When I was a kid I used to get together with friends and play the game of “making potions”. We would put together any substances and liquids we could find and blend them into magical elixirs. Of course back then they were made with primarily koolaid, frozen concentrate and herbs from the spice rack and tasted universally foul. Even though my first forays into domestic alchemy were not too successful, I have continued to be fascinated with making “transformative” beverages into my adulthood.
Lately I have really been enjoying making a warming and strengthening winter blend of herbs that are tremendously helpful for improving emotional wellbeing, increasing sexual vigor and decreasing anxiety. The principle ingredient in this tea blend is schizandra berry, an herb that has been revered for many centuries by the Chinese and a common ingredient in their herbal formulas. Knows as Wu Wei Zi, this herb contains all the five flavors associated with the five elements in traditional Chinese medicine theory, Those five flavors are salty, sour, bitter, sweet and pungent.
Schizandra is a profoundly strengthening tea that is both energizing and calming. It is deeply helpful for people who have anxiety, insomnia and long term fatigue. In Chinese medicine schizandra is known to calm the heart and quiet the shen. The shen is the protector, or soul, of the heart in Chinese medicine theory. When the heart shen is in balance, one feels calm, relaxed and content. When the shen is disturbed by shock and emotional trauma, one can develop severe anxiety, tremors, palpitations, confusion and insomnia. In Chinese theory, Schizandra helps to gently repair this emotional damage, bringing greater calm and peace. On a more physical level, schizandra helps regulate cardiac function by normalizing heart rhythm and blood pressure.
Along with other adaptogens such as ginseng, astragalus, reishi and ashwaghanda, schizandra is deeply helpful for strengthening the immune system and reducing the damage from chronic stress. It is “nootropic”, meaning that it will boost alertness, memory and concentration. But even though it is stimulating in this way, it does not cause a boom bust cycle one finds from caffeinated beverages and does not increase anxiety. When drunk as a tea, it tends to have an energizing and calming effect.
If you drink schizandra tea you will immediately notice its sour and astringent quality. The sour flavor is intimately associated with the liver in Chinese medicine and schizandra is indeed very “hepatoprotective”, often used in Chinese medicine for conditions such as hepatitis. On a more energetic level, the emotion associated with the liver is frustration and anger. Schizandra helps to “move the energy” if one is feeling stuck, uptight and wound up, perhaps with some muscle rigidity. This herb often helps with somatic conditions related to this “stuck qi” such as headaches, blurred vision and dizziness. Besides the hepatotonic properties, schizandra is also used to help pulmonary function, increasing respiratory strength, reducing coughing and helping with symptoms of asthma.
Finally, schizandra is known to be incredibly helpful for enhancing the libido for both men and women. As an astringent, it helps to conserve fluids, including sexual fluids and helps improve sexual function, improve sperm count, motility and to extend endurance.
In terms of mental health, I highly recommend this herb to anyone who is feeling worn out, exhausted and anxious. It is deeply helpful for those who have gone through trauma, are diagnosed with PTSD and can easily become frustrated, angry and lash out. They may also have a hard time sleeping, appear restless and worn down. Often there is a lack of sexual desire because of a feeling of apathy, frustration and anhedonia. This is a pretty strong tasting herb but it really has its best effect when taken as a tea. One of my favorite ways to take it is in a blend with a few other herbs that are warming and strengthening.
Here is a recipe for schizandra deep healing tea that I quite like.
2 tablespoons schizandra
1 tablespoon eleuthero (siberian ginseng)
1 teaspoon of licorice
2 teaspoons of chopped ginger
2 clove sticks
Join together and then put ingredients in a pot with a quart of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes. Decant and then add two tablespoons of honey. Drink throughout the day. This tea has a strong astringent, citrusy flavor. The effect is quite marvelous. I personally feel profoundly alert and aware, vibrant with increased clarity. Try it and see.
Contraindications: There is some thought that it could have side effects with drugs that are broken down by the liver and with blood thinners such as coumadin. Avoid when pregnant.
You can also find me at the Facebook group Herbs for Mental Health.