The Chinese have been delighted with goji berries and their health benefits for thousands of years. Ancient poets and doctors wrote about them, and young girls from wealthy families drank an infusion of this fruit every day to ensure their endless beauty. To this day, there is even a legend in China about a man who ate goji every day and lived to … 256 years! Of course, in the light of modern science, this fact is at least doubtful. Nevertheless, it shows well the esteem that the inhabitants of Asia have for tiny red fruit.

Goji berries are the fruit of Lycium chinense and Lycium barbarum – Asian tropical plants belonging to the nightshade family. This actually makes them related to tomatoes, peppers, and tobacco. According to ancient Chinese medical manuscripts, they prolong life, calm the soul, strengthen the body, and protect against disease. One of the publications from 1578 even mentions a village where the people regularly consumed goji berries. Apparently, almost all of them lived to be 100 years old (especially impressive in the 16th century)!

What are goji berries?

As mentioned earlier, Goji berries are the fruit of wolfberry (Lycium), a plant native to Asia, North and Central America. It’s a shrub that “feels good” in the shade and trunks just like a vine. Goji fruits are called red diamonds due to their valuable pro-health properties. They are distinguished by very high nutritional values, ​​which is why they are proud members of the “superfood” family. Indeed, they play an important role in Chinese medicine – almost every herbal preparation has them in the composition. The Latin name Lycium translates to “school” as Chinese herbalists believed that goji fruit was like school – a source of knowledge. The Chinese have been cultivating wolfberry for about five thousand years. They pay tribute to this wonderful plant with a festival lasting several days each year in September. Interestingly, the spirit of wolfberry is presented in the Chinese tradition as a young, robust woman.

Goji berries that grow in the Tibetan valleys and the Himalayas are the healthiest and provide the most benefits. That’s because they are grown in areas untouched by pollution or pesticides. The varieties grown in warm and subtropical countries such as Japan, Korea, and other countries in Southeast Asia and Europe have lower nutritional and medicinal value. It’s good to keep that in mind when buying goji berries. 

According to Chinese medicine, they have a sweet taste, are thermally neutral, and show the greatest benefits on organs such as the liver, lungs, and kidneys. They are mainly used to nourish and strengthen the blood and yin of the liver (in Chinese medicine the liver is considered a yin organ) and kidneys. They also strengthen and improve the work of the eye, improve vision, nourish yin and moisturize the lungs. Western science has broken down the goji into prime factors and justified its use in therapy with the content of specific chemical components. Chinese medicine, on the other hand, has been using this herb for centuries and is based not on its composition, but on the effect that goji berries have on the human body, therefore it is based directly on clinical experience.

Properties of goji berries

The list of nutrients and health-promoting properties of Goji Berries is long and impressive. Like most dried fruits, goji berries are quite caloric (349 kcal per 100 g) and rich in fats, protein, and carbohydrates, most of which, however, are dietary fiber and sugars. 

As a rough guide, ¼ cup (85 grams) of dried goji berries has about:

  • Calories: 70
  • Sugar: 12 grams
  • Protein: 9 grams
  • Fiber: 6 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Vitamin A: 150 percent of the RDI
  • Copper: 84 percent of the RDI
  • Selenium: 75 percent of the RDI
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 63 percent of the RDI
  • Iron: 42 percent of the RDI
  • Vitamin C: 27 percent of the RDI
  • Potassium: 21 percent of the RDI
  • Zinc: 15 percent of the RDI
  • Thiamine: 9 percent of the RDI
Branch goji berries with leaves.

A treasury of nutrients

First of all, they are one of the largest natural sources of vitamin C. It helps in the proper functioning of the immune system – especially during intense exercise. So a handful of Goji Berries in the winter period may be a perfect idea to avoid catching a cold. Keep in mind, though, that vitamin C is mainly contained in fresh goji berries. Those that are widely available are usually eaten dried. It also affects the absorption of iron, which in turn is involved in the production of red blood cells. Goji berries are also a natural source of B vitamins.

The one worth mentioning, above all, is Riboflavin, or vitamin B2. It contributes to the maintenance of proper energy metabolism, so it’s a perfect supplement for people on a diet or those who care about staying in shape. However, the list of vitamin B2 properties is much longer. It’s worth mentioning that it also contributes to reducing the feeling of tiredness and fatigue. That’s why people who have a hard or stressful job will appreciate the benefits that come from including goji berries in their diet. 

In addition to vitamins, there are also minerals in Goji berries that can have a beneficial effect on the body. Dried Goji fruits contain, among others, phosphorus, which, like Riboflavin, affects the proper energy metabolism. Let’s also don’t forget about iron, which is involved in the production of red blood cells and helps in the transport of oxygen. These properties of Goji berries make them a perfect addition to the diet of an active person. They also include beneficial carotenoids that have a positive effect on eyesight, mainly zeaxanthin and lutein. They are responsible for the intense, red-orange color of these berries.

Other health benefits of goji berries

Goji berries in a wooden spoon. Goji berry tea.

The labeling of goji berries as a “superfood” has, of course, deeper rationale and covers a broad spectrum of potential health benefits. Here are some of the most potent health benefits of goji berries:  

1. Improved immunity

The richness of polysaccharides and antioxidant vitamins A and C in goji berries is, above all, great news for the immune system. Such a natural strengthening of the body’s defensive forces results in greater immunity to viruses responsible for common colds and flu, among others.

2. Eye protection

Sight is one of the most important human senses. Here too, goji berries found their use because they have a beneficial effect on our eyes. They contain zeaxanthin which protects the eyes against harmful UV radiation. Lutein, on the other hand, reduces the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. In addition, zeaxanthin and lutein protect the retina from free radicals thanks to their proven antioxidant properties. A high dose of vitamin A in goji berries, easy to consume in one breakfast, helps protect the retina from degeneration, which is the most common cause of blindness in adults.

3. Anti-aging

Superoxide anion and hydroxyl radicals are free radicals that damage our body’s cells, accelerating the aging process and increasing the risk of disease. Worry not, though, as chemical analysis of goji berries confirmed their antioxidant potential in the fight against the above-mentioned radicals. Carotenoid pigments, flavonoids, polysaccharide fractions, and 2-O-beta-D-glucopyranosyl ascorbic acid are responsible for this. That’s exactly why goji berries are often called “longevity fruits”. The ORAC unit (The Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) is used to assess the antioxidant potential. In the case of fresh goji berries, the results are comparable to those for cherry or red currants – two other incredible anti-aging berries.

4. Skin regeneration

Branch goji berries with leaves.

Beta-carotene in combination with vitamins A and C in goji berries is a real rejuvenating and anti-inflammatory injection for skin cells. It not only protects against aging but also protects against sunlight and cigarette smoke. Moreover, it helps to alleviate common skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema.

5. Diabetes prevention

Regular consumption of goji berries reduces the progressive desensitization to glucose, typical of people who consume too many sweets. The hypoglycemic properties of goji berries have been studied for many years and allow us to conclude that eating these fruits can protect against diabetes. Goji berries, as a natural sweetness with a low glycemic index, can also be a way to replace sugar in your daily menu. The use of goji berries in people with diabetic retinopathy helps to stop the progression of the disease. This is of great importance for the quality of life of patients.

6. Effect on the heart and cholesterol

Goji berries have a positive effect on the heart and prevent diseases of this organ. They contain β-sitosterol and the LBP complex, which helps to reduce the amounts of triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol. At the same time, they are responsible for the increase in the concentration of good HDL cholesterol.

7. Supports fertility 

Studies in mice show that goji berries may play a stimulating role in sex hormones. They not only support normal ovulation but also provide protection against damage to testicular tissue.

8. Anti-cancer properties

The high content of natural antioxidants makes goji berries one of the most effective fruits when it comes to protecting the body against cancer. They effectively reduce free radicals, which are one of the reasons for the formation of cancer cells in the body. They also inhibit the development of cancer in the case of, among others, neoplastic diseases that affect the digestive system. Studies on cell lines and an animal model show that the ingredients in goji fruit can prevent the proliferation of cancerous cells in the liver, cervix, and colon. This anti-cancer effect is attributed to a compound called scopoletin.

9. Protection of the liver

For years, Tibetans have been using goji berries in therapies to help cleanse the liver of toxins and improve digestion. And so recently, scientists decided to investigate their influence on the work of this organ.

Their studies show that the polysaccharide complex contained in goji berries inhibits oxidative liver damage caused by a high-fat diet. Goji is believed to help the liver cleanse itself of toxic substances while protecting the kidneys from kidney stones. This is especially important in the case of people who abuse alcohol and eat a diet rich in highly processed products.

How to eat Goji? Culinary use of fruits and berries

Goji berries in a bowl on table. Top view goji berries with copy space.

Goji berries can be eaten fresh, but dried ones taste just as good. They can be added to muesli, compotes, salads, soups, rice dishes, cakes, and other desserts. You can just as well use them as one of the ingredients in homemade fruit wine.

They are also often used as ingredients of herbal and fruit teas. Goji fruit juice is a perfectly healthy choice as well, usually produced without added sugar or preservatives. Unfortunately, the popularity of goji berries and their health benefits has driven the big wheels of the food industry. It flooded markets around the world not only with dried and frozen produce but also with more processed products. When shopping, it’s good to use common sense and not be lured by every label. It’s always best to buy dried goji and compose your daily meals yourself. 

These are my two favorite ways to add goji fruit to your diet:

Warming goji porridge

Components:
1 cup of oatmeal
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
a pinch of cardamom
a pinch of ginger
1 cup of milk
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
½ cup of dried goji berries

Preparation:

Pour milk over the dry flakes and add some water so that the liquid reaches above the flakes. Bring it to boil, stirring constantly, and add spices and most of the goji berries. Then cook over low heat for about 5 minutes. Sweeten the porridge with syrup to taste and serve in bowls. You can sprinkle it with the rest of the goji fruit and pour it over with natural yogurt.

Vegan goji smoothie: 

Components:
1 cup of almond milk
2 bananas
1 / cup dried goji berries
1 cup of ice cubes

Preparation:

Peel the bananas cut them into pieces and freeze them. Pour boiling water over the goji berries and leave to soften. In a blender, combine milk, frozen banana, drained goji fruits, and ice cubes. Mix everything until it’s smooth and serve immediately. You can obviously use standard milk instead of almond milk if you prefer. It gives the smoothie an amazing flavor, though, so just try it yourself! 

Where can you buy goji berries?

Goji berries here in the West are most often available only in dried form. They look like raisins and dried cranberries and you can get them in health food stores or on the Internet. However, not all goji berries found on the shelves are of good quality. That’s why you should buy those fruits that do not stick together or break into mush.

Branch goji berries with leaves. Vector color vintage hatching illustration isolated on a white background.

Is it completely safe to eat goji berries?

For hundreds of years, goji berries have been used in Asian countries as a health-promoting component of the diet thanks to the abundance of benefits. In stores, you can more and more often find products such as dried fruit, teas with the addition of goji berries, fruit juices, and supplements.

All of these products are considered safe to consume and contain no harmful ingredients. Nevertheless, some concerns were related to the presence of the toxic alkaloid atropine in goji berries. However, studies conducted in recent years indicate that these berries contain only trace amounts of this substance.

Few cases of interactions between goji berries and the anticoagulant drug (namely Warfarin) have been reported in the literature. This combination led to a dangerous increase in the value of the prothrombin ratio (INR). Luckily, it normalized after discontinuing drinking the tea from these fruits. You should also be careful if you are prone to allergic reactions. You might experience, among others, itchy skin lesions, severe rhinitis, swelling, and shortness of breath.

Luckily, allergic reactions are rare and only a few cases have been reported in the literature. In one of them, a woman after taking goji fruit suffered anaphylactic shock, which resulted in hives on her hands and mouth. She had difficulty breathing (shortness of breath) due to swelling and severe rhinitis. In the second case, the consumer suffered from skin lesions accompanied by itching, angioedema, and difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).

Also, people treating diabetes and high blood pressure should consult their doctor about eating goji berries, as the substances contained in them may affect the action of some medications used in these diseases.

Other than that, you’re free to consume as many goji berries as you would like. They will be a perfect addition to a healthy diet, no matter what. 

Scientific controversies around goji berries

Unfortunately, many contradictions have also arisen around this Chinese fruit, and especially the food industry behind them. Skeptics point to the power of marketing and question the actual “miracle-making” benefits of goji berries. Indeed, there is still no clear scientific evidence to support, for example, the anti-cancer effect of goji, and in lawsuits pending in the United States, it’s even suggested that the food industry fabricated some of the studies that are cited in advertisements for goji products. So healthy skepticism is highly recommended.

Goji berries have a lot of followers who eagerly eat them along with their morning porridge (like myself) or whatever they can. However, you can also find opponents of these tiny fruits. So what might the bias against goji berries result from?

A “toxic” family

Goji berries belong to the Solanaceae family of nightshade. As it turns out, plants from this group are characterized by the content of anti-nutritional factors that can cause negative health effects.

Branch goji berries with leaves.

Anti-nutritional compounds are designed to deter and protect these plants from being eaten by animals and their highest concentration is achieved during ripening, which is when we do not reach for these fruits. This is precisely why such popular products as potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and goji fruits should be eaten only when they are fully mature!

During the ripening process, goji berries contain substances that are harmful to health. Eating unripe fruit can indeed be toxic to the body! Poisoning manifests itself primarily with impaired digestive system functions (abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea).

The origin of the fruit is crucial

It is very important to pay attention to whether we are eating the Lycium chinense fruit or rather Lycium barbarum (sometimes called the scarlet fruit). Although the popular name “goji berries” is used to refer to both species, only the “Chinese” goji fruit has all the valuable nutritional and medicinal benefits that have made it famous and used around the world.

People who have complained of intestinal flu-like symptoms after consuming goji berries have probably been poisoned by fruit from an inappropriate source or not fully ripe. Unfortunately, sometimes strong insecticidal pesticides and fungicides are used on wolfberry plantations in China, and Chinese standards allow their use in such concentrations that can then accumulate in the fruit.

That’s why you should carefully check the source of the goji berries that you buy, how and whether they have been preserved, and whether they are wolfberry fruit in the first place.

People sometimes end up buying berries from the wrong sources, which can cause poisoning and then results in very negative opinions about the “true” goji berries. These truly cannot be denied all the miraculous properties that restored the health of so many people for hundreds of years. Most of the negative beliefs about goji fruit probably come from people who bought low-quality, unripe berries or those from the Lycium barbarum tree.

Bottom line

These inconspicuous orange berries have extraordinary power to nourish the body and can protect against many diseases. There’s no denying that goji berries are one of the healthiest fruits in the world. The substances contained in them counteract cancer, strengthen immunity, and neutralize free radicals. Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that eating them can extend life and provide energy over the years. It’s definitely worth checking out for yourself.

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Author

I'm Lucas, a 30-year-old guy from Poland who's passionate about natural ways to fight aging and staying healthy for as long as possible.