What is so 'Super' About the Superfood, Goji Berries?
'Goji Berry’ certainly sounds good enough to eat and when spoken out loud feels good on the tongue creating a sound that has a certain tangibility. But just what is the ‘Goji Berry’? The Goji Berry belongs to the native Chinese plant, Lycium Barbarum, originating in the Ningxia Province. It’s part of the nightshade family and a relative of the chili pepper; potato; tomato; and tobacco plant.
Goji Berries are small; oblong or ovoid in shape, similar to a teardrop; in shades of red and orange; and have been termed a ‘superfruit’ due to their unique nutritional and medicinal value. Goji Berries contain many essential vitamins, minerals, nutrients and antioxidants; and are a very rich source of bioactive flavonoids, particularly anthocyanins; polyphenols; and carotenoids; Countless studies have shown that a diet rich in phytonutrients is good for human health.
Goji Berry is the widely accepted common name but the berries and plant are known vernacularly by a staggering 29 different common names, including: Wolfberry; Himalayan Goji; Chinese Matrimony Berry;Tibetan Goji; Chinese Boxthorn; Mede Berry; Matrimony Vine; Chinese Desert Thorn; and Duke of Argyll's Teaplant. ‘Goji’ is thought to derive from the common Chinese word for berry. 1
Cultivation and Harvesting
Lycium Barbarum is a deciduous perennial plant that can grow to around 8 feet high. It’s a hardy and adaptable species with the ability to thrive in environments that wouldn’t traditionally support life, such as acidic pHs, low light, drained and nutritionally poor soils. It can be found growing as a shrub or vine, in hostile habitats such as deserts, dunes, hedges, dry grass and shrublands. Ideal growing conditions, however, include plenty of light, thriving on dry sand that’s rich in calcium and nutrients.2 Although the plant appears to thrive exceptionally well along the floodplains of the Yellow River, Asia’s second longest river, where the plant is thought to originate. Goji berries cultivated along the banks of this vast, snaking river are colloquially referred to as ‘red diamonds’ due to their supposed superior quality. The plant has thorns and bears solitary or clustered lilac/light purple flowers. It begins to bear fruit after two to three years and the harvesting of Goji Berries starts in the summer months but will depend on the specific altitude, latitude and climate of the growing region. The Goji Berry is delicate and damages easily. The exquisite berries should be carefully hand picked or gently shaken from the plant when tender, ripe and sweet. They develop their rich red/orange colour before they are fully ripe so it’s a skilled process picking them at exactly the right time to ensure both taste and nutritional value is retained. Goji Berries can taste very bitter if picked too soon and the fruit gains in sweetness when left to mature and ripen properly. Flavour can also be impaired by cold temperatures so care should be taken to harvest the Goji before the first frost. After the first frost, when the leaves start to fall from the plant, these,too, can be harvested and used to make a medicinal tea which is employed in Chinese Medicine along with the bark of the Lycium Barbarum. Once harvested the berries can be eaten fresh or are either dried naturally in the sunshine or go through a process of mechanical dehydration involving exposure to heat. For long-term storage, the berries can be dried or frozen.The majority of Goji Berries are cultivated today on large plantations in the north-central and western regions of China but are also grown in the shady Himalayan valleys of Tibet, Mongolia and Nepal.3
Origins, Legend, Tradition and History
Goji Berries have been employed in Traditional Chinese Herbal medicine from anywhere between 2,000 to 6,000 years. Traditionally the Goji Berry was employed in Chinese Medicine to support and nourish the liver, kidney and lungs; improve blood circulation and for male fertility, to improve sperm production; and to offer support and sustenance to the Yin. Yin is the Chinese description of balance, alongside its opposite, Yang. Both parts are required to be equally nourished to achieve optimum health. Yin is related to cold and dampness; the Chest, Abdomen, Heart, Lungs, Liver, Spleen and Kidney.4
This ‘superfruit’ was revered in ancient China for its nutritional and medicinal value; believed to benefit all round good health and increase longevity of life. The Goji Berry is said to have been eaten raw by Himalayan monks many thousands of years past and consumed as a drink, with the berries steeped in boiling water. These super berries were believed to help the monks to meditate and generally bestow good health, vigour, physical and mental alertness and feelings of well being.5
In ancient China the leaves, flowers, root bark and berries of the Lycium Barbarum plant were used and valued for their special healing and life-sustaining properties. The leaves of the Lycium Barbarum plant were described as the ‘essence of heaven’; its flowers, known as ‘longevity of life’; its fruits, referred to as ‘goji berry’ and the bark of its roots, known as ‘the skin and bone of the earth’. And Tang Dynasty, Chinese poet and philosopher, Liu Yuxi (772–842AD) wrote “The goji nourishes body and spirit; drink of the well and enjoy a long life.” 6
An annual festival takes place in the sunny month of August in the region of Ningxia in celebration of the Goji Berry. The festival takes place at the same time as the Goji Berry harvest.7
Goji Berries are a high protein, low calorie, fat-free food and an amazing source of fibre. Consuming fiber-rich foods has been linked with a lower risk of high cholesterol and heart attack. These super berries also possess a range of phytonutrients, including the carotenoids zeaxanthin, lutein, beta-carotene, lycopene and cryptoxanthin. In addition, the Goji Berry provides five sources of healthy, unsaturated fatty acids, including alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid. Goji Berries are a rich source of the flavonoids quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin, hesperidin, and rutin; which possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer activity.
Goji Berries are a natural source of AGPs (arabinogalactan proteins) which have been studied for their potential to regulate immune system activity.8 The berries are also a rich source of antioxidants, specifically polysaccharides, vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C and E, flavonoids, all 9 essential amino acids, dietary amounts of iron, potassium, calcium, selenium and zinc, and other minerals like copper, magnesium, phosphorous and manganese.9
Benefits and Uses
Goji Berries have been cited in particular for their potent antioxidant activity. For example, the Goji has been shown to decrease oxidative stress by reducing damage to tissue and maintaining cell integrity. It’s also famed for its powerful anti-inflammatory capabilities. Goji Berries are also believed to possess anticancer activity, in particular colon, skin and breast cancer; and some research provides strong evidence of Goji Berry as an anticancer agent.10 Research also illustrates the antimicrobial/antibacterial activity of Goji Berry due to the polysaccharides content.11 Some evidence has suggested that Goji berries can contribute to the health of our muscles. Goji Berries are rich in a substance called Betaine. One of the main roles of Betaine is cellular production, which can aid the normal function of the muscles. Second to that, Betaine is associated with the normal contribution of homocysteine metabolism, which can lead to decreased risk of disease. Goji Berries are also thought to aid vision due to their active ingredients, specifically the antioxidants, Zeaxanthin and Lutein. These are types of carotenoids that have been cited as being of particular benefit to eye health and naturally present in the eye. Thought to protect the eyes from damaging UV light; promote better vision; and reduce the risk of age-related and degenerative diseases related to the eyes.12 The beta-carotene content of Goji Berry is believed to help promote healthy skin and to prevent premature ageing of the skin while also offering phytoprotection against skin cancer and other skin conditions.13 These are just a few examples of how Goji Berries can potentially help promote human health but the uses and benefits of the Goji Berry are extensive:
- Antioxidant. Helps fight disease.
- Eye health. Vision.
- Skin care. Anti-Ageing.
- Increases energy levels.
- Sport/Athletic performance and stamina.
- Boost immune system. Improves immune function.
- Treat Cold, flu and fever.
- Cognitive function. Focus. Mental alertness.
- Feelings of well being, contentment and calmness.
- Combats depression.
- Aids sleep.
- Overall health, vigour and vitality.
- Reduces fatigue.
- Weight management.
- Cardiovascular health. Heart disease and cholesterol.
- Diabetes. Blood sugar regulator.
- Strengthen musculoskeletal systems.
- Digestive aid. Gastrointestinal health.14
Practically all of the Lycium Barbarum plant is edible, including the fruit, shoots, leaves and root bark. The leaves and shoots can be eaten raw, boiled or stir-fried. These and the root bark can also be infused to make a nutritious tea and can be dried or frozen for later use. In China the berries are eaten raw; dried or juiced. The Goji Berries taste quite tart and bitter when eaten fresh and raw. They have a sweeter taste once dried but still retain a certain sharpness, tasting similar to a cranberry or cherry; and have a chewy texture, similar to that of a raisin. ‘Goji’ sounds like it should be ‘chewy’; having a certain onomatopoeic quality! These beautiful berries can also be used to make wine and boiled to make herbal teas. Dried berries can be cooked and added to stir-fries; rice dishes; porridge; biscuits and cakes; soups and stews.15
Goji Berry Tablets
The beauty of enhancing a good diet with the right health supplements is largely ease of consumption and being able to ensure a standardised, potent and regular amount of all the nutritional goodness sourced directly from the plant. Our 1500mg Goji Berry tablet is 6mm in diameter and our 3000mg Tablet is 8mm, both of which are very easy to swallow. We offer a range of 6 quantities, to suit your nutritional needs.16
The Super Berry
It’s clear to see how the Goji Berry has gained the title of ‘Superfood’ and should be sitting on our shelves amongst a range of other healthy and natural foods. It’s also a great choice to take as a dietary supplement to enhance a balanced diet; to help regulate healthy immune system activity, and promote a general feeling of well-being and vitality along with a whole host of other specific health benefits.
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Anticancer effect of ethanol Lycium barbarum (Goji berry) extract on human breast cancer T47D cell line. Anna Wawruszak, Arkadiusz Czerwonka, Karolina Okła & Wojciech Rzeski: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Anna_Wawruszak/publication/283494072_Anticancer_effect_of_ethanol_Lycium_barbarum_Goji_berry_extract_on_human_breast_cancer_T47D_cell_line/links/57f0339a08ae280dd0aea823.pdf?origin=publication_list
11 Lycium barbarum L. Juice - Natural Source Of Biologically Active Compounds: http://www.agrolifejournal.usamv.ro/pdf/vol.V_1/Art2.pdf
14 A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical study of the general effects of a standardized Lycium barbarum (Goji) Juice, GoChi: Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18447631