Teaching Tuesday-Five Flavor Berries
The five flavor plant and berry, botanically known as Schisandra chinensis, is so named because the berries possess all five of the basic flavors used in traditional Chinese medicine, sweet, salty, spicey, bitter and sour. In fact, this plant is considered to be one of the "50 fundamental herbs" necessary to Chinese medicine.
While it is native to the forests of Northern China and Eastern Russia, it is an ornamental plant that can be found in gardens throughout the world. In the USA it is hardy to (USDA) zone 4. You may be more familiar with the more common name, "Magnolia Vine". So called because of its ability to grow upwards, in a creeping fashion, it is a woody vine with oval, pink leaves and bright red berries. It is rather hardy, thriving in most any soil type, although it prefers moist, well drained soil. It also prefers to climb on a wall that has some shade. While the natural plant only bears fruit when the female plant is fetilized with pollen from a male plant, there is a hybrid, named "Eastern Prince", that has beautiful and perfect flowers, and is self-fertile.
The berries are most often used in dried form, where they are used to make a medicinal tea. Chinese folklore says that Schisandra can "calm the heart and quiet the spirit", and it has a long history in Traditional Chinese Medicine. There are over 19 species of the genus that are said to be used in Chinese medicine, largely for its (mild) sedative qualities and for tonic agents as well. Traditional Chinese Medicine has also used it as a lung astringent, coughs, and asthma, as well as using the vines and roots to make remedies for painful joints and rheumatism. It is also said to help with "wei chi", the defense energy of the body, helping to build resistance to infection. On the non-medicinal side, they also use teh berries to make a wine. The Japanese use the plant as a remedy for sea-sickness and colds. Russian hunters, on the other hand, have consumed tea made from it for centuries, to help with fatigue.
Most research having to do with this plant has been conducted in China, where double blind studies suggest that it has the ability to help those that suffer from Hepatitis. The lignans contained in the berry appear to protect the liver by stimulating cells which produce antioxidants. Also, because it has adaptogenic properties, it has been comapared to herbal medicines, such as Ginseng, that stimulating the central nervous system, increase brain efficiency, improve reflexes, and accelerate endurance. The powder made from dried berries can be used in capsules or can be reconstituted to drink as a tea or mixed in juice. Fresh berries can be eaten, mixed in foods/drinks, or allowed to steep in glycerin, which can then be drank or encapsulated.
Precautions: Botanical safety research (in China, Russia, and the U.S.A) has showed that Schisandra may, in rare instances, cause gastrointestinal upset. It should not be used by pregnant women, as it is a uterine stimulant. Since this plant possesses sedative qualities it may enhance the actions of prescription medications. Therefore, care should be taken, and the possibility of decreasing a prescription dosage should be discussed with your physician.