Goji berries, also called lycium or wolfberries, are a well-respected tonic herb used as part of the centuries-old tradition of Chinese Herbal Medicine (TCM). These tasty berries can be eaten as is, made into a tea, or added to soups and stews.
Lycium barbarum Mill.
Botanical Family: Solanaceae
Common name: lycium
Synonyms: wolfberry, Chinese wolfberry, box thorn, matrimony vine, lycii (lee-chee), gouqi (go-chee), gou-qi-zi (Pinyin name)
The Plant: Goji berries, or lycium, are native to China and other parts of southeast Asia. Although matrimony vine is one of its other common names, lycium is actually a spiny shrub, not a vine. The ten-foot long, arching branches are, however, reminiscent of a vine. The pale rose-colored flowers develop into red, pointed fruits or berries.
Goji berries are found in the wild, growing in sunny areas with dry soils at high elevations. Where cultivated, goji berries prefer a cool climate and sandy soils. But in the wild they're found growing in sunny areas, at high elevations, in dry soil. It has become naturalized in the Eastern half of the United States and across northern Europe. Much of the cultivation of goji is done in China in the Ningxia province and east of Beijing.
The berries of goji are juicy and red-orange when ripe in late summer or early fall. They're harvested and then spread thinly on mats to dry. The fruits bruise easily, turning black where they are damaged, so they must be handled carefully to maintain the desired red color.
Constituents of Note: Carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene, with zeaxanthin, a yellow pigment, account for up to one half of the carotenoid content of lycium berries. Also present are about 5% polysaccharides and up to 1% of betaine, an alkaloid found in milk thistle and beets (from which it gets its name).
Quality: Goji berries are a vibrant red to dark red. Berries that are very dark or black may have been damaged during picking or drying and are not desirable.
The flavor of goji or wolf berries is sweet and fruity, with a faintly fruity aroma. The best quality berries are plump, tender, and slightly chewy.
Regulatory Status: Dietary Supplement
Suggested Uses: Goji or wolf berries can be enjoyed eaten as a dried fruit, combined with other fruits and nuts to make a trail mix, or sprinkled on cereals. They're traditionally cooked along with other foods and tonic herbs in soups and stews or baked in breads and muffins.
A vitalizing tonic tea can be made with equal parts of goji berries and schizandra berries. Simmer one tablespoon of each herb in one pint of water for 20 minutes. Strain and drink a cup of the tea in the morning and again in the evening.
Caution/Safety: The Botanical Safety Handbook* classifies Lycium (goji berry) as:
Class: 2b Herbs not to be used during pregnancy.
*Michael McGuffin, ed., American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook, (New York: CRC Press, 1997)