You may have seen these small red berries on the healthier shelves of your supermarket, but have you ever tasted them?
Goji berries are the fruits of the Chinese wolfberry boxthorn shrubs (Lycium chinense or Lycium barbarum). They have a longstanding history in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where they are used to improve vision and strengthen the liver and kidneys.
Chinese mothers tell their children that if they eat goji berries, they will not need eyeglasses. Is that true?
Find out more about these small but potent fruits and the science behind their remarkable benefits on eye health and the rest of the body.
What Makes Goji Berries So Healthy?
Goji berries are one of the richest natural sources of essential nutrients including vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, B6, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids.
They contain phytochemicals, highly beneficial compounds such as polysaccharides, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. They pack impressive quantities of zeaxanthin, have more iron than spinach, and are a rich source of beta-carotene, an essential antioxidant.
Beta-carotene gives goji berries their color and is essential for eye health and cell development. These berries have one of the highest contents of beta-carotene of all edible plants.
The primary active components in Goji berries are L. barbarum polysaccharides (LBPs) which have been associated with a host of health benefits. We’ll talk more about these in a bit.
Brief History of Goji Berries
Goji berries have been used as a food and supplement for at least 3,000 years. The wolfberry plant from which goji berries are harvested is one of the highlights of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
The goji berry plant is considered to have a “calm nature” and a “sweet flavor,” with particular effects on the liver, kidneys, and eye function. In TCM, goji berries are dried in the sun and eaten whole, added to hot pots, soups, and tea, soaked in wines, or powdered. The bark, shoots, leaves, and flowers of the wolfberry plant are also used in TCM.
Goji berries grow across China, with regions such as Ningxia Province especially famed for cultivating the fruit. The use of the berries in this region has been recorded in the Shijing poems dating back to the 11th century BC.
In the most important pharmacopeia written on Traditional Chinese Medicine, the 16th-century Compendium of Materia Medica, the goji berry is one of the most notable entries.
The oldest book on Chinese herbs, the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing also lists the goji plant among the most beneficial plants for humans with effects including strengthening the body and prolonging life.
TCM practitioners use Goji berries to treat yin deficiency and qi stagnation as well as blurry vision and other eye-related illnesses, fatigue, dry cough, and headache. They also use it as a Yin tonic to enrich the liver.
The BBC refers to goji as “the berry that keeps Asia looking young,” a reference to the belief that goji berries may slow the process of aging.
Goji berries also appear in the formulations taken by the legendary Qin dynasty emperor Shihuangdi, who had searched for a potion that would make him immortal.
In the West, the Lyceum barbarum plant was introduced in the 1730s by the Scottish Duke of Argyll. The name “goji” is a more recent invention, though, having been in use only since around 2000. It’s an approximation of “gǒuqǐ”, the Chinese pronunciation of the Lycium chinense.
Top Health Benefits of Goji Berries Backed by Science
Goji fruits may be small, but every berry packs zeaxanthin, lutein, Vitamin A, polysaccharides, and amino acids, all of which are associated with health benefits.
1. Protect the Lens and Retina
Goji berries are the richest natural source of the antioxidant zeaxanthin, which protects the crystalline lens and the retina against UV light and oxidative damage.
A 90-day study in older adults found that a formulation with goji berries helped protect the macula, the part of the retina responsible for color vision and visual details.
Tip: Just three spoonfuls of goji berries provide the minimum recommended daily dose of 3 mg zeaxanthin.
2. Protect Your Eyes Against Sunlight Damage and Cataracts
Goji berries also contain the carotenoid lutein, a color pigment in the macula and retina. Ensuring that you get enough lutein every day will help protect your eyes from UV radiation.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends a daily intake of 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin to neutralize oxidative damage, filter blue light reaching the eye, and reduce the risk of cataracts.
Good to know: 100 grams of goji berries provide up to 5.7 mg of lutein.
3. Support Eye Health
Just 28 grams of dried gojis provide up to five times the daily recommended intake of Vitamin A.
Vitamin A is one of the most important antioxidants for eye health. It supports the functioning of the cornea, the outside covering of the eye, and is necessary for the formation of the photopigment rhodopsin in the retina. Rhodopsin plays a crucial role in color vision and low-light vision.
The AOA recommends a daily intake of 400 to 700 mcg of Vitamin A to support eye health.
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4. May Protect Against Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration causes the thinning of the part of the retina responsible for clear vision. Symptoms include blurry vision, glare sensitivity, and difficulty reading. It usually affects people over 50.
Research related to early macular degeneration showed that daily goji berry supplements increased macular pigment density, which may protect against the progression of the condition.
5. May Protect Against Diabetes-Related Eye Damage
Diabetic retinopathy is the primary cause of blindness in adults between the age of 20 and 74. The culprit is high blood sugar, which may also cause blurry vision, cataracts, and glaucoma.
Goji berries have protective effects on diabetic retinopathy. What’s more, the polysaccharides in goji berries (LBPs) may help balance blood sugar levels while also reducing damage in ocular diseases.
Another active component in goji berries, taurine, has been shown to hinder the progress of diabetic retinopathy.
Studies also indicate that goji berries could protect the retina from glaucoma, a condition that causes irreversible vision loss.
6. May Help Manage High Blood Sugar Levels
Managing blood sugar levels is crucial for people with type 2 diabetes to reduce their risk of suffering serious eye health diseases.
A small but promising study suggests that Goji berries could form part of a diabetes treatment to balance insulin and blood sugar levels in the blood while improving HDL levels (good cholesterol).
7. May Reduce the Risk of High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure may damage the eye and cause vision loss. This study on older adults found that dry goji berries reduced the effects of lipid peroxidation, a process associated with hypertension.
Goji berries also lower the risk of hypertension by reducing cholesterol.
8. Provide Full Spectrum Amino Acids
Good news for vegans: goji berries contain 18 amino acids, including 8 essential amino acids.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They play an important role in maintaining the health of most organs of the body, including the eyes.
Goji berries provide vegans with the amino acids they may not get otherwise through their diet.
9. May Also Protect the Brain
Glutamate toxicity has been associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s which can affect vision.
10. May Have Cancer Benefits
The powerful mix of antioxidants in goji berries may also inhabit or slow tumor growth and improve the body’s defense mechanisms against cancer.
More research is needed to understand the link between these berries and cancer protection, but preliminary results look promising.
11.Promote Skin Health
Goji berries are one of the richest natural sources of beta-carotene, an ingredient used in skin creams to reduce irritation, protect against UV damage, and reduce the effects of aging.
An animal study found that goji berry juice protected the skin against UV radiation. Eating the fruits dried or taking a goji berries supplement may provide similar benefits.
12.Improve Energy and Alleviates Depression
Vision is a crucial part of our identity. Experiencing vision problems may lower energy and make you feel depressed.
A study in the US found that goji berry juice can boost energy and improve mood. Further animal studies have found that goji berries improve anxiety and depression in mice.
This makes them a food you want to consider adding to your diet if you are concerned about your eye health.
13.Contribute to Liver Health
Research on animals suggests that goji berries may help prevent the progression of liver disease caused by alcohol. It may also contribute to general liver health.
This finding is in keeping with the way goji berries and supplements derived from them are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
How to Add Goji Berries to Your Diet
The slightly sweet taste of goji berries makes them a versatile ingredient in the kitchen. You can use them for sweet dishes, savory ones, healthy homemade snacks, and more.
Good to know: Just five tablespoons of dried goji berries (28 grams) are highly nutritious, packing 4 grams of protein, 3.6 grams of fiber, and 21.6 grams of carbs.
Goji berries can be dried, soaked, or powdered. Here are some of the best ways to use them.
- Eat a handful a day raw for breakfast or as a snack
- Add goji berries to soup – the Chinese do it all the time
- Use them as a topping over sweet dishes
- Mix into baked goods such as muffins and scones
- Sprinkle over rice porridge or oats to add color and sweetness
- Use them instead of raisins
- Add them to your homemade healthy granola bars
- Mix them with breakfast cereals or muesli
- Swamp them for other dried fruits in yogurt
- Mix them with nuts and seeds to create a trail mix for when you hike, go camping, go for a long run, or do an intense workout
- Add them to vanilla ice-cream
- Make some goji berry tea – simmer 25 grams of dried goji berries in water and enjoy!
You can soak goji berries for a few minutes in a bowl with water to soften them. You can then add your soaked goji berries to:
- Fruit salads
Tip: Don’t forget to try goji berry juice. Make sure to look for 100% goji juice.
You can also find dried goji berries as powder—or make some yourself at home.
- Add goji berries powder to sauces
- Blend it with other fruits into delicious smoothies
- Mix it with herbs and olive oil to make salad dressings
Tip: Goji berry supplements can help you maximize the health benefits these fruits provide by featuring extracts mixed with other carefully chosen plants such as dwarf lilyturf.
Tips When Buying and Storying Goji Berries
Goji berries are more widely available than they have ever been, but it’s important to pay attention to what you buy.
- Look for goji berries without added sugar or preservatives, especially sulfur dioxide.
- Crunchiness is a bad sign. The best goji berries are dry but with a soft bite.
- Store in an airtight container in a cool shaded place. Well stored goji berries can keep well for up to a year.
- Keep away from moisture or they may clump. You don’t have to refrigerate them.
When to Avoid Goji Berries
Goji berries are safe to eat for most people. However, they may interact with blood thinners, diabetes drugs, or blood pressure medication. If you are taking any of these drugs, talk to your doctor.
You should also be careful about goji berries supplements if you are pregnant, as goji berries contain a compound that may harm fetal health.
How to Grow Goji Berries at Home
You can grow the goji plant at home without too much trouble. Growing goji berries from bare-root plants is easier and faster than growing them from seed, which can take three years before producing fruit.
- Plant wolfberry in early spring.
- Pick a sunny spot as goji berry plants need full sun, though they can tolerate partial shade.
- Add some compost or specially formulated matter to the soil before planting.
Tip: You can keep a goji berry plant in a pot on the windowsill until it reaches 6 inches and then transplant it in your garden.
- Soak the bare root in water for 15 minutes before planting.
- Dig a root twice the size of the ball, ensuring its top is level with the root ball. Spread out the roots before covering and tamping down the ground.
- You’ll need soil with a pH between 6.5 and 8. Measure the soil pH before planting as this is crucial to growing a fruitful plant.
- Space bushes 5 feet apart so that you’ll be able to harvest your crop without bothering the plants.
- Set up a trellis to support the growing plants and improve air circulation. Goji plants can grow up to 13 feet tall with a 4-feet spread. Simple wooden stakes will do, provided you tie the stronger canes to them.
- Water deeply and don’t let the soil become too dry. Keep the plant moist but not wet, watering it up to two inches of water every week.
- Don’t give it any fertilizer—it doesn’t need it!
Good to know: You’ll get some fruit in the first year, and a full crop in the second.
- Don’t prune in the first year, but prone secondary shoot in the second year.
- After the plant is two feet tall, pinch the growing tips in summer to encourage fruit growth.
- Thin out branches after berry season.
- Harvest and enjoy!
Tip: You can also grow a small goji berry plant in a pot.
Edible Red Diamonds
In China, goji berries are sometimes called red diamonds—that’s how precious they are considered.
Adding them to your diet has never been easier, and their pleasantly tart, slightly sweet taste means you don’t have to make any compromises about taste or flavor.
Don’t forget that you can also take a goji berries supplement formulated with other active ingredients for even better eye health protection.
Even if you don’t have vision problems, your eyes may be under constant stress. Screens, UV radiation, and everyday dietary choices may all take their toll on your eyes.
Goji berries are one of the key ingredients in SightC, our vision health supplement informed by 30 years of clinical experience in treating patients with vision issues.
Alongside goji berries, it brings together turmeric, Cherokee rose, Chinese yams and other ingredients that together provide a rich dose of antioxidants and other key nutrients your eyes need.
Discover SightC, the goji berry supplement for healthy vision support.