Wolfberry – commercially called goji berry – 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 (which also includes the potato, tomato, eggplant, deadly nightshade, chili pepper, and tobacco). Although its original habitat is obscure (probably southeastern Europe to southwest Asia), wolfberry species currently grow in many world regions. Only in China, however, is there significant commercial cultivation.
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 health food market for products from the wolfberry plant.
These species produce a bright orange-red, ellipsoid berry 1-2 cm long. 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 gogi is the Chinese name for the berry producing 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 (Shennong), 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.
The majority of commercially produced wolfberries come from the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of north-central China and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of western China, where they are grown on plantations. In Zhongning County, Ningxia, wolfberry plantations typically range between 100 and 1000 acres (or 500-6000 mu) in area. As of 2005, over 10 million mu have been planted with wolfberries in Ningxia.
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”.
In TCM terms, wolfberries are sweet in taste and neutral in nature. They act on the liver, lungs, and kidneys and enrich yin. 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, traditional Japanese medicine and traditional Tibetan medicine.
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 wolfberry nutrition 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 wolfberry nutrition 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 (20 publications on this topic since 1991). As a source of dietary fiber, however, polysaccharides would yield products from bacterial fermentation in the colon, 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 wolfberry nutrition trial showed that daily intake of wolfberries increased plasma levels of zeaxanthin.
Several published wolfberry nutrition 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 (such as age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma, having neuroprotective properties or as an anticancer and immunomodulatory agent.
However, in the west, none of this wolfberry nutrition research has been scientifically verified, confirmed in clinical studies, or accepted by regulatory authorities
Wolfberry nutrition information shows that it contains significant percentages of a day’s macronutrient needs including 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 (kilo)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 (below), lutein, lycopene and cryptoxanthin, a xanthophyll
numerous phenolic pigments (phenols) associated with antioxidant properties
Select examples given below are for 100 grams of dried berries.
Calcium. Wolfberries contain 112 mg per 100 gram serving, providing about 8-10% of the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI).
Potassium. Wolfberries contain 1,132 mg per 100 grams dried fruit, giving about 24% of the DRI.
Iron. Wolfberries have 9 mg iron per 100 grams (100% DRI).
Zinc. 2 mg per 100 grams dried fruit (18% DRI).
Selenium. 100 grams of dried wolfberries contain 50 micrograms (91% DRI)
Riboflavin (vitamin B2). At 1.3 mg, 100 grams of dried wolfberries provide 100% of DRI.
Vitamin C. Vitamin C content in dried wolfberries has a wide range (from different sources) from 29 mg per 100 grams to as high as 148 mg per 100 grams (respectively, 32% and 163% DRI).
Wolfberries also contain numerous phytochemicals for which there are no established DRI values. Examples:
Beta-carotene: 7 mg per 100 grams dried fruit.
Zeaxanthin. Reported values for zeaxanthin content in dried wolfberries vary considerably, from 25 mg per 100 grams to 200 mg per 100 grams. The higher values would make wolfberry one of the richest edible plant sources known for zeaxanthin content. Up to 77% of total carotenoids present in wolfberry exist as zeaxanthin.
Polysaccharides. Polysaccharides are a major constituent of wolfberries, representing up to 31% of pulp weight.
We hope you found this wolfberry nutrition information interesting.