Going with Goji
by Wendy C. Smith
Last time, I talked about a “new” fruit that I had come across while perusing the aisles of health food grocery stores. This week, guess what? Same thing. Here is yet another oddball fruit that I have “discovered.” It is the goji berry. A goji berry is a funky, deep red berry about the size of a raisin. They are eaten dried and taste like a cross between a cranberry and a cherry.
Goji berries grow in Tibet, Mongolia, China and the Himalayas. They occasionally are called wolf berries, which is actually the specific name for Chinese or Oriental goji berries. Tibetan goji berries and wolf berries have a very similar look and slightly different nutritional makeup, although all types of goji berries will differ a bit in nutritional content simply from growing conditions. Goji berries are borne on tall, vine-like bushes and are harvested by shaking the bushes and letting the berries fall onto trays to dry in the shade. The berries are not touched by hand, as that causes them to oxidize and turn black. Dried berries come in packages or are mixed with other foods to make health bars and health drinks. I have never seen any fresh or raw berries, probably because of the oxidation factor.
Goji berries have been a part of Chinese medicine for centuries. In Oriental medicine, the goji berry is used to treat qi (chi) deficiency, and it is traditionally associated with longevity, strength-building and sexual potency. Supposedly, goji berries are also consumed by the world’s longest-living people on a daily basis. While that claim may or may not be true, what is true is that goji berries pack a lot of nutrition into small, wrinkled packages. The berries contain up to 21 trace minerals (depending on the growing conditions), the most prominent ones being iron, copper, zinc, phosphorus, selenium and germanium. They are a rich source of carotenoids (they have more beta-carotene than carrots), vitamin A (the color is a clue), vitamin E (rare for a fruit) and vitamin C (they have more vitamin C by weight than orange juice). This makes them very strong anti-oxidants. They also contain vitamins B1, B2, B6 and B12.
The mature goji berry contains a few other things as well such as beta-sisterol (an anti-inflammatory agent), linoleic acid (a fatty acid) and polysaccharides. The polysaccharides in the goji berry are interesting because they fortify the immune system and have been shown in some studies to stimulate the production of rejuvenative human growth hormone (this could tie into the traditional association between goji berries and longevity).
In one study, elderly people were given goji berries once a day for three weeks. The results showed an increase in white blood cell activity, an increase in sexual functioning and an increase in appetite as well as an elevated mood and outlook. The increase in appetite is interesting because I also read an article claiming that goji berries are excellent mood enhancers and that over-consuming the berries causes people to laugh more and lose weight. How’s that for a diet plan? I know that the happier I am, the more likely I am to keep away from the fridge. But seriously, since the berries are used to treat qi deficiency, there might be something to the mood enhancement, as deficient qi can cause anxiety, low energy, depression and insomnia, to name a few ailments.
Another health benefit of goji berries is that they seem to have potential as a cancer-cell killer. A Japanese study showed that goji berries were helpful in slowing tumor growth, and a Mongolian study indicated that goji berries decreased lymphocyte activity in cancer patients. Additionally, in patients undergoing chemotherapy, the selenium and germanium in the berries has offered some relief of side effects, as well as protection for the liver.I, for one, like the idea of using natural means to cope with the world. As I have said before, food was our first medicine, and there is no reason it cannot continue to be—or at least continue as a supplement. There is a lot to cope with these days in terms of pollutants, stress and other health hazards, and we’re an overweight, overmedicated nation as a whole. That’s one of the reasons I search for natural remedies such as herbs and food first before resorting to man-made chemical compounds. Of course, I would never completely throw out Western medicine to treat a serious ailment like cancer, but I’m open to supplementing any Western treatments with Eastern remedies as well. And I’m much more likely to try goji berries or Omega-3’s when I feel down instead of asking for a prescription for Prozac.