Goji Berry (lycium barbarum)

The oval red fruits of this 9-foot-tall woody perennial are a rich source of amino acids, vitamin C, and antioxidants. In recent years, goji berry has gained a worldwide reputation as a superfood, often packaged and sold commercially as juice, dried berries, or a supplement.

Native to southeastern Europe and Asia, the plant is a member of the same family as the tomato, pepper, and potato. Its preferred common name is derived from the Chinese name for the berry, Ningxia gouqi. During the 19th century, Chinese railroad workers introduced the plant to parts of western North America, where some wild stands still grow.

Goji Berry

Plant profile

Common Names: Goji Berry, Wolf Berry

Description: Woody perennial up to 9 feet tall; alternate, lance-shaped leaves; light purple, bell-shaped blooms; oval red berries up to 1 inch long contain small yellow seeds

Hardiness: To Zone 4

Family: Solanaceae

Flowering: June through September

Parts Used: Fruit, leaves, and root bark

Range/Habitat: Native to southeastern Europe and Asia, naturalized in other parts of the world, including North America; dry, mountainous areas

Culinary use

Goji berries have a sweet, tomatolike flavor. In China, the fruit is used to make tea and other beverages and is added to stews, soups, jellies, and rice congee, and to pork, chicken, and vegetable dishes. The mildly bitter-tasting leaves can also be added to soups or cooked with meat.

Medicinal use

In traditional Chinese medicine, goji berries are believed to “brighten the spirit” and promote long life. Both the dried fruits and root bark of this plant are used to treat impotence, backache, weakness, dizziness, and diabetes. The root bark is also used to relieve sore throats, joint pain, and pneumonia. The berries are considered an aphrodisiac.

The goji berry contains antioxidants, including the carotenoids beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, which some believe protect our eyes from macular degeneration (although recent research has not substantiated this). A few studies have supported other benefits, however. In a recent clinical study, people who consumed goji berry juice had increased feelings of well-being and indicators of immune response compared to a placebo group. Another clinical study of a small group of people showed that drinking goji berry juice increased feelings of well-being and improved neurological and psychological performance, as well as bowel function.

Caution: Taking this herb regularly in combination with blood thinners or diabetes and blood pressure drugs could interfere with or increase the activity of the pharmaceutical drugs.

How to grow it

Grow goji berry in full sun and well-drained, alkaline soil that’s been amended with compost. Space the plants several feet apart, and pinch new growth occasionally to encourage bushiness. Fruiting begins in the plant’s third year. Cover ripening fruits with netting to shield them from birds and other wildlife. Pluck the berries by hand when they are bright red (like cherry tomatoes) and sweet. Propagate by seed or cuttings.