The Goji Berry – Lycium barbarum / Lycium chinense

Marketed as a superfruit and as a health food, the goji berry is now easy to find on supermarket shelves. Only a few years ago the berries, which came from Ningxia Province in China, were virtually unobtainable and could only be found in specialised health shops – often with much hype and many claimed benefits. Then goji juice and capsules appeared, at high prices, organic sundried goji berries popped up in tiny cellophane packets, and before we knew it other goji products were everywhere!

My interest in Goji berries began in 2007, and only now that I grow my own have I gone back into the history of this fascinating little berry.


Lycium, from the Solanaceae or nightshade family, has been a valued medicinal plant in China for millennia. In China and other parts of Asia the seedlings and soft young leaves are still used in soups and teas, the roots for high blood pressure and malaria, and the berries for medicine as well as food, as they were hundreds of years ago. The Chinese name ‘gou qi zi’ gave rise to the common name ‘goji’, which is now used worldwide.

The goji berry has been naturalised in Britain since 1730, when the Duke of Argyll, a passionate plant collector, was sent from China a tea plant, Camellia sinensis, and a Chinese wolfberry, Lycium, well packaged. Somewhere in the ship’s hold the labels got switched, and the mistake was realised only once the plants were established. By then the Lycium was being taken as a tea, and it is still known as ‘the Duke of Argyll’s tea’ in England today.

Spread by the birds, the goji settled comfortably into England’s green and pleasant land, and today luscious ripe berries are abundant in the hedgerows. This is where I got my first goji berries – thanks to the Duke of Argyll!


South African growers are finding that the goji berry adapts well to our heat and dryness. Needing full sun and deeply dug, richly composted soil, small plants need to be spaced a meter apart. The arching, somewhat floppy stems (not very attractive) reach around a meter in height and need to be cut back in late winter for a good crop of berries each year. Small mauve five-petalled flowers appear all along the stems in spring, followed by the bright red berries. It forms a valuable ‘hedge’ in the garden, needing only a slow twice-weekly watering and a twice-yearly barrow of rich compost dug in lightly around it.

Propagation is from seeds and cuttings, and nurseries across South Africa are beginning to offer plants for sale. Look out for them!


Culinary uses

Added to breakfast mueslis, porridge, fruit salads, plain yoghurt, health drinks and jams, jellies and smoothies, goji berries make a marvellous health booster for the whole family. One hundred grams of the berries, fresh or dried, supplies all the absorbable iron and vitamin B2 that the body needs each day, and the Chinese called them ‘drive-away-old-age berries’ because they are so rich in minerals and amino acids. Ancient herbals in China going back to the Han Dynasty (around 100 – 200 AD) list goji as a medication for strength, vitality and brain power, and the name ‘wolfberry’ was given to the goji by the ancient farmers who noticed wolves eating the berries, which gave the wolves tremendous strength, energy and cunning cleverness!

Medicinal uses

The ancient medicinal uses of Lycium have been validated and accepted today, and more modern uses have added to its immense value. Lycium berries promote healthy digestive flora and lower cholesterol levels. Eating the berries daily will stabilise the capillaries, fine veins and arteries, and work on thread veins, varicose veins and the delicate capillaries that bleed under the skin, especially in the elderly. Cold hands and feet are literally warmed up, as goji berries reduce narrowing of the arteries.

Good for the eyes, goji berries reduce the formation of glaucoma and cataracts, and also excessive watering of the eyes. Just a tablespoon of the berries a day, fresh or dried, will stimulate the lubrication of itchy, tired, red eyes and help prevent macular degeneration.

The well-known Chinese tea known as Essential Harmony is made of goji leaves and root bark, and has never lost its popularity. The tea lowers fevers and is valued in the treatment of coughs and internal haemorrhages, menopausal problems, lumbago, tuberculosis, impotence, nosebleeds, asthma and warts. The tea can also be used cooled as a lotion. The root bark of the goji berry has been used for centuries in China as a lotion and wash, to treat childhood eczema.

A promising area in which the beneficial effects of Lycium are being recognised is in cancer patients exposed to chemotherapy and radiation. It helps protect against the effects of a reduced white blood cell count, and gives the liver a boost when it is compromised by cancer medications, HIV/AIDS, metabolic disturbances or toxicity. Eating goji berries every day improves liver function and gives a general feeling of energy and vitality.

Rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, the berries, and to an extent the leaves as well, reduce inflammation, slow down tumour growth, and enhance immune function considerably.

The more I learn about this precious bright little berry and its mineral-rich leaves, the more devoted I have become in growing hedges of it. From midsummer onwards I eagerly watch the berries ripen, and I make the Duke of Argyll’s tea by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over ¼ cup of leafy twigs and about 10 goji berries and letting it draw, stirring frequently. With a touch of honey and a squeeze of lemon juice this tonic tea is delicious. As I sip it, I think of the ancient Chinese emperors who established goji berries in community gardens for the health of their people, and am filled with gratitude that here, under the heat of the African sun, we are able to grow this versatile and amazing plant.

Goji berry energy breakfast smoothie

  • serves one

This is a really delicious way to enjoy goji berries, and the smoothie can be made with any fruits in season. In a blender, whirl:

  • ½ cup of goji berries, soaked overnight in warm water 1 apple, peeled and quartered
  • 1 well-washed carrot
  • ½ a small pineapple (peeled)
  • 1 cup of mixed berries such as blueberries, strawberries and blackberries, OR 1 cup of fresh peaches, apricots or paw paw
  • 1 cup of plain Bulgarian yoghurt (if you like), or a banana
  • ½ cup almonds, soaked overnight

Whirl until smooth and drink immediately, but drink it slowly. It is powerful, fabulous and full of goodness! Children enjoy it too, especially before an active day of sports.

Goji muesli

  • makes 10 – 12 breakfast servings

This energy-building, immune system-boosting muesli can be served with hot milk, warm apple or grape juice, or warm plain Bulgarian yoghurt. It keeps well in the fridge.

  • 7 cups large-flake non-instant oats 1 cup chopped pecan nuts
  • 1 cup chopped almonds
  • 2 cups sultanas (sun dried)
  • 2 cups finely chopped apple rings 2 cups goji berries
  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds, dehusked 1 cup linseed (flax seed)

Mix everything together well in a large bowl. Turn into a large air-tight container and store in the fridge. Delicious served with fresh strawberries, peaches or banana slices.

This is the best breakfast ever for high performance – and take a small packet of mixed goji berries, almonds and sunflower seeds for an extra spurt of mid-morning energy.

Remember, brain power needs power food!


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The Goji Berry – Lycium barbarum / Lycium chinense

Margaret Roberts
About The Author
- The Late Margaret Roberts was a herbal pioneer in South Africa and lectures and consults on herbs, medicinal foods and environmentally safe natural insecticides at tertiary institutions countrywide and at her Herbal Centre at De Wildt. She has shared her knowledge through over 40 books and ongoing radio and television series. Margaret received a Laureate Award from Pretoria University in recognition of her outstanding contribution to this field. Remebering her with fondness. RIP