Asian medicine is known and trusted the world over. So, it’s comforting to know that goji berries, known scientifically as Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense, originate in China.
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Goji berries are versatile and easy to incorporate into your daily diet. And, according to BBC News, they’re enjoyed by the likes of Madonna, Liz Hurley and Mischa Barton . . .
Background and history
The dried, ripe versions of the goji berry have been used for medicinal purposes in China and throughout Asia for some 2,000 years. More recently, goji berries have found their way into juices, snack bars and a range of other products which, although initially found only in specialist health stores, are now also available in supermarkets.
Also known as “wolfberry”, goji berries are small, oval-shaped and bright reddish-orange, almost like a smaller version of the Rosa tomato.
These naturally sweet, tangy berries are mostly dried before they’re sold, making them much easier to transport; and most are imported from Asia.
Most of the research regarding the health benefits of the goji berry has, over the last 30 years, come from China. However, the berry is now also receiving attention from other international research groups.
To start with, it’s known that goji berries are a rich source of vitamin C, beta-carotene and iron – nutrients that are crucial for good health. But there’s a lot more to these berries than just their excellent vitamin, mineral and fibre profile.
In a research paper published in Experimental Gerontology in 2005, Man-Shan Yu and co-workers from The University of Hong Kong noted that natural plant extracts of Lycium barbarum, a type of goji berry, are “well-known to be effective in treating age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease”. Their research in rats confirmed that L. barbarum has neuroprotective effects – at least in these animals.
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Berries and berry extracts are known to be rich in antioxidants, which make them important in terms of the prevention of other diseases as well. Although the exact mechanisms are still unknown, there’s evidence to suggest that the antioxidants in berries and other fruit may lower our risk for heart disease and cancer.
Studies have furthermore suggested that goji berries, specifically, may have immune-boosting properties. For example, goji berries have been shown to improve immune response after vaccination in elderly people. Other research indicated that these berries enhance the efficacy of the influenza vaccination in mice.
Goji berries are also considered to be one of the richest natural sources of zeaxanthin, a carotenoid shown to protect the eyes.
Note, however, that many of these potential health benefits still need to be substantiated by good clinical research.
How to include these berries in your diet
If you want to try some goji berries, you can either eat them raw or add them to any of the following:
- Muffins and scones
- Trail mix
Extracts are just as easy to add to smoothies, juices, muffins, scones, cereals and juices.
Of course, when it comes to adding anything new to your diet, it’s always best to first speak to your doctor and/or dietician, especially if the food, extract or supplement may interfere with any of your current medication.
The same applies to goji berries, which can be especially problematic if you’re using warfarin.
Goji (Lycium spp.)
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Image: Goji berry from Shutterstock.