Goji berries, also known as wolf berries are harvested from one of two species of the boxthorn (Lycium barbarum or Lycium chinense), a tree native of southeastern Europe and Asia. The boxthorn is in the nightshade family (Solanaceae).
Its common names include the following: Chinese wolfberry, Chinese boxthorn, Himalayan goji, Tibetan goji, mede berry, barbary matrimony vine, red medlar, and matrimony vine. In Central Europe, Lycium barbarum is an introduced species.
Boxthorn is used in China as an ingredient for cooking as well as in natural medicine. The berries are harvested in the summer and autumn and dried in the sun. They are then either cooked, if sweet, or eaten raw. Some varieties are very sour. The leaves of the immature plants can be eaten as leafy greens.
Only the berries are processed in the food industry in Europe because the other parts of the plant are not approved here. Producers first brought the juice to market and then later the berries were sold as a superfood under the name goji berry. Goji berries qualify as a supefood because of the exceptionally high percentage of nutrients and phytonutrients they contain. As a result, they became a trend food, and an ever increasing supply of these berries were imported. However, the imported berries often contain high levels of pesticide residues. For example, all random samples checked in 2009 were highly contaminated with the insecticde Acetamiprid. In addition, ten additional harmful substances were identified.
Since 2013, fresh goji berries have been grown in Erope that you can either freeze or dry for longer storage. Goji berry juice can be used for muesli, yogurt, and smoothies.2
Goji berries contain large amounts of beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and iron. They are also rich in the orange-yellow plant pigments lutein and zeaxanthin, which belong to a group of carotenoids called xanthophylls. Goji berries are also a source of polysaccharides, complex carbohydrates, that have a chemical structure similar to that of the immune-strengthening substances in echninacea.
A number of scientific studies have claimed that goji berries have positive medicinal effects, in particular, as a result of their antioxidant effects and the pigments lutein and zeaxanthin. In regards to their nutrient density, goji berries are similar to many of our regional berries. For example, black currants containg 180 mg/100 g vitamin C, red currants 41 mg, and dried goji berries 48 mg.
Traditionally, the Chinese have used goji berries to increase yin, for example, in cases of dizziness, exhaustion, colds, diabetes mellitus, and anemia. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), dried goji berries are believed to help against high blood pressure and blood sugar, as well as in the case of eye problems, to support the immune system, and to prevent and treat cancer.
Goji berries can cause allergies, and there are a number of allergic reactions and cross-reactions. If you are taking vitamin K antagonists (e.g., Marcumar), which are used to reduce blood clotting, you should also be careful as goji berries can increase this anticoagulant effect.
In conclusion, we can say that goji berries are healthy but that they aren’t the miracle cure they are often claimed to be. This is especially the case for goji berries imported from Asia that are highly contaminated with pesticides. Organic goji berries are a tasty addition to muesli, granola, and a variety of desserts.
The true origin of the boxthorn is not entirely clear; its natural habitat extends from southeastern Europe to China. A common region where goji berries grow in China is Ningxia. It is believed that the boxthorn (goji berries) spread as a cultivated plant from there to all of Asia, Europe, North America, North Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
The common English name, "wolfberry", has an unknown origin. It may have arisen from the mistaken assumption that a previous Latin name, lycii fructus, was derived from Greek λύκος (lycos) meaning "wolf", when in fact it derived from λυκιον (lykion), referring to the ancient region of Lycia (Λυκία) in Anatolia. In the English-speaking world, the name "goji berry" has been used since around 2000. The word "goji" is an approximation of the pronunciation of gǒu qǐ (pinyin for 枸杞), the name for the berry producing plant L. chinense in several Chinese dialects, including Hokkien and Shanghainese. This name possibly derives from the same roots as the Persian language term gojeh (گوجه), which means "plum" or "berry". In technical botanical nomenclature, L. barbarum is called matrimony vine while L. chinese is Chinese desert-thorn.1