December 30, 2016

Indigenous ingredient of the month – Wolfberry / Goji

The wolfberry is another name for the Goji berry and we used to know these as boxthorn bushes when we were kids.  Goji juice is another of those ‘fad’ drinks on sale at ridiculous prices at health food stores or through party plans but it shouldn’t be as expensive as it is.

Wolfberry/Goji/ Gou qi zi

Scientific names:

Lycium barbarum (Chinese: 寧夏枸杞; pinyin: Níngxià gǒuqǐ) and L. chinense (Chinese: 枸杞; pinyin: gǒuqǐ).

It is a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae (eg.  potato, tomato, eggplant, deadly nightshade, chili pepper, and tobacco) and is native to southeastern Europe and Asia.

It contains 11 essential minerals, 22 trace minerals, 7 vitamins and 18 amino acids and its strongest feature is that it contains more than twice our daily needs of potassium and unlike a banana is not fattening.  It is one of the richest nutritional foods in China and is used in many of their medicines.


The shrub is a deciduous woody perennial plant, growing up to a metre tall, with a  dangerous thorny stem bearing green lance-shaped (pointy and long) leaves. Wolfberry is covered with small purple flowers which then matures into fruit. The ripe wolfberry fruit turns orangey red, is somewhat oblong in shape and each is around 10 mm long and looks a bit like a fat birdseye chili.

Most of the Australian Goji is imported from northern China.

Its uses include antioxidant drink but due to heavy use of  pesticides and herbicides in their cultivation, be careful what you purchase!  The plant grows wild in many parts of Europe and also throughout Victoria where it was once used as hedges to keep stock in.  (on the way to Mildura it could be seen quite a lot in the 1960s but has been mostly killed off).  The thorns are deadly!  But I believe that it would be a great thing to bring back as birds love to eat the berries and no sheep or even goat will get through the hedge once it is established.  Maybe it would keep out thieves too.  I’d like to see Australia growing more hedges in place of wire fences.  So much prettier and would bear fruit too!

The Asian food market uses Goji in many dishes, both sweet and savoury and it has almost a preservative effect.  It is medicinal in Asian treatments and is used to reduce inflammation (in organs, muscles, eyes etc.) or problems with the cardiovascular system, but scientific testing hasn’t been very positive about it. Some claim it to be antibacerial and a fungicide.  Wolfberry beer is being made in China.

They are sold dried in the Asian bulk dried fruits shops or as juice, or concentrate but the fresh berries are not produced or marketed in Australia to my knowledge.  It would be an interesting exercise to plant a hedge but as there are so many seeds it may spread fast and become yet another prickly pear style pest.

As with any food, moderation is the key.  There have been examples of over indulgence in wolfberry tea causing bleeding and this may be due to the naturally occurring atropine in it as it is in the nightshade family.

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