Five-Flavor Berry (Schisandra chinensis)

Contributed by: Michael Wang

Figure 1. Picture of a Five-Flavor berry plant (Kosalapov, 2009)

Binomial Name

Schisandra chinensis (Turcz.) Baill.


Schisandra chinensis (Turcz.)

K.Koch Schisandra chinensis var. glabrata

Schisandra chinensis var. typicaNakai

Schisandra chinensis var. leucocarpa

Schisandra chinensis var. Rubriflora

Common name(s) of the plant

Five-flavor berry, Chinese Magnolia vine, Magnolia berry, Wu wei zi, Gomishi, Ngu mie gee, Omicha, Omija.

Botanical Description

Figure 2. Picture of the structure of Schisandra chinensis. As shown, the lengthier leaves of the plant allow for increased photosynthesis (Doronenko, 2007).

S. chinensis is a fast-growing herbaceous plant belonging to the Schisandraceae family (Szopa et al., 2016). It is a dioecious woody vine plant, originating from East Asian countries including China, Russia, Korea, and Japan (Szopa et al., 2016). Fertility of the five-flavor berry relies on external pollen sources for fertilization, as only pollen from a male plant would fertilize a female plant to bear fruit (Zhang et al., 2018). The production of nectar by the flower of the plant attracts numerous pollinators, particularly bees (Zhang et al., 2018).

The structure of the five-flavor berry (Fig. 2) has evolved characteristics that allow them to adapt and thrive in various environments (Li et al., 2019). The stems of this plant are crucial to its survival, as it is long, thin, and flexible, allowing it to wrap around structures, and easily climb to elevations optimal for sunlight exposure (Li et al., 2019). For the plant to provide stability for climbing, the roots of the five-flavor berry are numerous and anchored deep within the ground (Li et al., 2019). The roots can grow up to two meters into the ground and access minerals and nutrients for the plant (Wu et al., 2015). The leaves on the plant are lengthier compared to other plants to maximize photosynthesis production due to the narrow structure of the stem (Wu et al., 2015). The flowers and fruit of this plant are clustered into several groupings throughout the plant and are essential for reproduction (Wu et al., 2015). The size of each fruit is relatively small, with an average diameter of less than one centimeter (Wu et al., 2015).

Origin, distribution, and habitat of the species

Figure 3. Map of the East Asian origin countries of S. chinensis (Sea of Japan/East Sea, n.d.).

S. chinensis is an adaptive plant that thrives best in moderate temperatures and wet, humus-rich soil and is naturally found in dense forests, mountain slopes, riverbanks, and rocky areas (Wu et al., 2019). This plant originally originates from North-Eastern Asian countries including Russia, Korea, Japan, and China (Fig. 3) (Wu et al., 2019). Recently, these plants have been naturalized in many Western countries including England and the United States of America, primarily as a source of ornamental purposes due to their exotic vine-like appearance (Engels & Brinckmann, 2015). Typically, S. chinensis is an understory plant that grows under the shade of taller trees (Engels & Brinckmann, 2015).

Cultivation practices

The cultivation process of S. chinensis is simple because this plant requires little maintenance and can adapt well to its environment (Wei et al., 2015). When planting seeds for this plant, it grows best in well-drained soil with a slightly acidic pH (Wei et al., 2015). It is ideal to choose a site that protects the plant from strong winds, as the plant’s structure is thin and flexible (Wei et al., 2015). The ideal time to plant the seeds would be at the beginning of spring due to the change in favorable temperatures (Wei et al., 2015). If this plant is being used solely for ornamental purposes, the plant must develop strong fibrous roots before transplanting (Yan et al., 2019). With sufficient amounts of water daily, the plant would be able to thrive independently as this plant is pest and disease resistant (Yan et al., 2019).

Conservation status

Figure 4. S. chinensis is shown as an ornamental plant (Alexander, 2007).

The conservation status of S. chinensis is not considered to be a species of concern due to the adaptability of the plant (Engels & Brinckmann, 2015). This plant can endure periods of harsh climate in its native range of North Eastern Asia (Engels & Brinckmann, 2015). However, it is important to note that populations in certain areas are declining due to overharvesting of the berry for medicinal uses (Engels & Brinckmann, 2015).

In Western countries where it predominantly exists as an ornamental plant (Fig. 4), it is not considered to be a species of concern either but is monitored periodically as it may exist as an invasive species in certain ecosystems (Engels & Brinckmann, 2015).

Plant History

Recorded usage of S. chinensis as a remedy for health problems dates back to the first Chinese herbal encyclopedia written between 200 and 250 CE (Foley, 2020). The plant’s diverse impact on the body has been well acknowledged throughout history and is appraised as one of 50 Fundamental herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine (Foley, 2020). According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is said to facilitate and regulate the 5 zang organs, which are the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, and spleen (Foley, 2020). These organs are said to be essential for the energy of life that flows through living organisms, highlighting the significance of this plant (Foley, 2020). The common name of this plant, Five-flavor Berry, was produced after it was considered to be the only plant to contain all five fundamental tastes, including bitter, pungent, salty, sour, and sweet (Foley, 2020).

Ethnobotanical Use

Figure 5. Illustrates a method of consumption of S. chinensis, depicting the infusion of its berries into tea form while encapsulating its five distinct flavors (Shahid, 2014).

On the molecular level, this berry consists of many bioactive compounds that exhibit pro-health qualities including essential oils, lignans, and polysaccharides all of which are extracted from the roots (Nowak et al., 2019). Essential oils present in the roots exhibit many therapeutic properties, including anti-inflammatory effects, and are used to treat ailments (Nowak et al., 2019). Lignans specifically facilitate liver functions by promoting the regeneration of liver cells and inhibiting liver inflammation (Nowak et al., 2019). Additionally, animal research studies of the lignans present in S. chinensis are found to prevent cancer by inhibiting cellular division in cancer-growing cells, but more research is required for efficacy in humans (Nowak et al., 2019). Furthermore, the polysaccharides are recognized for their immune system modulation by increasing the production of neutrophils, the cells that can recognize and attack foreign cells and pathogens (Nowak et al., 2019). The berries produced by S. chinenesis also express numerous pro-health characteristics through the bioactive chemical compounds, Schisandrins A, B, and C (Nowak et al., 2019). Preliminary research has shown a potential cure for Alzheimer’s disease, a known incurable disease due to the strict regulation of molecules by the blood-brain barrier (Whelan, 2018). Schisandrins B can diffuse through the blood-brain barrier and inhibit the formation of amyloid beta peptides, the main substance found in Alzheimer patients (Whelan, 2018). Furthermore, Schisandra expresses adaptogenic effects, allowing the consumer to experience healthier mental and physical performance by coping with stress, a common reaction affecting every individual (Whelan, 2018). S. chinensis can be processed and consumed in many different forms such as a tincture, a pill, a powder, a dried whole berry, or a liquid form (Fig. 5) (Whelan, 2018).

Description of plant products, harvesting, and processing techniques

Figure 6. After meticulous drying, S. chinensis is now preserved in a state primed for processing into a range of botanical applications (, 2016).

The harvesting of S. chinensis consists of traditional techniques including hand-picking or a small rake to avoid any significant damage to the plant (Foley, 2020). This plant is harvested in the fall when the plant has developed bright-red ripened berries (Foley, 2020). The processing techniques of S. chinensis are specific and different depending on the desired final product. This plant can be consumed as it is found in nature, or it can be processed into different medicinal compounds such as a powder or liquid form (Foley, 2020). Often, the berry is dried (Fig. 6) with a dehydrator or by the sun to withstand transportation factors or to further be processed into products (Foley, 2020). The most common processing technique is pounding or grinding the berry into powder after it has been dried (Foley, 2020). Additionally, this plant can be processed into a tincture to extract the bioactive compounds which can be processed into various products (Foley, 2020). The plant products available for consumers are typically in the form of dietary capsules, powder, or a diluted tincture depending on individual needs.

Market Status

The global market status of S. chinensis has been increasing due to the awareness of the numerous health benefits that this berry possesses as mentioned above. According to projections conducted by Transparency Market Research, the global S. chinensis market is expected to reach 237.6 million US dollars by 2026, an increase of 70 million dollars based on numbers recorded from 2017 (Transparency Market Research, 2018). Furthermore, this plant is growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.56%, proving that this plant has exciting potential for everyday applications (Transparency Market Research, 2018).


This was an assignment written for Botany*2000 Plants, Biology and People at the University of Guelph. I wish to give a grateful acknowledgment to Professor Jayasankar Subramanian (University of Guelph) for the suggestions and encouragement, editing this paper and recommending it to Spiritual Botany. I also thank Dr. Praveen Saxena, the Editor of Spiritual Botany for the opportunity to have this paper published.


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About the author:


Michael Wang is an undergraduate student majoring in Biomedical Science at the University of Guelph. With a strong passion for microbiology and human anatomy, he has pursued his interest in cancer research. Michael envisions advancing his education through graduate studies, focusing on medicine or public health in pursuit of meaningful contributions to the healthcare landscape.

Posted by Shweta Dixit