Schisandra is a woody vine native to eastern Asia. It winds around the trunks of trees, covering the branches. The white flowers produce small red berries that may grow in clusters. Traditionally, the berries are harvested in the fall, dried, and then ground to make the powdered medicinal herb. The seeds of the fruit contain lignans , which are believed to be active constituents.

Schisandra has long been used in the traditional medicines of Russia and China for a wide variety of conditions including asthma, coughs, and other respiratory ailments, diarrhea, insomnia, impotence, and kidney problems. Hunters and athletes have used schisandra in the belief that it will increase endurance and combat fatigue under physical stress.

More recently, schisandra has been studied for potential liver-protective effects.

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What Is Schisandra Used for Today?  

Schisandra has not been proven effective for any condition. Research on the herb is limited to studies in animals, as well as human trials that are not up to modern scientific standards.

Animal studies suggest schisandra may protect the liver from toxic damage, improve liver function , and stimulate liver cell regrowth. 1-6 These findings led to its use in human trials for treating hepatitis . In a poorly designed and reported Chinese study of 189 people with hepatitis B, those given schisandra reportedly improved more rapidly than those given vitamins and liver extracts. 7

Other animal studies of schisandra have found possible anti-cancer properties. 8,9,10

Finally, weak evidence hints that schisandra or its extracts might enhance sports performance and improve mental function . 11-15

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Dosage  

Schisandra comes in capsules, tinctures, powder, tablets, and extracts. Common dosages are 1.5 to 6 g daily.

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Safety Issues  

Studies in mice, rats, and pigs have found schisandra to be relatively nontoxic. 16 Noticeable side effects are apparently rare, though upset stomach and allergic reactions have been reported. 17

Safety in pregnant or nursing women, children, or people with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.