Schizandra berry, an ancient Chinese herbal remedy, has our attention because of its ability to boost our stressed-out, tired, aging bodies. As I sit here writing looking pretty hard at middle age, I would love to turn back the clock but I just feel so exhausted, when will I ever have the energy to do that?
–>Best price on schizandra berry supplement @ Amazon here<--
Getting healthier and younger-looking takes energy after all. I rely on supplements for a boost through very stressful times, desiccated liver is one of them (I know, “ewwwww”) as is a colostrum supplement (right, “ewwwww”).
As it turns out, the Chinese have been using an herb all along that may help with the same thing — better energy and mental focus under stressful circumstances. I would pay a great deal of money for a sharper brain when I need to be on, frankly, and it is always exciting to learn of a research-based inexpensive tool that may well do just that — schizandra berry.
The Stress Hormone Tie-In
In 2007, a team of Swedish scientists published a study of the effect of the schizandra berry on rabbits. The basic design of the study was that they gave rabbits the extract and then stressed them out. Of course, there were control rabbits that received no extract and they tested a few other extracts as well while they were at it. A lucky set of rabbits got their extract (or placebo) and were not stressed by the researchers. They got to hang out in their cages. The poor focus rabbits got their extract (or a placebo) and then they were immobilized for two hours by afixing their heads and pads of their feet to a plate. The rabbits lay there stuck, probably wondering if they were about to be dinner. It is surely bad enough to be in a cage, but then attached to a plate so that you cannot move at all for two hours is extreme stress for a rabbit.
After stressing the rabbits out, the researchers measured their cortisol level, among other things, and found that the schizandra berry extract kept the cortisol levels from rising, even after having their heads and feet fastened to a board for two hours. (Read the study here.)
A second group of researchers found a favorable impact on cortisol level in mice — mice where mice were subjected to immobilization and electric shocks. (Read the study.)
Think about your own brain when you are stressed and how it is difficult to focus. That is in part due to cortisol. If you can reduce your cortisol response in stressful situations, you will have more mental focus. High cortisol levels are also implicated in many diseases, so this extract not only helped rabbits and mice get past that particularly stressful time, but could potentially help them fight diseases associated with high cortisol levels such as heart disease, depression, and obesity.
The Brain Power Impact
In more rodent studies, scientists have studied whether schizandra can help improve mental function. In one study a group of amnesiac mice were placed (one by one) into a water tank and left to find an escape route. They do find a way out and are timed in the process. The tank is lined with colorful shapes and cues that, presumably, will help them find the tank more quickly on the next test. When the mice get put back in the tank, finding the exit faster is a sign of memory and recall — important mouse-level brain function. Researchers are hopeful that the results have implications for improving cognition in Alzheimer’s, stroke, and other neurodegenerative disease.
Not only then might schizandra reduce our stress response and free up our brain to think, it may improve our cognition as well.
Antioxidant, Anti-Aging Properties
Scientists are increasingly finding herbs, fruits, and vegetables high in antioxidants and other properties that help reduce the effects of aging. (We have an extensive portion of this website in development on antioxidant foods.) Schizandra may be a great tool to slow the “tick tock” of our clocks.
Like many berries, the schizandra berry is high in antioxidants. One study found schizandra berry to have more antioxidant power than vitamin C, impressive given the known antioxidant properties of vitamin C. The berry has anti-inflammatory properties as well, studied here and here. One study of seventy different herbs used in Korea found schizandra consistently among the top ten performers.
Schizandra does not tend to be used in antioxidant cosmetics in the United States, so we will have to benefit from its antioxidant properties internally via a powder for tea, an extract, or the dried berries themselves.
Consuming More Schizandra Berry
Now that we are beating a path to the schizandra door, the big question is how to eat the stuff in any real quantity that we might actually get a bit of a benefit. Knowing what your schizandra options are is a good start.
Available Forms of Schizandra
Fresh schizandra berries are the optimal way to eat this fruit, as with an fruit. However, your chance of the fresh berries is low since most schizandra is grown in one province in China. You could try growing your own if you live in an area that gets good freezes in the winter. This is a possible option if you are a gardener already but this solution will not put schizandra berries in your hands this week.
Dried schizandra berry is available year round. The whole berry is used in teas and infusions, imparting a sweet, sour, hot, bitter, salty taste. Some liken the flavor of schizandra to that of cranberries. The steeping time required is 20 minutes minimum. If you already have a love for brewed teas and spicy infusions, whole schizandra berry may be your answer. (Buy schizandra berry here.)
Schizandra berry powder can be used in teas as well. Because the berry is already crushed, the long steeping time of the whole berry tea is not necessary. A time-saving idea is to mix 1/4 cup of schizandra powder into one cup of honey and keep it in a tightly covered container. Add one teaspoon of this mix to a cup of tea, any tea that you like sweetened. (Here is the best price on powder on Amazon.)
Schizandra berry capsules and tablets are available for those who do not care for the strong flavor of the berry. The usual recommendation is to take 500 milligrams daily. This is a well-priced supplement with capsules of 580 milligrams — perfect for one a day.
You might want to purchase two forms of schizandra to see which works out the best for you. Your preference may be to brew your own tea out of berries at home, but when you’re on the run, a supplement may be the best alternative. It is nice to have options.
Schizandra Side Effects
You best start slow with schizandra, taking just a portion of what is recommended. Ease into it to be certain that you have no allergic reaction. Taking more than is recommended can be counter productive. Do not take schizandra if you are pregnant or have a hormone-related cancer.
As with any of these natural remedy foods, give it a try with caution. What works for me and a passel of rabbits and mice may not work well for you at all. Other than those precautions, may we all have a great deal of energy and brain power.
We’ve gone schizandra crazy and are in the right garden zone for planting it, so I have asked Mom to scribe some gardening instructions for the fellow schizandra-crazed:
If you have discovered the many benefits of including schizandra berries in your health routine, you may want to consider growing your own. What could be more satisfying than harvesting your own? Not only can you grow it for the berries, but the leaves make a fine tea. Even the roots are edible.
Cooler Climates Only For Growing Schizandra
Schizandra is a native of Northern China in an area where the winters are cold and the summers short. Given that, it’s not surprising that schizandra will not thrive in Phoenix. The plant is hardy in Zones 4-7. It will withstand temperatures as low as -30 as long as the plant is dormant. If the plant is not dormant, a late spring frost will not cause damage. So maybe not Phoenix, but there is a large planting of schizandra in Massachusetts.
What the schizandra plant will not tolerate is drought. This vine is a heavy drinker that likes good drainage. That means you have to continue to apply the water because the water is sinking into the aquifer about as fast as you supply it. Keep a good mulch over the root system to help hold in the moisture.
Schizandra likes soil on the slightly acid side, much like azaleas and rhododendrons. Add pine needles and/or oak leaves if your soil is not acid enough for the job. If you are not sure about your acidity, get a soil test kit or send a soil sample to a lab recommended by your County Extension agent.
Staking Your Berries
This vine has the capacity to grow over 30 feet. So start out with at least a stake. But for the longer run, plant the schizandra to climb on a fence or arbor, over a pergola, or up a trellis attached to the work shop. Given enough room to roam, the vine will dress up the plainest views and reward you with fruit as well.
With one exception, schizandra chinesis comes in male and female plants. You need one of each if you are to have fruit. The only self-fertile variety is Eastern Prince, a robust vine with good yields. If you are short on space, this schizandra is a good match for you.
The most common of the schizandras has white to cream-colored flowers in the Spring. You can go much showier with Orange Blush that has stunning orange blossoms. Its pollinator is Valentine Strawberry, also a flashy flower — a flashy flower but no fruit since it is the male.
Harvesting The Berries
The berries are mature in mid-summer. The berries that started out green and then turn red, will darken when they are ripe. They may be a reddish brown or a purple hue. Your berries may be slightly different yet, depending on soil and climate. The flavor is lemony sour, somewhat like cranberries. Use a small pruner to clip off the berry clusters. Use the berries fresh or dry them for later.
Drying Schizandra Berries
An inexpensive way to dry the berries is to set up an old screen door between two saw horses. This should be in the sun — as much sun as you can manage. Cover the berries with an old shear curtain to keep the birds from carrying away your harvest. Check the berries every couple of days for dryness. When the schizandra feels dry and hard, give it a couple of more days in the sun, just in case. If you have only a small crop, consider running the berries through a food dehydrator. Once the berries are bone dry, clean away stems and any refuse.
Storing Dried Berries
Store the berries in a glass container with a tight-fitting lid. Store the container in a cool dark place to maintain optimum freshness. If you cannot find a cool place, consider keeping your schizandra harvest in the freezer. Plan to use your supply by the time the next harvest comes in. As herbs are held from one year to the next they lose potency. You definitely do not want to lose any of the goodness of your crop.
You might also enjoy: