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Goji

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Names of Goji, past and present

Chinese: ningxia gouqi / gouqi
Japanese: kuko
Malay: goji
Hindi: murali
German: wolfsbeere
Swedish: gojbar
English goji (extrapolation of original Chinese "gouqi") / goji berry / wolfberry / Chinese wolfberry / Tibetan wolfberry / Tibetan goji berry / Duke of Argyll's tea tree / red medlar
Various other languages: goji (adopted from the general Anglicized name for the gouqi, often considered a "trademarked" name
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Lycium barbarum / Lycium chinense

Background and History

Perhaps one of the most notoriously well-known therapeutic foods of today, the Chinese wolfberry, better known as the goji berry, or simply goji is the edible fruit of two distinct species of trees - the Lycium barbarum and the Lycium chinense. Belonging to the Solanaceae family of plants, it is closely related to the potato, the tomato, the eggplant, and tobacco. Thought to be native to China and Tibet, the wolfberry actually thrives throughout much of Asia and Europe, with a history of use and consumption that dates back to prehistoric times. Now sold throughout the world in various forms, the goji berry began its humble and relatively unknown origins as a hunter-gatherer energy food which was later adopted by primitive communities as a staple food. The history of the use and consumption of the goji is broad, but with the recent flood of information regarding its supposedly "exclusive" Eastern origin, only very little information on the Western history of its usage is available. The goji berry has long been employed as a foodstuff and medicinal plant in China, with the earliest records of its usage dating back to before the Warring States Period (circa 475 B.C.).

The two distinct species of goji plant (L. barbarum and L. chinense) typically grown from between one to three metres high, preferring cold climates with rich, fertile soil. It is characterised by the alternating arrangement of dark-green, ovate or lanceolate leaves with blunted or slightly pointed tips measuring a maximum of seven centimeters in length, with a width of three to four centimeters. The bark and stem of the tree are relatively tough, shrub-like, and dense, although it can be a tad soft and delicate while still immature. It is also notable for its pink, lavender, or fuchsia-hued flowers, which are sometimes arranged singly or in groups just beneath the axils of the leaf. The flowers eventually rupture and fall apart, revealing its most discernable feature - a bright red berry with shiny, smooth yet leathery skin encasing a maximum of sixty minute yellow seeds within. [1] Between the two species of goji plant, the size and relative shape of the fruits may vary, although their edibility, nutritional content, and medicinal applicability remains a constant.

Common / Popular Uses

Nowadays, the goji berry is cultivated and harvested on a large scale to cater to the global demand for the now notorious 'superfood'. Initially a virtually unknown berry growing in select areas of Europe and Asia, the goji berry was chiefly harvested for consumption, culinary use, and the occasional medicinal usage. In ancient China, gojis were not only eaten raw (in its ripened state), but were also dried for longterm storage (usually eaten as snacks - a practice which has become global today), or otherwise allowed to ferment to create gouqi ju (goji wine) and other types of alcoholic beverages. In Chinese cuisine, goji berries were integrated into soups, stews, tonic stocks, congee, and desserts. They were even made into an assortment of treats and sweetmeats, or otherwise employed as the raw material for the creation of intoxicating (yet medicinally oriented) drinks. The berries were a common snack food during the summer months as they were cooling to the palate. During colder months, the dried berries were usually boiled with tea, chrysanthemum flowers, and sometimes even hibiscus flowers to create a warming, red-hued, nourishing drink. [2] This red-hued beverage was to later inspire the creation of goji juice - a modern, yet more refined take on the traditional goji-based beverage.

When employed medicinally, goji berries were traditionally prescribed for bedridden or convalescent individuals as a nourishing food to boost their health. It was typically given as a decoction, or otherwise incorporated into prepared foods. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, goji berries were thought of as nourishing and strengthening herbs, and was drunk or ingested to improve overall health and increase longevity. More practical applications included its being used as a diuretic, an immuno-booster, a febrifuge, and an aphrodisiac. [3] The young shoots or leaves of the goji plant are also employed in Traditional Chinese Medicine and cuisine as a diuretic and a leaf vegetable.

Modern products that make use of goji berries typically latch on to its relatively high antioxidant content and its dense nutritional profile as its main marketing factor. Nowadays, raw, dried, or prepared goji products are partaken of more as food supplements than true herbal medicines in the bid to slow down the aging process, circumvent the development of diseases, and improve overall health and wellness. Among the many available products containing (or that are made from) goji berries include prepared juices, encapsulated food supplements, dried snacking berries, trail mixed, powdered berries, raw berries, energy bars or dietary drinks containing whole or extracted essences of gojis. Goji berries, whether prepared traditionally or in a modern way may be used to treat a wide variety of illnesses such as flu, fever, coughs, urinary tract infection, viral infections, macular degeneration, loss of muscle-mass, malnutrition, and skin allergies. It may even benefit individuals who suffer from arthritis or rheumatism. [4] Consequently, people who are hypertensive or diabetic may also benefit from the moderated regular consumption of goji berries, although traditional preparations are advised for the latter cases, as most marketed goji-based products available today may nevertheless contain adulterants or preservatives despite its reputedly 'organic' label.

Outside of all of the marketing hype, the moderate consumption of goji berries may actually be beneficial to the overall health of the human body not only because of its high antioxidant content, but due to its high nutritional content. The antioxidants found in goji berries has been said to help reduce the amount of free-radical damage that one's cells take during the course of a day, while the nutritional density of the berries itself provide the body with the ample vitamins and minerals it requires to function properly and to heal itself. Studies have shown that significant intakes of antioxidant rich foods may retard the aging process to some degree, or that it may provide the body with the necessary boost to counteract simple diseases. [5]

Because of this, a whole line of mass-marketed goji products have been made available. Veering outside the more commonly accepted means of benefiting from the fruits via ingestion, goji berries have even been integrated into personal products such as soaps, lotions, creams, and even shampoo, in the (perhaps unfounded) belief that the antioxidants found in the berries may somehow help to rejuvenate and revitalize the skin, making it look younger. The efficiency of such products, however, is dubious at best.

Esoteric / Magickal Uses

When employed in an esoteric or magickal sense, the goji berry can be made into an offertory item to attract friends, improve one's social life, and allow oneself to focus more intensely on one's ulterior goals. In Chinese magick, it is believed that goji berries promote harmony and heal discord. It is said that serving gojis to quarreling individuals will mend the rift between them. Eating goji berries prior to bedtime has also been reputed to give the consumer prophetic dreams or premonitions. [6] Of course, one cannot overlook the near mythological association of consuming goji berries to obtaining longevity. One notorious account speaks of one Li Ching-Yuen, an old Chinese herbalist and martial artist who was said to have lived to the age of either 197 or 256 years. The secret to his purported longevity was a secret meditational martial art, and his daily consumption of goji berries. [7]

Goji Safety Notes

While the moderated regular consumption of goji berries are deemed generally safe for all individuals from the ages of six onwards, people who are under blood-thinning medication and individuals who are under prescribed antihypertensive or anti-diabetic medication should best avoid the consumption of goji berries lest it interact adversely with the medication. Likewise, diabetic individuals should avoid storebought prepared goji products, as these may contain very high amounts of sugar and other additives that may be detrimental to their already delicate health, and instead opt for more traditional methods of integrating gojis into their regular diet. To err on the side of caution, pregnant women should lessen their intake of goji-based products (if not discontinue it altogether) until the terminus of the pregnancy. Prior to incorporating goji berries into one's regular diet, it is best to first consult with a trusted health care practitioner and an expert on Traditional Chinese Medicine to ensure the utmost in safety, and fullest in nutritional and therapeutic benefits.

References:

[1 - 2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goji

[3] http://www.webmd.boots.com/healthy-eating/goji-berries-health-benefits-and-side-effects

[4] http://altmedicine.about.com/od/completeazindex/a/goji.htm

[5] http://www.webmd.com/balance/goji-berries-health-benefits-and-side-effects

[6] http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=YXoOye0jcvkC&pg=PA64

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_Ching-Yuen

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt. © herbs-info.com 2013

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