Gobbling Goji Berries

Goji berries or wolfberries are the fruits of Lycium barbarum  and Lycium chinense, two very closely related species of boxthorn in the Solanaceae or nightshade family, which also includes potatoespepperstomatoes, tomatilloseggplant, tobacco, and petunias.

The Lycium chinense plant grows into an 8-10 foot tall shrub that has a life expectancy well over 100 years. It’s a tough plant that was originally found in the Himalayas, but also grows well in parts of China, Mongolia, and Tibet. Goji berries have been used in Tibet for at least 1,700 years. Tibetan medicine uses these berries to treat kidney problems, liver problems, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, eye problems, rashes, psoriasis, depression, allergies, insomnia, chronic liver disease, diabetes, and tuberculosis. Goji berries are also used by Tibetans to cleanse the blood, to increase longevity, and as a general health strengthening tonic.

Goji berries also have a long, distinguished history in traditional Chinese medicine, which uses them to improve vision, cure infertility and dry cough, and to extend longevity. The poet Liu Juncy from the Tan dynasty (618-907) praised the goji berry’s miracle effects in a poem. People believed that even the water from a well close to the plants could help them to achieve amazing longevity. One of the most famous phyto-therapists and healers in Chinese history, Li Shudjun, in Foundations of Pharmacopedia in 1578 mentioned that the people from the village Nanchu had the habit of eating goji berries and almost all of them are centenarians.

In a small remote place in Ningxia in northwest China along the banks of the Yellow river, goji berries are produced by farmers whose families have been growing  these berries for many generations. Ningxia is the most advanced and largest goji berry production area of Asia, and the region  from which most commercially-produced goji berries hail. The annual goji berry festival in Ningxia kicks off in late summer to mark the time of year when the berries are harvested.

Lycium barbarum is native to both Asia and southeastern Europe. It was first introduced into England as a tea tree in about 1730 by Archibald Campbell, an enthusiastic gardener and the third Duke of Argyll (hence another common name for the plant is Duke of Argyll’s tea tree). The sprawling bushes became common as hedges and are still a favorite with most of England`s birds. They have been used sporadically around Europe as a wind barrier. The flower is characteristic of the nightshade family, and the mature oval red berries resemble the toxic Amara Dulcis (Solanum dulcamara) fruits. This is probably why the ripe berries were regarded as poisonous and wolfberry has primarily been used as a hedge.

In the late 19th century, the toxicity of wolfberries were investigated in a doctoral dissertation published in Erlangen, Germany. The thesis claimed that Lycium spp. contain pupil-dilating substances, a characteristic of nightshade plants such as Belladonna (Atropa belladonna). As a result, wolfberries were not considered edible until their reintroduction into Western health food markets in the early 21st century as goji berries from China.

When goji berries were “introduced” in the Western hemisphere, they were accompanied by incredible medical claims of fighting cancer and preventing premature aging and memory loss. Goji berries are also an excellent source of many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Goji berries can:

  1. Fight free radicals. Goji berries are extremely high in vitamin C, which helps protect your cells from free radical damage. They’re also very high in vitamin A in the form of carotenoids, which are also powerful antioxidantsRiboflavin, which is abundant in goji berries, also helps protect your cells from oxygen damageSelenium, which is also abundant in goji berries, is incorporated into antioxidant enzymes that help prevent cellular damage from free radicals. The ellagic acid in gogi berries acts as an antioxidant by reducing oxidative stress. Goji berry polysaccharides can increase blood levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD)—an important antioxidant.
  2. Support cardiovascular health. G

    oji berries inhibit

     lipid peroxidation (a major factor in

    cardiovascular disease). Goji berries contain potent antioxidants that reduce blood glucose levels, and total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations, while increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol levels.

  3. Support your immune system. The extremely high levels of vitamin C in goji berries protect your phagocytes and T-lymphocytes against free radicals formed during the interaction of these immune system cells with pathogens, and thereby maintains the integrity of these infection-fighting cells. Vitamin C decreases the duration of the common cold and helps prevent lung infections. The high levels of vitamin A in goji berries also helps support immune function. Selenium, which is abundant in goji berries, is an important co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme glutathione-peroxidase, which helps boost your immune system.

    In a 1988 report published by the State Scientific and Technological Commission of China, goji berries were reported to increase white blood cell count and dramatically increase the antibody immunoglobulin A (lgA). In a more recent study, goji berry polysaccharides stimulated production of interleukin-2, a hormone-like substance that stimulates the growth of blood cells important to the immune system, which protect against pathogens.

  4. Prevent vision loss. Goji berries are rich in antioxidants, particularly carotenoids such as beta-carotene and zeaxanthin. One of zeaxanthin’s key roles is to protect the retina of the eye by absorbing blue light and acting as an antioxidant. In fact, increased intake of foods containing zeathanthin may decrease the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in people over the age of 65.
  5. Protect against DNA damage. Goji berries can decrease DNA damage, possibly by decreasing oxidative stress levels.
  6. Fight cancer. Goji berries are extremely high in vitamin C, which lowers your cancer risk. The ellagic acid in gogi berries directly inhibits the DNA binding of certain carcinogens. A study published in 1994 found that 75 people with cancer responded better to treatment when goji was added to their regimen. Goji berries can also inhibit the growth of leukemia cells. Goji berry polysaccharides stimulate production of interleukin-2, a hormone-like substance that stimulates the growth of blood cells important to the immune system, which protect against cancer cells.
  7. Improve your skin. Goji berries are high in astaxanthin, an antioxidant known as “natural sunscreen” that helps reverse and protect from sun damage. Gojis also contain more beta-carotene than carrots. Beta-carotene (which converts to vitamin A) helps fight inflammation and encourages new skin cell growth.

Nutrients in 100 Grams of Dried Goji Berries

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

vitamin C

18,400 mg

30,667%

vitamin A

30,350 IU

607%

riboflavin

1.3 mg

76.5%

selenium

50 mcg

71.4%

iron

8.42 mg

46.8%

potassium

1130 mg

32.3%

fiber

7.4 g

29.6%

protein

10.6 g

21.2%

Calories

346

17.3%

zinc

2 mg

13.3%

calcium

112 mg

11.2%

thiamine

0.16 mg

10.7%

carbohydrates

22 g

7.3%

fat

3.6 g

5.5%

sodium

22 mg

0.9%

beta-carotene

7.45 mg

zeaxanthin

82.5-200 mg

In China, goji berries are eaten raw or consumed as fresh juice, wine, or tea. The dried berries are often featured in soups.

You can buy dried goji berries in many stores year-round, although they’re rather expensive. You can find cheaper versions, packaged as “licium” berries, at Asian markets. You can also order plants online that grow in zones 4-9, which I am going to try planting as soon as my house is built and I can start landscaping. I can’t wait to try the fresh berries!

Goji berries are easy to enjoy in smoothies. If you don’t have a powerful blender you may want to keep them soaked in a little water or apple juice to soften them before blending. Goji berries make a great topping for desserts, and can easily be added to cupcakes or granola. They blend up well in puddings and frozen deserts when well soaked. The dried berries make a great addition to trail mixes, add wonderful zest to a salad, and can often be used in place of raisins in recipes of all kinds.

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