Indigenous to northeastern China and Korea, schisandra is cultivated in northeastern China, especially in the provinces of Jilin, Lianoning, Heilongjiang, and Hebei. It is an aromatic, woody vine reaching up to twenty-five feet with pink flowers and spikes of red berries. The crushed seeds taste hot and aromatic. The fruit is harvested in the fall when fully ripe.
There are two types of schizandra plants — one that produces red berries, and the other, black. The red berries are often seen in Chinese herbalist shops, while the black ones are rarely seen outside of Asia. The fruits also have five distinct flavours: sweet, sour, pungent, bitter, and salty. This feature gave rise to the Chinese name, Wu Wei Tsu, meaning "five-flavoured plant," indicating the tastes of the five main elemental energies.
The plant first appeared about a thousand years ago in the Divine Husbandman's Classic of the Materia Medica, and used to treat a diverse range of illnesses, including coughs, premature ejaculation, chronic dysentery, and insomnia.