Goji berry has been dubbed as the “fountain of youth” and “the world’s most powerful anti-aging food” for its nutritional values and health benefits. Though I’ve seen it sprinkled over soup here and there by my Chinese in-laws over the years, Goji berry didn’t catch my attention until recently. Now it’s everywhere in my dishes, smoothies, tea and I snack on them by the hand-full. My children also drink Goji juice daily to boost their immune system. They taste delicious and “are well-balanced for nearly all body types, blood types, and metabolisms” and goji berry “might very well be the most nutritionally rich berry-fruit on the planet” – according to David Wolfe, author of the Superfoods – The Food and Medicine of the Future book.
What is Goji Berry
For nearly 5000 years, the Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian have been cultivating this plant for food and it’s revered as the king of plants. Goji berry (Lycium barbarum) and Wolfberry (Lycium chinense) are two closely related deciduous woody perennial plants of the Solanaceae family. There are different versions of how the term “wolfberry” came about, one being that ‘gou‘ came from the Mandarin root, meaning wolf, and another over the genus name, Lycium, which resembles lycos, the Greek word for wolf. The word “goji” is an approximation of the pronunciation of gǒuqǐ, the name for L. chinense in several Chinese dialects. Only recently has the name Goji berry become popular in the Western world. Interestingly enough, you may not be able to find “goji berries” in Asian supermarkets, only that it’s packaged under the Latin name Fructus Lycii. Other common names for Goji berry are Boxthorn, Matrimony Vine and Desert Thorn. In the 1730’s, Archibald Campbell, the third Duke of Argyll introduced the goji berry plant to Britain, where it became known as “Duke of Argyll’s Tea Tree”.
Most of the commercially produced goji berries come from the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of north-central China, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of western China. Almost half of the commercial goji berries produced in China is from Ningxia, and most of it is L. barbarum. There are an estimated eighty-five species of goji berry in Asia and fifteen species in North and Central America. The goji plant is remarkably adaptable and can survive in harsh, dry deserts as well as in the tropics. It’s been noted that the goji plant can handle daily swings in temperature as great as 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Where to Find Goji Berry
These days, you can find goji berry almost anywhere, and not limited to the Asian supermarkets. They are sold at health food stores, big department stores such as Walmart and Target, vitamin shops, some supermarkets, and online merchant like amazon.com. Goji berry is available as dried fruit, juice extracts, food additives and dietary supplements. Goji berry isn’t cheap, though you’ll find that it’s more affordable at the Asian grocery stores; however, these are most likely non-organic. I don’t eat the ones from Asian groceries as snacks as the taste is a bit more sour and less pleasant. Those are more suitable for cooking. I always wash the Asian store-bought berries well and soak them in water for about 10 minutes and rinse them after to get rid of any impurities such as sulfite. As snacks, I find the Navitas Organic Sun-Dried Goji Berries to have the most pleasant taste – chewy and sweet with little after taste. When selecting goji berries, look for those with rich red color, but not unusually so as they may have actually been died red with chemicals. Dull berries are either old and/or low in nutrients and antioxidants.
How to Use Goji Berry in Cooking
Chinese and Tibetan have been using goji berry/wolfberry as food and in traditional medicines since the beginning of time. It is commonly used as a tonic ingredient in soups, porridge and is added to traditional hot pot. Goji berry is also widely used in wine and in herbal teas for weight control, anti-aging and to promote longevity. It is believed that adding dried goji to food and dishes improve digestion. Since introduced to the Western world, the use of goji has taken on different culinary creativities. It can be consumed in juice extracts form or made into jams. Dried goji berries can also be added to smoothies, yogurt, trail mix, cereal, energy bars, baked goods or simply as a snack. Stay tuned and check out the many recipes I have for goji berries, including the Roasted pork tenderloin with goji and anise star sauce and the all time “beauty tea” made with goji berries.
Heath Benefits of Goji Berry
Goji berry is an alkaline food and is also an adaptogen, which is a natural substance with a combination of therapeutic actions to help the body adapt to stress by supporting the adrenal glands. Goji berry, or wolfberry, is used by Chinese, Tibetan and Himalayans for thousands of years as a health tonic to promote overall health, strengthen the immune system, protect the liver, improve circulation, support cardiovascular health, strengthen eyesight and to enhance sexual performance. It has also been used as a remedy to lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, cleanse the blood, skin rashes, psoriasis, depression, allergies, insomnia, diabetes, anemia and lung diseases.
As a nutritional source, goji berry provides:
- a complete protein which contains 18 amino acids and 11 essential amino acids including phenylalanine for adrenal support and tryptophan for serotonin production
- 5 unsaturated fatty acids including alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid
- 21 or more trace minerals including zinc, iron, copper, calcium, selenium, germanium and phosphorus
- 2 to 4 times the amount of antioxidants found in blueberries
- 6 essential vitamins including Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin B2
- nature’s richest food source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant carotenoid, to help prevent skin damage from the sun and to help boost the immune system
- zeaxanthin and lutein – two key antioxidants for healthy eye vision
- polysaccharides – distinguished characteristics which are found in goji berry to improve the immune system and protect cells from genetic mutation
- bioflavonoid Betaine calms nervousness, enhances muscular growth and helps with liver function
- Sesquiterpenoids stimulates the pituitary and pineal glands to increase the granular production of HGH -the Human Growth Hormone
Much studies have been done in China and in TCM on the health benefits of goji berry. Those that have been researched and studied outside of China include:
- In 2008, a first clinical study done outside of China suggests that goji berry helps improved energy level, athletic performance, quality of sleep, ability to focus on activities and mental acuity. Goji also significantly reduced fatigue and stress, and improved regularity of gastrointestinal function.
- In 2013, a study, done by scientists at the Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University, was published in the Journal of Nutrition indicating that goji berry may protect against the flu.
- A study done by Planta Medica in 2014 suggests that goji may be effective as chemopreventive agents in treating cancer.
Study has found that there can be adverse interactions if you consume goji berries while also taking medication for diabetes, blood pressure and the blood thinner Warfarin. Consult your doctor if you are on medications prior to consuming goji berry.