Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Wolfberry is the common name for the fruit of two very closely related species: Lycium barbarum and L. chinense , two species of boxthorn in the family Solanaceae . Although its original habitat is obscure , wolfberry species currently grow in many world regions. Only in China, however, is there significant commercial cultivation.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture Germplasm Resources Information Network, it is also known as Chinese wolfberry, goji berry, barbary matrimony vine, bocksdorn, Duke of Argyll's tea tree, or matrimony vine. Unrelated to the plant's geographic origin, the names Tibetan goji and Himalayan goji are in common use in the market for products from this plant.


Renowned in Asia as a highly nutritious food, wolfberries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for about 1,900 years . Their undocumented legend, however, is considerably older, as wolfberries are often linked in Chinese lore to Shen Nung , China's legendary First Emperor, mythical father of agriculture, and herbalist who lived circa 2,800 BC.

Since the early 21st century in the United States and other such developed countries, there has been rapidly growing recognition of wolfberries for their nutrient richness and antioxidant qualities, leading to a profusion of consumer products. Such rapid commercial development extends from wolfberry having a high ranking among superfruits expected to be part of a multi-billion dollar market by 2011.


Wolfberry species are deciduous woody perennial plants, growing 1-3 m high. ''L. chinense'' is grown in the south of China and tends to be somewhat shorter, while ''L. barbarum'' is grown in the north, primarily in the Ningxia , and tends to be somewhat taller.

The botanical division named to the upper right, Magnoliophyta, identifies plants that flower and the class Magnoliopsida represents flowering plants with two embryonic seed leaves called cotyledons appearing at germination.

The order Solanales names a perennial plant with five-petaled flowers that are more or less united into a ring at the base; well-known members of the order include morning glory, bindweed, and sweet potato as well as the plants of the Solanaceae, mentioned below.

Lastly, Solanaceae is the nightshade family that includes hundreds of plant foods like potato, tomato, eggplant, wolfberry, peppers , crop commodities , and flowers .
Although the Solanales includes many plant foods, some members are poisonous .

Leaves and flower

Wolfberry leaves form on the shoot either in an alternating arrangement or in bundles of up to three, each having a shape that is either lanceolate or ovate . Leaf dimensions are 7 cm long by 3.5 cm wide with blunted or round tips.

One to three flowers occur on stems 1-2 cm in length. The is comprised of bell-shaped or tubular sepals forming short, triangular lobes. The are lavender or light purple, 9-14 cm long with five or six lobes shorter than the tube. The stamens are structured with anthers that open lengthwise, shorter in length than the .

In the northern hemisphere, flowering occurs from June through September and berry maturation from August to October, depending on latitude, altitude, and climate.


These species produce a bright orange-red, ellipsoid berry 1-2 cm long photo. The number of seeds in each berry varies widely based on cultivar and fruit size, containing anywhere between 10-60 tiny yellow seeds that are compressed with a curved embryo. The berries ripen from July to October in the Northern hemisphere.


"Wolfberry" is the most commonly used English name, while ''gǒuqǐ'' is the Chinese name for the berry producing plant. In Chinese, the berries themselves are called ''gǒuqǐzi'' , with ''zi'' meaning "seed" or specifically "berry". Other common names are "the Tea Tree" Interpreters of botanical nomenclature believe ''barbarum'', the species name, indicates that the wolfberry was of foreign origin, perhaps originating outside Anatolia or China, or was deemed a plant not native to the region where it was first discovered.

Together, these names are used as specific botanical identifiers in binomial nomenclature for which ''barbarum'' is the specific epithet. The end abbreviation, L., refers to , who described the species in 1753 in ''Species Plantarum''. ''L. chinense'' was first described by the Scottish botanist Philip Miller in the eighth edition of his ''The Gardener's Dictionary'', published in 1768.

In Japan the plant is known as ''kuko'' and the fruits are called ''kuko no mi'' or ''kuko no kajitsu'' ; in Korea the berries are known as ''gugija'' ; in Vietnam the fruit is called "k? t?" , "c?u k?" , "c?u k? t?" but the plant and its leaves are known more popularly as "c? kh?i"; and in Thailand the plant is called ''g?o gèe'' . In the plant is called ''dre-tsher-ma'' , with ''dre'' meaning "ghost" and ''tsher-ma'' meaning "thorn"; and the name of the fruit is ''dre-tsher-mai-dre-bu'' , with ''dre-bu'' meaning "fruit".



The majority of commercially produced wolfberries come from the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of and the of western China, where they are grown on plantations. In Zhongning County, Ningxia, wolfberry plantations typically range between 100 and 1000 acres in area.

Cultivated along the fertile aggradational floodplains of the Yellow River for more than 600 years, Ningxia wolfberries have earned a reputation throughout Asia for premium quality sometimes described commercially as "red diamonds". Government releases of annual wolfberry production, premium fruit grades, and export are based on yields from Ningxia, the region recognized with:
*The largest annual harvest in China, accounting for 42% of the nation's total yield of wolfberries, estimated at approximately 33 million kg in 2001.
* Formation of an industrial association of growers, processors, marketers, and scholars of wolfberry cultivation to promote the berry's commercial and export potential.
* Ongoing horticultural research conducted on the wolfberry plant at the Ningxia Research Institute, Yinchuan .
* The nation's only source of therapeutic grade wolfberries used by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine.

In addition, commercial volumes of wolfberries grow in the Chinese regions of Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, Gansu, Shaanxi, Shanxi and Hebei. The oblong, red berries are very tender and must be picked carefully or shaken from the vine into trays to avoid spoiling. The fruits are preserved by slowly drying them in the shade on air exchange tables or by mechanical dehydration employing a progressively increasing series of heat exposure over 48 hours.

Wolfberries are celebrated each August in Ningxia with an annual festival coinciding with the berry harvest .

China, the main supplier of wolfberry products in the world, had total exports generating US$120 million in 2004. This production derived from 82,000 hectares farmed nationwide, yielding 95,000 tons of wolfberries.

Pesticide and fungicide use

pesticides are conventionally used in commercial wolfberry cultivation to mitigate destruction of the delicate berries by insects. Since the early 21st century, high levels of pyrethroid insecticide residues and fungicide residues , have been detected by the United States Food and Drug Administration in some imported wolfberries and wolfberry products of Chinese origin, leading to the seizure of these products. Due to the demand for products in the West, some Chinese growers are beginning to experiment with and to explore the possibility of obtaining organic certification, something that has not yet been publicly disclosed for Chinese wolfberry farms and products.

Some Western resellers may state that their wolfberries are organically grown when in fact they are not. The Green Certificate claimed by some wolfberry marketers to be the equivalent of the United States Department of Agriculture's "" seal is in actuality simply an agricultural training program for China's rural poor. China's Green Food Standard, administered by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture's China Green Food Development Center, does permit some amount of pesticide and herbicide use.

Despite some claims that wolfberries sold in Europe, the United States, and Canada meet organic standards, there is no public evidence for standardized organic certification of wolfberries from the Asian regions where they are commercially grown. Often, these berries are marketed as Tibetan or Himalayan Goji Berries that have been "wild crafted" or "wild harvested". On the contrary, however, Tibet's agriculture conventionally uses fertilizers and pesticides, and neither wolfberries of Tibetan or Himalayan origin sold outside Tibet nor organic certification of such berries have been proved.

Tibetan goji berry

Since the early 21st century, the names "Himalayan Goji berry" and "Tibetan Goji berry" have become common in the global health food market, applied to berries claimed to have been grown or collected in the region . Although none of the companies marketing such berries specifies an exact location in the Himalayas or Tibet where their berries are supposed to be grown, Earl Mindell's website states that his "Himalayan" Goji products do not actually come from the Himalayas, but instead from Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, and the Tian Shan Mountains of western Xinjiang, China.

Although ''Lycium'' species do grow in some regions of Tibet, commercial export production of wolfberries in the Tibetan Himayalas must be a myth fabricated for a marketing advantage, as this mountain range bordering the Tibetan Plateau is a region inhospitable to commercial cultivation of plant foods of any kind. In the Himalayan foothills, bleak desolation is unrelieved by any vegetation beyond sparse, low bushes, whereas eastern valleys and plains of the Tibetan Plateau at lower altitude support growth of wild ''Lycium chinense''.

The Tibetan Plateau, comprising most of Tibet north and east of the Himalayas, lies at more than 3000 m in altitude, with poor soil and arid climate conditions unfavorable for fruit crops. Defined by the geography of Tibet, particularly in the western Himalayas, cold nighttime temperatures averaging -4°C year round with six months of continual frost would inhibit plant bud development and prevent fruit formation. Existing in Tibet are minimal subsistence agriculture and impoverished crop management and transportation facilities unsupportive of commercial berry production. Although limited fertile regions suitable for food crops exist in the valleys of Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyantse, and the Brahmaputra River, there are no objective economic, scientific, or government reports on the commercial production of ''Lycium'' berry species from these Tibetan regions.

Importance of cultivar

Described in ancient Chinese texts, ''gǒuqǐ'' has existed in China over recorded history and has likely been used to make plants dozens of times across Asia, as attested by some 90 species of boxthorn, wolfberry's genus.

Although several wolfberry marketers state that their "Tibetan goji" is a specific species, given variously as ''Lycium eleganus'', ''Lycium eleganus barbarum'', or ''Lycium eleagnus'', no such species exist. ''Elaeagnus'' is a genus of about 50-70 species of flowering plants in the Elaeagnaceae family. The vast majority of ''Elaeagnus'' species are native to temperate and subtropical regions of Asia, including ''Elaeagnus umbellata'', which grows near the Himalayas and bears an orange-red berry possibly confused with ''Lycium barbarum''.

Some Internet authors claim ''Lycium eleagnus barbarum'' is the original ''Lycium barbarum'' or an improved cultivar of it. However, ''Lycium'' and ''Elaeagnus'' are sufficiently disparate genera that successful cross-breeding is unlikely. Further, there is no evidence in the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants of a ''Lycium'' species of ''Elaeagnus'' or vice versa.

United Kingdom

Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll delighted in growing exotic trees and shrubs in his garden at in Middlesex, England and introduced the plant into the United Kingdom in the 1730s where it is known as ''Duke of Argyll's Tea Tree''. It was and still is used for hedging, especially in coastal districts. Its red berries are attractive to a wide variety of British birds.

The plant continues to grow wild in UK hedgerows. On 15 January 2003, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs launched a project to improve the regulations protecting traditional countryside hedgerows, and specifically mentioned Duke of Argyll's Tea Tree as one of the species to be found growing in hedges located in Suffolk Sandlings, Hadley, Bawdsey, near Ipswich, and Walberswick.

The wolfberry has been naturalized as an ornamental and edible plant in the UK for nearly 300 years. On June 18, 2007, the FSA stated that there was a significant history of the fruit being consumed in Europe before 1997, and has removed it from the Novel Foods list . It is now legal to sell the goji berry in the UK as a food as reported by the British Food Standards Agency ..

Importation of mature plants

Importation of wolfberry plants into the United Kingdom from most countries outside Europe is illegal, due to the possibility that plants could be vectors of diseases attacking native members of the Solanaceae family, such as potato or tomato.


Wolfberries are almost never found in their fresh form outside of their production regions, and are usually sold in open boxes and small packages in . The amount of desiccation varies in wolfberries: some are soft and somewhat tacky in the manner of raisins, while others may be very hard. Wolfberries with a vibrant orange-red color may have been treated with sulfites.


As a food, dried wolfberries are traditionally cooked before consumption. Dried wolfberries are often added to rice congee, as well as used in Chinese tonic soups, in combination with chicken or pork, vegetables, and other herbs such as , '''', ''Codonopsis pilosula'', and root. The berries are also boiled as an , often along with flowers and/or red jujubes, and packaged teas are also available. Various containing wolfberries are also produced, including some that are a blend of grape wine and wolfberries. At least one Chinese company also produces wolfberry beer, and New Belgium Brewery makes an ale with wolfberries used as flavoring. Since the early 21st century, an instant coffee product containing wolfberry extract has been produced in China.

Young wolfberry shoots and are also grown commercially as a leaf vegetable.

In the West, dried wolfberries are also eaten hand-to-mouth as a snack, in the manner of raisins, , or other dried fruit. Their taste has an accent of tomato and is similar to that of dates, or raisins, though drier, more tart, less sweet and with an herbal scent. Dried wolfberries are also used frequently in .


Wolfberries have long played important roles in traditional Chinese medicine where they are believed to enhance immune system function, improve eyesight, protect the liver, boost production and improve , among other effects.

In TCM terms, wolfberries are sweet in taste and neutral in nature. They act on the liver, lungs, and kidneys and enrich . They can be eaten raw, consumed as juice or wine, brewed into an herbal tea or prepared as a tincture. The berries are also used in traditional Korean medicine, and traditional Tibetan medicine.

Wolfberry leaves may be used to make tea and '''' root bark for TCM treatment of inflammatory and some types of skin diseases. A glucopyranoside and phenolic amides isolated from wolfberry root bark have inhibitory activity in vitro against human pathogenic bacteria and fungi .

An early mention of wolfberry occurs in the 7th century Tang Dynasty treatise ''Yaoxing Lun''. It is also discussed in the 16th century Ming Dynasty ''Compendium of Materia Medica'' of Li Shizhen.

From marketing literature for wolfberry products including several "goji juices", a reputation exists for wolfberry polysaccharides having extensive biological effects and health benefits, although none of these has been proved by peer-reviewed research. A May 2008 clinical study published by the peer-reviewed Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine indicated that parametric data, including body weight, did not show significant differences between subjects receiving ''Lycium barbarum'' berry juice and subjects receiving the placebo. The study concluded that subjective measures of health were improved and suggested further research in humans was necessary.

Wolfberry polysaccharides show antioxidant activity ''in vitro'' and might also have biological activities ''in vivo'' currently under research . As a source of dietary fiber, however, polysaccharides would yield products from bacterial in the , such as several short-chain fatty acids, e.g., butyric acid, which may provide health benefits.

Although the macromolecular structure of wolfberry polysaccharides has not been elucidated, preliminary structural studies appear to indicate that they exist in the form of complex glycoconjugates .

Wolfberry fruits also contain zeaxanthin, an important dietary carotenoid selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea where it is thought to provide antioxidant and protective light-filtering roles.
A human supplementation trial showed that daily intake of wolfberries increased levels of zeaxanthin.

Several published studies, mostly from China, have also reported possible medicinal benefits of ''Lycium barbarum'', especially due to its antioxidant properties, including potential benefits against cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, vision-related diseases , having neuroprotective properties or as an anticancer and immunomodulatory agent.

However, in the west, none of this research has been scientifically verified, confirmed in clinical studies, or accepted by regulatory authorities.

Safety issues

A published case report described a 61-year-old Chinese woman who experienced an elevated international normalized ratio after drinking a tea made from wolfberry fruit. Further in vitro testing revealed that the tea inhibited warfarin metabolism. These observations indicate a potential herbal-drug interaction between warfarin and wolfberry. Another case report describes an 80-year-old Chinese woman on a chronic stable dose of warfarin who experienced two episodes of an elevated INR after drinking wolfberry tea.

Atropine, a toxic alkaloid found in other members of the Solanacea family, occurs naturally in wolfberry fruit. The atropine concentrations of berries from China and Thailand are variable, with a maximum content of 19 ppb, below the likely toxic amount.

Nutrient content


Wolfberry contains significant percentages of a day's macronutrient needs – carbohydrates, protein, fat and dietary fiber. 68% of the mass of dried wolfberries exists as carbohydrate, 12% as protein, and 10% each as fiber and fat, giving a total caloric value in a 100 gram serving of 370 calories.

Micronutrients and phytochemicals

Wolfberries contain many nutrients and phytochemicals including

* 11 essential and 22 trace dietary minerals
* 18 amino acids
* 6 essential vitamins
* 8 polysaccharides and 6 monosaccharides
* 5 unsaturated fatty acids, including the essential fatty acids, linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid
* beta-sitosterol and other phytosterols
* 5 carotenoids, including beta-carotene and zeaxanthin , lutein, lycopene and cryptoxanthin, a xanthophyll
* numerous phenolic pigments associated with antioxidant properties

Select examples given below are for 100 grams of dried berries. Other nutrient data are presented in two reference texts Superfruit is meant to imply nutrient richness with medical research results indicating potential health benefits, combined with uncommon but appealing taste, pigmentation, and antioxidant strength. During 2006-7, the market for wolfberries included 89 new product introductions in eight retail segments having an estimated sales total of $9 million, growing rapidly. An executive of one network marketing company was quoted as saying the juice market alone for wolfberries would be valued at more than $1 billion by 2013.

Other wolfberry consumer applications are as dried berries , berry pieces in granola bars, and skin soap made from seed oils.

Commercial suppliers have processed wolfberry as an additive for manufacturing, such as juice concentrate, whole fruit purée, powders from juice or juice concentrate made from spray drying, pulp powders, whole or ground seeds, seed oils , and essential oils derived from seeds.

Marketing claims under scrutiny in Europe

In February 2007, the Food Standards Agency of Great Britain, an advisor for food safety to the European Food Safety Authority of the European Union , published an inquiry to retailers and health food stores requesting evidence of significant use of wolfberries in Europe before 1997. This period would document a safety history and evaluate how "novel" the berries are in the EU, affecting their authorization status for sale.

Proponents hoped this review would provide important safeguards for consumers by checking whether new foods are suitable for the whole population, including people with food allergies. Opponents on the other hand feared it would limit consumer choice and protect monopolistic interests rather than the public. Food safety in the EU relies importantly on a scientific basis for label information on foods like wolfberries that may be claimed to furnish health benefits.

In June 2007, the FSA announced its decision that wolfberries indeed had a history of use in Great Britain before 1997. Accordingly, wolfberries do not require registration as a novel food.

Marketing claims under scrutiny in Canada and the United States

In January 2007, marketing statements for a goji juice product were subject of an investigative report by CBC Television's consumer advocacy program Marketplace .

In a review of medical literature pertaining to each proposed claim of health benefits from Himalayan Goji Juice , Gross et al. summarized that 22 of 23 claims had no evidence for providing a health benefit beyond that inferred from preliminary in vitro or laboratory animal research. For cancer specifically, four studies were reviewed in Chapter 4 of their book, but Gross et al. concluded the research was too preliminary to allow any conclusion about an anti-cancer effect of consuming wolfberries or wolfberry juice.

By one specific example in the interview, Earl Mindell claimed the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York had completed clinical studies showing that use of wolfberry juice would prevent 75% of human breast cancer cases, a statement false in three ways:
# no such project has been undertaken at Memorial Sloan-Kettering
# according to the National Cancer Institute of the US National Institutes of Health, no natural or pharmaceutical agent has been shown in clinical trials to fully prevent breast cancer, only to reduce its risk ; specifically, there are no completed or ongoing clinical trials in the United States testing the effects of wolfberries or juice on breast cancer outcomes or any other disease and
# beyond preliminary laboratory studies and one Chinese clinical trial described only in an abstract, there is no scientific evidence for wolfberry phytochemicals or wolfberry juice having cancer-preventive properties .

Significant in nutrient and phytochemical composition, wolfberries are being developed as new products in the functional food industry under FDA regulatory review since December, 2006 for label and marketing claims as being conducted in 2007 by the European Union .

During 2006, the FDA placed two goji juice distributors on notice with warning letters about marketing claims. These statements were in violation of the United States Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act because they "establish the product as a drug intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease" when wolfberries or juice have had no such scientific evaluation. Additionally stated by the FDA, the goji juice was "not generally recognized as safe and effective for the referenced conditions" and therefore must be treated as a "new drug" under Section 21 of the Act. New drugs may not be legally marketed in the United States without prior approval of the FDA, as stated in the letters below:

* Dynamic Health Laboratories Inc. of Brooklyn, New York, May 8, 2006
* of Elk Grove, California, August 7, 2006


*Ai, Changshan . ''Zhi Bu Liang Yi Hua Gou Qi'' . Changchun, China: Jilin Ke Xue Ji Shu Chu Ban She. ISBN 7538424024. ISBN 9787538424027.
*Gross, Paul M.; Xiaoping Zhang; and Richard Zhang . ''Wolfberry: Nature's Bounty of Nutrition & Health''. Charleston, South Carolina, United States: BookSurge Publishing. ISBN 1419620487. ISBN 9781419620485.
*Mindell, Earl; and Rick Handel . ''Goji: The Himalayan Health Secret''. Momentum Media Health Series. Dallas, Texas, United States: Momentum Media. ISBN 0967285526. ISBN 9780967285528.
*Mindell, Earl . ''Dr. Earl Mindell's Goji: The Himalayan Health Secret''. 2nd ed. Lake Dallas, Texas, United States: Momentum Media. ISBN 0967285577. ISBN 9780967285573.
*Oyama, Sumita . ''Kuko o Aishite Junen'' . Tokyo, Japan: Shufu no Tomosha.
*Shufo no Tomosha . ''Kuko no koyo'' . Tokyo, Japan.
*Takayama, Eiji . ''Jinsei no Honbutai wa Rokujissai Kara: Furo Choju Kuko no Aiyo'' . Tokyo, Japan: Koyo Shobo
*Young, Gary; Ronald Lawrence; and Marc Schreuder . ''Discovery of the Ultimate Superfood: How the Ningxia Wolfberry and Four Other Foods Help Combat Heart Disease, Cancer, Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Diabetes and More''. Orem, Utah, United States: Essential Science Publishing. ISBN 0943685443. ISBN 9780943685441.
*Zhang, Yanbo . ''Molecular Approach to the Authentication of Lycium barbarum and its Related Species''. M. Phil. thesis. Hong Kong, China: Hong Kong Baptist University
*Zhao, Yue . ''The Market Prospect of Ningxia Wolfberry/Wolfberry Products in China''. Thesis. Netherlands: University of Professional Education Larenstein Deventer.



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Botanical databases

*Information about ''Lycium barbarum'' L. from the
*, USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Germplasm Resources Information Network -. . National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland. Retrieved 2007-02-11.
*, from the Plant Viruses Online VIDE database

Medical databases

* Searching for ''Lycium'' on the database finds 146 papers of interest; 87 of these are for ''Lycium barbarum'' and 33 for ''Lycium chinense'' .

News stories

* from ''TibetInfoNet'', June 29, 2007
* by Simon Parry, from ''South China Morning Post'', December 2, 2006
* from ''China Daily'', August 30, 2006
* from ''China Daily'', July 19, 2004
* by Dr. Ralph Moss
* The Daily Truth by Jack Marx, Sydney Morning Herald, June 25, 2007
*, Tillsonburg News, August 1, 2008

Video and Pictures


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