The goji berries are the fruit of the plants Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense. They are a small fruit highly valued for their undeniable nutritional properties and the benefits they bring to our health. These berries have a very ancient tradition in their areas of origin. They grow spontaneously and are used both in food and in folk medicine. More precisely, goji berries originate from the Far East, in an area between the valleys of the Himalayas, Mongolia, Tibet, and the Chinese region of Xinjiang. Their anti-aging properties are now well-known, so much so that they are also called the fruit of longevity.
Let’s get to know these small red fruits and their nutritional characteristics better.
Identification of goji berries
The family of goji berries belongs to the Solanaceae. Many other plants of interest to us belong to this large family, among which the most well-known are the tomato, the potato, the eggplant, and the bell pepper.
There are two main species of goji berries: Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense.
The Lycium barbarum is the most cultivated and marketed, both for its organoleptic qualities and for the properties of the berries. For this reason, the fruit of the Lycium chinense is called false goji.
Goji producing countries
The major goji berry producing countries are those of the original areas and generally Asian countries. However, for some years now, the cultivation of the plant has also started in Italy, with high-quality organic productions. When purchasing these precious berries, it is essential to choose organic ones, and it is also good to ensure that they come from our country (we will understand why later).
History and legend of goji
It is well known that among the longest-lived populations on earth are the inhabitants of countries such as Tibet and Mongolia. Many believe that the secret of their longevity is kept in their diet, of which goji berries are one of the main elements.
In these two countries, these small red fruits are considered almost like diamonds, and every year, during the harvest period, two weeks of celebration are held.
A legend linked to the properties of goji berries, as an elixir of long life, dates back to the 7th century, during the Tang dynasty. It is said that near a Buddhist temple in Tibet there was a well where, from time to time, goji berries naturally fell.
Over time, the water in the well became “miraculous”, giving the villagers long life and good health.
Traditional Chinese medicine has also used these berries for centuries. In particular, they are considered an excellent Yin tonic, that is, the feminine energy of receptivity and calm. It is believed that goji berries have the ability to regenerate important internal tissues and organs, such as the heart, kidneys, and lungs.
In Turkey, another major producing country, these berries have always been used for their diuretic properties.
Harvesting goji berries
The goji berry shrub is perennial with deciduous leaves. In Europe, it blooms from June to September, and the berries are produced from August to late October. The fruit is very delicate, so it must be hand-picked several times. The difficulty of this harvesting method justifies its high value and high market price. The berries are consumed fresh, but also and especially dried. Fresh berries have a more acidic taste, very similar to that of tomatoes. Drying, on the other hand, takes place in the sun, much like sun-dried tomatoes. To dehydrate the berries, simply place them on a rack and leave them in full sun for 2/3 days. Once dried, they can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to a year.
Nutritional properties of goji berries
Goji berries have truly unique nutritional properties. Speaking of dried berries, we first see how they are rich in minerals. For 100 g we have 50 mg of potassium, 192 mg of sodium, 112 mg of calcium, and 9 mg of iron. Just to give an idea: 100 g of spinach contains only 2.3 mg of iron per 100 g. Other important minerals contained are germanium and selenium, and they are also an excellent source of chromium, an essential trace element. Furthermore, they are very low in fats, do not contain cholesterol, provide a good intake of sugars, carbohydrates, and proteins. Finally, they are rich in dietary fiber. Calorically they contain 321 kcal per 100 g, so a great energy source. Fresh berries also have a high content of Vitamin A and C. Other elements contained in goji berries are essential fatty acids, including linoleic acid and linolenic acid. They have several phytosterols, beta-carotene, and four other carotenoids.
What goji berries contain
Let’s now understand what goji berries contain to understand where the benefits for our body come from. However, let’s first clarify the suggested daily intake. Nutritionists recommend consuming between 15 and 45 grams of dried berries. Alternatively, you can consume 30 grams of fresh berries or 120 ml of juice. Another note is that dried berries, before consumption, can be rehydrated by simply putting them in water. Inside this fruit, we find the following minerals:
- Germanium: among the minerals contained, germanium is indicated in cancer prevention. It is, in fact, a “trace” mineral capable of reducing the electrical potential of tumor cells. At the same time, it enhances the activity of “Natural Killer” lymphocytes (NK cells), very important in the functioning of the immune system.
- Iron: the high iron content in goji berries is essential against anemic states. Iron, in fact, allows the synthesis of hemoglobin, a globular protein that plays a role in transporting oxygen to blood cells.
- Selenium: another beneficial mineral for health contained in goji berries is selenium, an excellent anti-aging agent. This substance helps counteract free radicals, responsible for cell aging. Another function of selenium is to limit the damage produced by toxic metals (for example, mercury), often also contained in food.
Selenium plays a protective role in this case, acting as an antagonist.
- Chromium: chromium is an essential trace element, capable of playing an important role in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, thus promoting weight loss. It also enhances the action of insulin (it is therefore called “insulin cofactor”), regulating blood sugar and, consequently, appetite. Many studies show that the presence of organic chromium helps prevent hypoglycemia and diabetes, caused respectively by excess insulin and its insufficiency.
The benefits of goji berries
In summary, the benefits of goji berries are:
- Increased energy levels
- Reduction of fatigue and improved recovery after exertion
- Anti-inflammatory activity
- Combating free radicals
- Diabetes prevention
- Maintaining youthful skin
- Weight loss
- Stimulation of the immune system
- Liver support
- Improved sleep and concentration
- Protecting vision
Organic goji berries
As we mentioned, it is of fundamental importance to buy goji berries produced using organic methods.
In the major producing countries, given the high value of the berries, the decision was unfortunately made to focus more on quantity and yields than on quality. Many of these berries are therefore produced using chemical pesticides, which are certainly not good for our bodies. This means that most of the world’s production is potentially subject to the use of these substances.
Fortunately, these fruits can also be grown organically, and there are many organic producers on the market today. They produce high-quality fruits. Some of these organic goji berries can be found here.
Finally, a piece of advice: pay attention to the label and the origin of the goji berries. Always remember that local organic productions are preferable to imports, as in our country, and generally in the European Union, there are stricter controls on quality and the improper use of dangerous pesticides.