Goji berries are labelled a 21st Century Superfood. Are they really the anti-aging, immunity and energy booster as some claimed?
“You don’t know what you are missing,” said spry 90-year old Rosey picking goji berries in her home garden. “The skin is a little bitter, but it’s sweet on the inside,” she explained, handing me a small oblong orange-red berry while trying to shoo off honey bees in the sweltering Vancouver summer heat.
Native to Asia and Southeastern Europe, goji berry or wolfberry is the fruit of Lycium barbarum or Lycium chinense. Both are related boxthorn species, and members of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family. Lycium is known to ancient European herbalists for its medicinal properties. The Chinese have been using goji berries in their cooking and traditional medicine for centuries.
Herbal Supplement with Many Benefits
Growing up, mother always added a handful of goji berries to her Chinese herbal soups. She would say, “They make your eyes sharp”. Mother may be right. The zeaxanthin and lutein, carotenoids found in the berries are purported to support healthy vision.
In their study using animals, Oklahoma State University researchers noted the effectiveness of dietary wolfberry on preventing retinal degeneration, cited the university’s news article.
In traditional Chinese medicine, goji berries are often blended with other herbs to create a tonic that
- Boost longevity
- Protect the liver
- Improve the immune and kidney function
- Enhance circulation, vision and sexual health
- Reduce inflammation and prevent cancer
While several scientific studies have been done, evidence validating the health claim is weak and inconclusive. Nonetheless, the implied health benefits derived from the antioxidants, carotenoids and polysaccharides of this ‘Superfood’ ignited Western interests in the early 2000 – generating a proliferation of health food and skincare products.
China is the world’s largest exporter of commercially-grown goji berries. The biggest producers are from the Ningxia Hui and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regions.
“The real problem with many Chinese food imports is pesticide use, even on foods that are labeled “organic”, reported The Epoch Times . These serious issues defeat the intent of goji berries.
Where to buy natural or organic goji berries?
Reputable health food stores who know their product source or your local goji berry farms. Alternatively, grow your own.
“It’s easy to grow. Break a branch and stick it in the soil. The leaves may dry out, but they’ll sprout again. It’s a hardy plant,” said Rosey.
I took her advice, chose a branch with a few budding flowers and planted it in a pot in my greenhouse. It didn’t take long to harvest my first fruits. The plant would have thrived better outdoors, without aphids.
In the northern hemisphere, the deciduous shrub flourishes when the weather warms up. Once the light purple flowers blossom, the bees pollinate and forage for its nectar. Bee pollination is important in to ensure a good harvest.
Fruit picking is usually from August to October. Harvesting can be a little challenging with its thorny branches and delicate fruit skin, but it’s worth the flavour and nutritional value. The sweetest berries are sun-ripened.
Gojoy farm in Aldergrove, British Columbia is currently selling mature plants for CAD$70 to CAD$100 each. According to the farm website, the 4-8 feet tall shrub has a potential yield of 300 berries this summer. This year, U-Pick goji berry season starts June 5th at Gojoy. U-Pick berries go for CAD$5 a pound.
Goji berries are eaten fresh, frozen or dried like raisins; cooked in soups and stews; sprinkled over salads, used in herbal teas, juices, wines, and medicines. Fresh goji berry tastes like a bitter-sweet tomato with a hint of herbs.
For a Goji Phyto-Brew, Goji Farm US offers a nutrient-rich drink that is low in sugar and calories, but high in antioxidants. Goji leaves are also rich in vitamins and phytonutrients, and make great salad greens.
Health Caution on the Side Effects
Individuals with health conditions should consult your physician prior to consuming goji berries. Goji berries may not be suitable for those:
- Taking blood thinner like warfarin, diabetes or blood pressure drugs
- Sensitive to nightshade family fruits and vegetables as they contain alkaloids that can cause inflammation. Interestingly, blueberry also has high alkaloid content