What are goji berries?

The Verdict

When considering goji berries, it’s important to be careful of the hype. Health food, herbal medicine and natural, exotic remedies have become part of the global marketplace in recent years, with marketers often searching for a food or substance that will make consumers believe they’re getting all three. For example, as you may recall, 2006 was the year of the pomegranate. Mangosteen, which is actually unrelated to mango, was also a popular fruit. Found in Southeast Asia, mangosteen is used in drinks like XanGo™, which marketers claimed has an extraordinarily high amount of antioxidants and cancer-fighting abilities. Sound familiar? In the past, aloe vera, gingko biloba and ginseng have also been trumpeted as miracle remedies.
Alt tag text goes here
Photo courtesy stock.xchng ©Photographer: CWMGary
Despite the hype, a daily snack of a small handful of goji berries can be part of a healthy diet.

Because of the way that some of these plants and fruits have caught on in the past, companies will resort to hyperbole when explaining their products’ virtues. One Web site calls goji the “ hallelujah berry.” Others relate the story of a Chinese man named Li Qing Yuen, who allegedly lived to be 252 years old, and owed his longevity to goji berries. As previously stated, many companies claim that their goji berry products fight cancer, but others also mention cures for diabetes, glaucoma, diminished production of human growth hormone, sexual dysfunction and more. None of these “cures” have been proven.

Some companies have been warned by the FDA for marketing their goji berry products as “intended to prevent, diagnose, mitigate, treat, or cure disease” [ref]. According to the law, making such claims causes the products in question to fall under the category of drugs and subject to FDA approval. The FDA writes:

FDA is aware that Internet distributors may not know that the products they offer are regulated as drugs or that these drugs are not in compliance with the law. Many of these products may be legally marked as dietary supplements if claims about diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention are removed from the promotional materials and the products otherwise comply with all applicable provisions of the Act and FDA regulations [ref].

Another factor to keep in mind regarding goji berries is the price. Usually these products aren’t cheap. A 32-ounce bottle of goji juice is at least $13. A 16-ounce package of dried goji berries is $15 to $22. A product called “Yogi Tea Green Tea Goji Berry Daily Energy Tonic” is $4.49 for 16 tea bags -- much more expensive than other green teas. You also might not be getting what you want: many juices that carry the name goji juice are actually a small amount of goji juice mixed with many other juices.

So are goji berries a good buy? They’re certainly healthy and can be a fun, new food to try. Along with a balanced diet and exercise, they can be a good part of a healthy lifestyle -- just don’t expect them to cure cancer or replace a visit to the doctor. And when eyeing goji berries in the supermarket or trying them for yourself, don’t forget about what may be the most important question of all: how do they taste? That is something only you can decide for yourself.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • “Antioxidant supplements: Can they prevent heart disease?”
    Mayo Clinic. Aug. 30, 2005.
  • “Antioxidant, Heart Disease.”
    Cleveland Clinic. August, 2004.
  • Heald, Claire. “Berry good for you?”
    BBC News Magazine. bbcnews.com. Sept. 5, 2006.
  • Warning letter from FDA to Dynamic Health Laboraties, Inc.
    Food and Drug Administration. May 8, 2006.
  • Warning letter from FDA to Healthsuperstore.com.
    Food and Drug Administration. Aug. 7, 2006.
  • “Effect of the Lycium barbarum polysaccharides on age-related oxidative
    stress in aged mice.” School of Food Science and Technology
    of the XingJiang Agriculture University, China. Dec. 28, 2006.
  • McBride, Judy. “High-ORAC Foods May Slow Aging.”
    U.S. Department of Agriculture. Feb. 8, 1999.
  • Morton, Julia F. “Mangosteen.” March 23, 1999.
  • Moss, Ralph M.D. “Goji: A Friendly Skeptic Looks at Goji Juice.”
    CancerDecisions.com Newsletter.
    Chetday.com. http://chetday.com/gojijuice.htm
  • Moss, Ralph M.D. “Mangosteen: A Friendly Skeptic Looks at Mangosteen.”
    CancerDecisions.com Newsletter.
    Chetday.com. http://www.chetday.com/mangosteen.htm
  • “HPLC-MS trace analysis of atropine in Lycium barbarum berries.” Institute of
    Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Graz, Austria. Sept., 2006.
  • “Hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic effects and antioxidant activity
    of fruit extracts from Lycium barbarum.” College of Public Health,
    Wuhan University, China. Nov. 26, 2004.
  • Simons, Janet. “Oprah aura boosts Colorado business.”
    Rocky Mountain News. Jan. 16, 2007.