems.
In TCM, it is also said to enhance the 5 yin organs: liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, and spleen. Basically, when you hear yin, think nourishing.
Schisandra “astringes the jing”, which means it remedies conditions caused by excessive fluids as in diarrhea, frequent urination, and excessive discharges (vaginal, sweat, mucus, premature ejaculation). Its ability to reduce excessive fluid means it is very useful for night sweats and menopausal conditions. In Chinese medicine, the kidneys allow the lungs to fully inhale; Schisandra helps the kidneys “grasp the lungs”, allowing for stronger respiration and the ability to take deeper breaths and have more productive coughs. Paired with its anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, and relaxing qualities, it is very useful for asthma and shortness of breath.
Schisandra “calms the shen”. The shen is stored in the heart and represents the spirit or our consciousness; disturbed shen yields anxiety disorders, ADHD, and emotional/mental debility. By calming the shen, it is used for those with stress-induced cardiac issues, chronic insomnia, and anxiety disorders. Schisandra is incredibly beneficial food for the liver. It possesses the ability to regenerate hepatocytes- liver cells- and increase a powerful endogenous antioxidant, glutathione. Clinically, its been shown to protect us from liver damage and promote healing.
Schisandra is one of the more stimulating of adaptogens, mildly stimulating CNS activity. Interestingly, it simultaneously enhances reflexes, mental and physical performance while also calming and relieving anxiety (when herbs work both ways like this, we call them amphoterics). Schisandra has also been found to have normalizing power over blood pressure, elevating hypotensive states and reducing hypertensive states- likely due to its calming properties.
Safety: Increases the effects of barbiturates. Best practice is to discontinue the use of tonic strength adaptogens during times of acute illness.
Dosage: 400-500 mg capsule 2-3x day/ 1-2 oz dried berries in 10 oz water, decocted for 5-10 min, steep 20-30 min 3x day/ 20-40 drops tincture 2-3x day. As a tonic strength adaptogen, take 5-6 days a week consistently for at least 3 weeks. Bodies love regularity but they also love breaks. It is wise to take a week off every 5-6 weeks for any tonic herbal regime.
Plays Well With: Bacopa, Milky Oats, and Rhodiola for ADHD; Lemongrass, Holy Basil, and Hibiscus for the ultimate cooling drink; Milk Thistle, Turmeric, Artichoke Leaf, and Beet juice for liver health; Dang Shen and Prince Seng for wheezing, asthma, and general debility/chronic fatigue; Licorice, Cinnamon, and Fu Ling mushroom for strengthening vitality of lung and kidneys (this formulation is called Gui ling wu wei gan cao tang in TCM).
Upton, Roy. Editor. Schisandra berry (Schisandra chinensis): Analytical, quality control and therapeutic monograph. American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and Therapeutic Compendium. Santa Cruz, CA; 1999:1-25.
Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2007.
Marshmallow Materia Medica
Scientific Name: Althea officinalis
Family: Malvaceae (the same family that brings you Okra, Mulberries, and Hibiscus!)
Etymology: Althea from Latin altho, “to heal”; officinalis indicating its placement in the official pharmacopoeia of medicine, medieval Latin
Taste/Energetics: cooling, soothing, neutral/slightly sweet
Parts Used: all parts, especially dried root
Actions: anti-inflammatory, anti-tussive emollient, demulcent, diuretic, vulnerary
Uses: Wherever there’s an itchy, hot, inflamed situation, think Marshmallow. Marshmallow root is a cooling, soothing mucilage that resolves irritated epithelium both inside and out. Mucilages are polysaccharides- slimy, thick, moistening and cooling in nature. Mucilages like Marshmallow root are interesting in that they resolve inflamed states without penetrating the cells at all- rather, the mucilage acts physically rather than chemically, coating the skin’s surface with a soothing, protective barrier to allow healing to take place. This non-intrusive quality makes it especially safe for infants, infirm, and elderly to use and makes it paramount medicine for any digestive condition characterized by inflamed, irritated tissue and ulcers. The slippery nature of Marshmallow means it can also acts as a gentle laxative.
Marshmallow has an affinity for tissue of the digestive and urinary systems. Stephen Bergner calls it the band-aid of the stomach for this reason. Think of Marshmallow for any case of heartburn and irritable bowel or as a mouthwash for inflamed gums (remember that the lining of the mouth is contiguous with the entire digestive tract).
Marshmallow not only cools and soothes, but it’s vulnerary action means it heals wounds. Traditionally it was used in topical poultices for injuries. Its hydrophilic nature means it retains heat, allowing the heat to penetrate more fully when used as a warm compress for sprains and swelling.
The epithelium of the gut is similar to that of the throat- therefore, Marshmallow is an ally during cold and flu season. Sore throats and painful coughs are calmed by Marshmallow. It also stimulates phagocytosis, the process by which the immune system destroys pathogens. Rosalee De le Foret recommends Marshmallow root for lingering post-infection coughs, dry coughs, and unproductive coughs. As a urinary system anti-inflammatory, it is an effective remedy for the hot, inflamed and irritated conditions of bladder infections, cystitis, kidney stones, and frequent UTIs.
Preparation/Dosage: Cold infusion is ideal for retaining the cooling qualities - put 1-3 tbsp of dried herb, tied up in a satchel or loose, in cool, filtered water. Let infuse overnight and strain in the morning. Drink throughout the day to soothe chronically irritated guts or prevent heartburn. Hot or cool compress (depending on your needs) - simply place a clean cotton rag into your marshmallow tea and wrap around irritated, swollen, or inflamed skin.
Contraindications: According to King’s American Dispensary (1898), the infusion or decoction may be freely administered. In modern times, take several hours after taking prescription medications as it may inhibit the absorption.
dela Foret, Rosalee. 2010. Learning Herbs
Pengally, Andrew. 2004. The Constituents of Medicinal Plants
Eileen Brantley & Amy Wright
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