Two species of nightshade plants, Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense, produce goji berries. They've gained immense popularity in America over the past decade, but they've been used as a traditional Chinese medicine for more than 3,000 years. There are records as far back as the Eastern Jin dynasty (317 to 420 AD) of using goji juice for the treatment of eye disorders and diseases. During the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 AD) this fruit was combined with other herbs and made into liver tonic tea-pills, which were believed to offer benefits for blurring vision. It was also used for a number of male reproductive problems, such as infertility and impotence.
Are goji berries good for you? Today no one is claiming any of the same ancient health benefits, however with modern technology we can confirm that the antioxidant capacity of goji is relatively high. However many food and supplement manufacturers over-hype this! The fact is that the ORAC value of the fresh berries - albeit high - is actually less than or comparable to many other "less exotic" fruits such as wild blueberries, black raspberries, and blackberries. If you come across a higher ORAC for the wolfberry, it's probably because they are referencing dried versions (since the water is removed, of course they are more nutrient dense).
However what is special about goji is the bright red color which does offer unique health benefits which you don't always attain from other blue and purple fruits. Why? The red flesh and pulp contain carotenoids, such as zeaxanthin. In fact, nearly 75% of the carotenoids in goji are zeaxanthin, the rest are beta-carotene (vitamin A). Zeaxanthin has been most studied for its benefits to the eyes, which is why goji are often recommended as part of a healthy diet for those suffering from age-related macular degeneration and a whole host of other vision-related diseases.
Where can I buy goji berries without being ripped off? As is the case with many superfoods, your local supermarkets love to charge you an arm and a leg for them. Rather than buy them at Whole Foods, you can probably buy the exact same branded package of goji berries online for 30 to 50% less. Unfortunately Trader Joe's does not sell them, at least not as of 2016. Depending on where you live, you may be able to buy a bag of goji at Walmart or Target. A drawback of buying locally - instead of online - is that in many areas (such as in California, where our offices are) the local stores categorize these berries (as well as many other nutritious items) as "health supplements" instead of food. As a result, they charge 9% sales tax on a package of say, an 8 oz bag of Navitas goji, taxing it the same as if you were buying a bottle of vitamins!
What about fresh berries? This is one of the most frequently asked questions we get. Technically, there's nothing preventing us from cultivating the in the United States. How to grow goji berries? It's simple, really. As long as you live in a hardy to USDA zone 5; heat tolerant to AHS zone 9, and receive a decent amount of sunlight each day, these plants can be grown. Unfortunately, other than hobbyists growing them, they are not cultivated commercial here. Instead, virtually all of them sold are imported from China. That said, depending on where you live, may be able to buy fresh goji berries locally at a farmers market or health foods store when they're in season. Alternately, a few companies sell US grown goji frozen, but those are quite expensive because they are packed in dry ice and shipped either overnight or 2 day express.
How many per day should I eat? They're aren't any hard and fast guidelines in terms of a safe number to eat. However, one possible side effect of goji berry is diarrhea if you eat too many, since they act as a natural stimulant on many people. For those seeking constipation relief, perhaps that's a good thing, but for the rest of us, we don't want that!
The nutrition of both dried and fresh are similar, so don't let the dried version dissuade you. Because they are not a very sweet fruit, fresh goji tastes quite a bit different than the dried version. Because it is dried, the sugars are concentrated, and hence, considered to be better tasting by many.
How to eat? However you want! Not only do they work in breakfast foods and desserts, but also because they're not too sweet, they can be incorporated into heartier and savory meals with a little creativity. Given their high protein content (4 grams per 100 calories) they are one of highest protein fruits in existence.
USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, Release 2 - Prepared by Nutrient Data Laboratory, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center (BHNRC), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) - May 2010