The Goji Berry Is Here To Stay

Goji berries on a wooden table and in a spoon.
Goji berries. Copyright: photodee / 123RF Stock Photo

Goji berries or even Gou Qi Zi (Lycium barbarum L.;  Family: Solanaceae) in China have been used for many years in traditional Chinese herbal medicine to improve visual acuity, improve longevity, sexual potency and to build up strength amongst other myriad health benefits.

The berries are grown mainly throughout central Asia, especially Tibet and Inner Mongolia which is known colloquially as the Goji Belt. Most berries now come from China where they can provide the ideal conditions for plant growth. They like alkaline soil which contains plenty of lime and for optimum yields must be highly fertile with a good organic crumb.

The fruit was introduced to the UK in the 1600s from the Himalayas and has now naturalised in hedgerows in Europe generally.

Alternative Names

The bush is also known as the Wolf Berry, Chinese Wolfberry, Matrimony Vine, Chinese Boxthorn, Red Medlar and Duke Of Argyll’s Tea Tree.

Processing Of The Fruit

The berries are collected from mature vines where they are washed to remove any dirt, greenery and large fibrous pieces of bush. They are then classified by their colour. Red is the most sought after but some fruit might be golden coloured. The cleaned fruit is then dried, often under the Sun so that as much of the nutrition is retained as possible. Mould can be issue, so careful inspection of packaged goods is needed to ensure the fruit is sold at optimum quality.

Uses.

The fruit is usually eaten fresh if they are grown in the garden or they can be dried. About 100g  makes for a good serving size. They are often sprinkled on desserts, yogurts, baked goods, cereals and muesli.

A number of branded suppliers consider goji berry a superfood. The fruit is available usually prepackaged from a number of online suppliers and grocers. It is rare to find them fresh at the grocer so they are usually purchased dried. We use them like any dried fruit with blueberries, currants and raisins or as part of a mixture.

The fruit tastes sweet and actually makes a good sauce for meat dishes. If you are cooking with this fruit, then try them with poultry like chicken or turkey, or with red meats such as pork.

Health Benefits

The main health benefits attributed to consuming goji are many and varied and come from long held beliefs in traditional Chinese medicine. They are:-

  • reduction of blood glucose and serum lipids,
  • lowers blood pressure and reduces heart issues,
  • improved longevity in regular users which implies an anti-aging message,
  • helps with weight loss
  • reduces arthritus pain,
  • improved sleep,
  • improved eyesight,
  • immune-modulating effects which is claimed in Chinese medicine to help fight colds and flu
  • male-fertility improving effects (Wang et al., 2002a,b; Gan and Zhang, 2003).
  • general improvements in liver and kidney function.

They are known to contain all eight essential amino acids and  beta-carotene, which helps to promote healthy skin. We also find various vitamins B1, B2, B6, C and E along with 21 different minerals.

It is fair to say that many of these claims still need thorough investigation but it is worth highlighting the traditional values ascribed to this berry.

Safety Considerations

Whilst the fruit is considered safe to eat, some people have reacted badly on consuming the fruit. It is recommended that a doctor is consulted if certain medications are being used because of some unpleasant side effects. It is a member of the Nightshade family which does cause concern with some but then so is the potato and the aubergine.

Avoid eating goji berries if you have:-

  • low blood sugar levels
  • have high or low blood pressure (hypertension or hypotension)
  • are taking blood thinning medication such as warfarin
  • are breastfeeding or pregnant as the fruit may cause miscarriage
  • there may be an allergic reaction in some but this is not wholly confirmed. It is known that you may suffer mild digestive issues if eaten for the first time but this passes.
  • Do not take if you want to limit the risk of vitamin A toxicity. Apparently, a quarter of a cup of goji berries is 340 per cent of the daily intake for vitamin A.
  • Consult a doctor if you have gastrointestinal or chronic digestion issues.

The Main Actives.

One large study has examined in detail the nutritional profile of both fruit and stem (Pires et al., 2018). The fruit contains a range of sugars and polysaccharides, various organic acids, fatty acids (PUFAs – polyunsaturated fatty acids), flavonols, hydroxycinnamic derivatives and tocopherols. 

The main active in the berry is zeaxanthin dipalmitate which is a diester of zeaxanthin and palmitic acid (Barua, 2001). Along with lutein, it presents a useful component in the armoury of those wishing to supplement for improving eye health. It is concentrated in the macula of the eye.

The major phenolics are chlorogenic acid and quercetin derivatives (Donno et al., 2015; Pires et al., 2018).

One other important active of note is the presence of beta-sitosterol. This compound is associated with managed cell death.

We look in detail at some of the more potent components which are suggested give Goji berries their health benefits especially the polysaccharides. 

The Polysaccharides

The polysaccharides may be some of the most interesting components of the fruit. Five polysaccharides found as various glycoconjugates (LbGp1-LbGp5) were isolated and their structure elucidated (Peng et al., 2001a,b; Peng and Tian, 2001). They have recently been tested for their antitumour behaviour as well as  stimulating immunogenicity in various cell lines amongst other biological activities (Wang et al., 2014). One of the most interesting is LbGp1 because of its strong potency and prevalence in this fruit (Huang et al., 1999; Peng & Tian, 2001; Wang et al., 2014). This heteropolysaccharide has a mean molecular weight of 49.1 kDa. It sugar composition is mainly composed of arabinose and galactose in a molar ratio of 5.6:1. Many of these polysaccharides are sulphated which dramatically enhances their antiviral and immune stimulating activities. Sulphation is an important attribute for a number of carbohydrates found in the fruit (Wang et al., 2010a,b & c) as it is in others.

Clinical Research Into Health Benefits

Much of the research has been conducted in China but there are now studies being conducted outside the country to understand the efficacy of the goji berry. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial looked at general feelings of well being in adults over a 14 day period (Amagase & Nance, 2008). The product consumed was a juice called GoChi™ supplied by FreeLife International LLC (Phoenix, AZ, USA). The study indicated that daily consumption improved a host of aspects associated with improved neurological and psychological well-being. The small number of participants reported they were generally fitter with more energy, slept better, could concentrate on tasks more.

It is important to note too that these early studies are not the best designed and the application of statistics demonstrates the results are not wholly conclusive. Nonetheless, it does emphasise that we should look in detail at some of the more potent components which are suggested give goji berries their health benefits especially the polysaccharides and the gathering evidence for beta-sitosterol.

The antioxidant aspects is has certainly attracted plenty of attention. The wide range of antioxidants in the berry has been examined in great detail to try and understand why so many nutraceutical traits have been identified (Donno et al., 2015).

Goji Berry Products  

The fruit is expensive compared to equivalent. more commonly available berries such as blueberries, strawberries and raspberries.

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Products from Amazon.co.uk

    Suppliers in the UK include Sevenhills Wholefoods and Pipkin Ltd.

    References

    Amagase, H. & Nance, D.M. (2008) A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Clinical Study of the General Effects of a Standardized Lycium barbarum (Goji) juice, GoChi™. J. Aternative and Complementary Medicine 14(4) https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2008.0004

    Donno, D.Beccaro, G.L.Mellano, M.G.Cerutti, A.K. & Bounous, G. (2015). Goji berry fruit (Lycium spp.): antioxidant compound fingerprint and bioactivity evaluationJournal of Functional Foods18, pp. 10701085 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2014.05.020

    Gan, L., Zhang, S.H., (2003). Effect of Lycium barbarum polysaccharides on anti-tumor activity and immune function. Acta Nutrimenta Sinica 25, pp. 200–202.

    Huang, L., Tian, G., & Ji, G. (1999). Structure elucidation of glycan of glycoconjugate LbGp3 isolated from the fruit of Lycium barbarum L. J. Asian Natural Products Research, 1, pp. 259–267.

    Peng, X.M., Huang, L.J., Qi, C.H., Zhang, Y.X., Tian, G.Y. (2001a). Studies on chemistry and immuno-modulating mechanism of a glycoconjuate from Lycium barbarum L. Chinese J. Chem. 19, pp. 1190–1197.

    Peng, X.M., Qi, C.H., Tian, G.Y., Zhang, Y.X., (2001b). Physico-chemical properties and bioactivities of a glycoconjugate LbGp5B from Lycium barbarum L. Chinese J. Chem. 19, pp.  842–846.

    Peng, X.M., Tian, G.Y., 2001. Structural characterization of the glycan part of glycoconjugate LbGp2 from Lycium barbarum L. Carbohydrate Research 331,  pp. 95–99.

    Pires, T. C., Dias, M. I., Barros, L., Calhelha, R. C., Alves, M. J., Santos-Buelga, C., & Ferreira, I. C. (2018). Phenolic compounds profile, nutritional compounds and bioactive properties of Lycium barbarum L.: A comparative study with stems and fruits. Industrial Crops and Products122, pp. 574-581 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.indcrop.2018.06.046

    Wang, J., Guo, H., Zhang, J., Wang, X., Zhao, B., Yao, J., et al. (2010a). Sulfated modification, characterization and structure-antioxidant relationships of Artemisia sphaerocephala polysaccharides. Carbohydrate Polymers, 81, pp. 897–905.

    Wang, J., Hu, Y., Wang, D., Liu, J., Zhang, J., Abula, S., et al. (2010b). L. Sulfated modification can enhance the immune-enhancing activity of Lycium barbarum polysaccharides. Cellular Immunology, 263, pp. 219–223.

    Wang, J., Hu, Y., Wang, D., Zhang, F., Zhao, X., Abula, S., et al. (2010c). Lycium polysaccharide inhibits the infectivity of Newcastle disease virus to chicken embryo fibroblast. Int. J. Biological Macromolecules, 46, pp. 212–216.

    Wang, J.H., Wang, H.Z., Zhang, M., Zhang, S.H., (2002). Anti-aging function of polysaccharides from Lycium barbarum. Acta Nutrimenta Sinica 24, pp. 189–191

    Wang, Y.R., Zhao, H., Sheng, X.S., Gambino, P.E., Costello, B., Bojanowski, K., (2002). Protective effect of Fructus lycii polysaccharides against time and hyperthermia-induced damage in cultured seminiferous epithelium. J. Ethnopharmacology 82, pp. 169–175

    Wang, Z., Liu, Y., Sun, Y., Mou, Q., Wang, B., Zhang, Y., et al. (2014). Structural characterization of LbGp1 from the fruits of Lycium barbarum L. Food Chem., 159, pp. 137–142

    1st draft: 4th November 2014 1st revision: 1st November 2016, 2nd revision: 22nd January 2019.

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