What are goji berries?

Goji berries are grown in the Himalayan valley
Photo courtesy stock.xchng ©Photographer: habeel
Goji berries have been grown in the fertile Himalayan valley for centuries.

Goji berries -- pronounced "go-gee" -- are a recent hot commodity in the increasingly trendy high-end health food industry. These delicate red berries, traditionally grown in the Himalayan valleys of China, Mongolia and Tibet, as well as in the Xingjiang and Ningxia provinces of China, have been featured on Oprah, and celebrities like Madonna, Mischa Barton and Elizabeth Hurley are swearing by them. Numerous goji berry products have appeared on the market, promising youth, good health, cancer-fighting abilities and an increased sex drive. A Google search for "goji berry" yields 378,000 results, many of them for various products containing goji berries or goji berry "extract" (juice). So are goji berries a miracle "superfood," just another product of the hype machine or something in between? Let's find out.

Goji berries, also called wolfberries, have been grown in the Himalayan valley for hundreds of years. Traditional Chinese folk medicine uses them to cure a variety of ailments. Goji berries have also long been used in various Asian dishes as an ingredient or a garnish. Goji berry bushes grow to be one to three meters high . Because the berries are very delicate when on the plant, they cannot be picked by hand. Instead they are gently shaken from the vine. Frequently they are set out in the sun to dry, whereupon they become slightly chewy. Besides eating the berries, you can also drink the goji berry juice. It is especially popular in the regions where the berries are grown, and can be combined with tea to make a tonic.

Goji berry plant
Image credit: photo used in public domain
Because of their delicacy, goji berries must be shaken off of the plant when harvested.
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Special Thanks
Thank you to David Boyd, Director of Global Operations for Pure Fruit Technologies, for providing images used in this article.

Numerous goji berry products are being marketed in the West. Among the most popular are dried goji berries and goji berry juices, which are frequently made up of goji berry juice mixed with water or other fruit juices. Health food and specialty stores also sell teas, pure goji berry juice, goji berry extract in capsule form, goji berry crunch bars and granola cereals with goji berries. In the fall of 2006, goji berries became a huge hit in the United Kingdom, and Tesco, the UK's largest retailer, began selling them.

Some goji berry lovers appreciate the taste, comparing it to a cranberry or a cross between a strawberry and raspberry. Many of them buy the berry because of its reputed health benefits. In the next section, we'll take a look at the nutritional and health benefits of goji berries.