Goji berries are deciduous, perennial, evergreen, woody shrubs that grow mainly in subtropical and temperate regions in China and the sheltered valleys of the Himalayan regions of Tibet and Mongolia.
Most of the fruits sold outside the fruit growing regions are dried, for goji berries are very delicate and can get damaged quickly. The two species from which goji berries are got are Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense.
These round reddish-orange berries must be carefully shaken from the vines on to sheets ad then gathered. Slow drying in mild sunshine or shade preserves the nutrients in goji berries.
Dried berries have a longer shelf-life. Goji berries have been used extensively in Chinese medicine for centuries and are called the ‘happy fruit’ or ‘longevity fruit’.
In China, the bark and leaves are also used for medicinal purposes and to make goji tea. The Chinese use it to treat liver and kidney problems, boost sexual functioning and immune system, and improve circulation and eyesight.
People are constantly looking for new foods to improve quality of life. Goji berries are considered the next ‘superfood’ and the product that is most commonly available is the ‘Himalayan Goji Berry’.
We can find these fruits in health food stores, Chinese food stores and online catalogues.
Benefits of Himalayan goji berries
Himalayan goji berries are also called Tibetan goji berries and their status as a ‘superfruit’ is based on the claims made about their benefits for various organs of the body.
Since people who live in the Himalayan regions where it is grown live for very long, this fruit is often touted to have marvelous anti-aging properties.
In fact there are unproven claims that a Chinese herbalist who ate this fruit every day lived to be 252 years. This has excited many people about the health benefits of Himalayan goji berries although there is no substantial scientific proof about its purported health benefits.
Himalayan goji berries cannot be got fresh outside their growing region. Instead, we can get dried Himalayan goji berries that resemble raisins, juices, capsules or powdered berries.
They can be used in various recipes. Himalayan goji berries are said to treat hypertension, diabetes, cancer, fever, malaria, etc.
Nutrient-rich Himalayan goji berries provide us with more vitamin C than oranges, more iron than spinach and more beta-carotene levels than carrots.
It is one of the best sources of antioxidants for it is rich in carotenoids like zeaxanthin and beta-carotene. Antioxidants can fight free radicals, boost immune system and prevent age-related eye disorders like macular degeneration and cataracts.
It also contains 18 amino acids of which 8 are essential. Essential amino acids are not produced by the body and must be got from foods.
Vitamins C, E, A, B1, B2 and B6, essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega 6, 21 trace minerals such as iron, copper, zinc, selenium, germanium, phosphorous and calcium are all present in Himalayan goji berries.
These fruits are said to possess anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity or ORAC rating measures antioxidants in various foods. This gives Himalayan goji berries the 1st rank which means it is a powerful anti-aging food.
Carotenoids found in Himalayan goji berries can reduce the risk of macular degeneration that can cause permanent vision loss in the elderly.
Another study found that these nutrients can treat glaucoma which also causes blindness. Dietary intake of Himalayan goji berries reduces intraocular pressure in the eyes and this prevents retinal ganglion cell loss. This is a major risk factor that causes glaucoma.
Dietary antioxidants found in Himalayan goji berries protect the body from free radicals that affect healthy cells and increase the risk of cancer and heart diseases.
Beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium, vitamins A, C and E are the primary antioxidants which are all found in Himalayan goji berries.
Himalayan goji berries can also protect the nervous system from homocysteine damage. This is one cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Goji berries improve brain functioning and therefore reduce the risk of contracting such diseases.
Precautions while using Himalayan goji berries
Himalayan Goji berries could cause side effects in those with pollen allergies. Goji berries must be avoided when taking blood thinners like warfarin and when on blood pressure or diabetic drugs.
When using these as herbal supplements, always consult your doctor.
Another precaution we need to exercise is to ensure the product we purchase is authentic. Most goji berry products sold in the market are under the name of ‘Himalayan’ or ‘Tibetan’ goji berries.
Very often unscrupulous marketers sell goji berries under these brands although they may not be from this region. Sometimes the goji berry juice sold also contains very little of the product, containing more of flavors, citric acid and preservatives. So, make sure you get the product from reliable manufacturers only.