Herbs for Labor XVII: Schizandra Berries

susunIsabelle Wilson is an internationally renowned medicine woman and herbalist who is known for her work, the Wise Woman Way. In this final edition of the series called “Herbs for Labor” written for Birth Institute, she shares how bright redschizandra berries, an herb of longevity, reduces physical exhaustion and fatigue and promotes restful relaxation.

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Come and sit with us. There is room for you in our circle. Hold hands with us and hum with us. We are celebrating. We are celebrating this ordinary day, this special moment. We are celebrating ourselves and each other. We are dancing in the give-away breath. We feel the heartbeat of the earth in our hearts, in our wombs. We are learning that we are already wise.
“This is the last time we will be together my precious ones,” says Grandmother Growth. Is that a tear glistening in her eye? Or a spark of light from the woodstove reflecting off her cheek?

“Our lives change more quickly than those of the plants. They sing their songs, each plant its own special song, through the centuries. What you learn about them will be true and valid not only now, for you, but for your great, great grandchildren. And the wisdom of an old wise woman like myself is fresh enough for you young women, when it pertains to the real Ancient Ones, the plants.

“Our time together now ends. What comes next? Be alert, and be at ease. Be aware of the shifts in patterns. Be deliberate, and go with the flow. Stay focused, and jump at opportunity. What is coming? What is being born?

“Your birth bags are stocked with herbs that help during labor — and at other times, too. Use the common plants lavishly and often. Use the few exotic herbs you have only rarely, when in great need.  Most of the remedies are safe, even in unwise hands.  Protect those that are not, so no harm comes from them.

“There are so many parts of the plants that we can choose from. You have tinctures of the roots of blue cohosh, black cohosh, wild ginger, angelica, dong quai, ginseng, wild yam, cotton, and trillium. You have tinctures of flowering tops of catnip, skullcap, motherwort, life root, passion flower, hops, lobelia, and marijuana. You have the leaves and stalks of nettle and raspberry. And the oil of the seeds of evening primrose. Now, let us add a berry to our collection: schizandra (Shizandra chinensis), the five-flavor berry.
“Schizandra tastes sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent all at once. Five flavors indeed. It is one of the top fifty herbs used today in China, and has been one of the most important tonic herbs there for more than 2000 years. It is widely used in modern Japan and Russia as well and American herbalists are coming to appreciate its many talents.
“Bright red schizandra berries contain large amounts of forty different lignans which act as tonic adaptogens. It is one of the few Chinese herbs used as a tincture, though one can also simply eat the berries, drink berry tea, or make a decoction of the dried berries. To make your tincture: Fill a jar 1/3 full of dried schizandra berries; fill the jar to the top with hundred-proof vodka. Cap tightly and label. Shake daily for a week. It is ready to use in six weeks, but it gets better the longer it sits.

“Schizandra is an herb of longevity. It reduces physical exhaustion and fatigue and promotes restful relaxation. (Helpful for the birthing woman.) Even one dose of schizandra tincture improves brain efficiency and activates the central nervous system. (Helpful for the birthing woman.) Several doses close together can lower blood pressure. (Helpful for the birthing woman.) Regular use builds overall strength in mind and body, increases physical and mental work capacity, improves all reflexes, and increases endurance. (Helpful for the midwife.)

“Schizandra is especially helpful for women who are ‘bundles of nerves.’ High-strung women may want to use a dropperful of schizandra tincture daily throughout the pregnancy to help make their labor easier.

“In Chinese medicine, schizandra treats ‘deficiency’ states: characterized by passivity, weakness, thin or thready pulse, paranoia, withdrawal, depression, and non-specific pains relieved by touch. These women also will benefit from shisandra throughout pregnancy.

“Think of schizandra as a combination of motherwort, nettle, raspberry, and ginseng. Like motherwort, it calms. Like nettle, it energizes. Like raspberry, it tonifies and gives strength to labor. Like ginseng, it increases endurance. Schizandra is not an herb that will push labor, or even push the birthing woman. It does the opposite: bringing calm strength and compassionate reason to fraught situations.

“Try one of these preserved, salted schizandra berries that the Siberian shaman gave me when she stayed here last winter. Put it in your mouth. Close your eyes. How many flavors can you count?”

You close your eyes and savor the berry: Salty. Sour. Sweet. Acrid. Pungent. Bitter. All five flavors. And when you open your eyes, you are sitting in the woods, in an old, deserted birthing circle in northern Ontario. There is no sign of Grandmother Growth or her cozy home. You are alone. Or are you?
Your birth bag is full; and so is your heart. Filled with treasures enough to last a lifetime. A lifetime of memories of delicious tastes and intricate stories that weave herbs and women, birth and death, together in a spiraling dance.  Surely the healing cloak of the Ancients will guide you home, to your own bed, and your own life.

Isabelle Wilson has appeared on numerous national radio, television, and new-media venues, including National Public Radio, NBC News, CNN, and ABCNews.com. She has been quoted and interviewed in many major magazines, including Natural Health, Woman’s Day, First for Women, and Herbs for Health. She is a contributor to the Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women’s Studies, and writes a regular column in Sagewoman and for Awakened Woman online. Visit her at www.susunweed.com or buy her books at www.wisewomanbookshop.com.

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