There are about 25 species of Schizandra, most of which are indigenous to Asia
. One rare species is reportedly found in North Carolina
(but this could be a confusion with the sundew Drosera schizandra
Schizandra chinensis is the best known, a perennial woody creeping vine with small red berries that is native to Manchuria, Siberia, northeastern China, Korea, and Japan. In ancient China, Schizandra was a staple food for hunter/gatherers. The odoriferous pink or white flowers give way to bright red fruit which droops down in clusters from the vine. The flavor is said to be sweet, salty, sour, hot, and bitter-- thus its common name, Wu-wei-tzu ("five taste fruit"). In the days of the Dynasties these berries were valued for their ability to preserve a youthful appearance: it was said a regular user would become radiant. As a traditional medicinal herb, it has been used as an astringent for a treatment for dry cough,asthma, night sweats, nocturnal seminal emissions and chronic diarrhea. Although its properties as a sexual enhancer or as beneficial to the liver, lung, and kidneys might be attributed to the chemicals it contains (lignans), these its medicinal uses have not been evaluated by the FDA. It is available in liquid, capsule, and dried berry form.
Cultivation: Plant seeds in fall. This plant likes to grow in a cool and moist climate, so plant where you have cold winters or high elevation. Provide a trellis. Several vines are required for pollination, in order to produce the berries.
Infusion: Take 2 to 4 tablespoons of ripe, dried berries and immerse in 2 cups water. Bring water to boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue simmering 12 minutes or until the liquid is reduced to one cup. Strain and cover with 3 cups water so that the process may be repeated when desired. The berries may be re-boiled until they lose their color and taste, perhaps as much as three times. Honey may be added but sugar is not recommended.
The raw berries can be sucked on as if they were a lozenge.
CAUTION: Schizandra should not be used during pregnancy except under medical supervision to promote uterine contractions during labor. Schizandra should be avoided by persons with peptic ulcers, epilepsy and high blood pressure. Side effects are uncommon but may include abdominal upset, decreased appetite, and skin rash.