Goji Berries: The Sweet Secret to Longevity

What if you could treat hypertension, lower cholesterol, and prevent age related blindness not with a bottle of pills but with some dried berries in your morning cereal? Could a handful of berries a day be the secret to a long and healthy life? Chinese herbalists have known the power of goji berries for years, and finally North Americans are starting to reap the benefits of this tiny powerhouse.

In 1933 Li Qing Yuen, Chinese herbalist and Gong-fu master, stole the public spotlight when his obituary was published in The New York Times (6). Li Qing Yuen’s claim to fame: he lived to be a shocking 256 years of age! The life of Li Qing Yuen (1678-1930) is the most well-documented case of extreme longevity known, with his secret being the daily consumption of a medical soup containing goji berries (5). Could goji be the key to a long and healthy life even today? It’s proven health benefits seem to support this possibility.

Goji has been used in traditional Tibetan medicine for thousands of years; eaten raw, brewed into tea, added to soups, or made into liquid extracts. For centuries the chinese have used this powerful berry to treat many health conditions, including cancer and hypertension, and of course revering it for it’s role in promoting longevity (2). Recent research has further confirmed these claims, with a study published in 1994 in the Journal of Oncology concluding that cancer patients responded better to treatment when goji was added to their regimen (1). The goji berry has been found to be a rich source of antioxidants, and it’s the powerful carotenoids in particular that have been shown to have cancer preventative properties (3). These high antioxidant levels, which are higher than all other common fruits and vegetables (four times that of blueberries), have been shown in preliminary research to reduce cholesterol and lower blood sugar levels (6)(3). Perhaps the most exciting health benefit of the goji berry is its ability to protect visual health. It’s high content of zeaxanthin contributes to maintaining healthy vision by protecting the retina and reducing the risk of developing age related macular degeneration (1). Extremely nutrient dense, gram for gram these amazing berries also contain more vitamin C than oranges and more beta-carotene than carrots! (10).

You can take advantage of these health benefits by eating the raw or cooked berries, drinking goji berry juice, or taking goji berry extract (4). The majority of commercially-harvested goji berries come from China, and are dried to sell as a health food or in medicine. When dried these vaguely sweet berries taste like a cross between a raisin and a cherry, and are sold at health food stores in Canada for around $10.99 for a 100-gram bag. Wild goji berries grow on an evergreen shrub in temperate and subtropical regions in China, Mongolia, and Tibet (1). The plants are very hardy, and have been grown successfully in a variety of conditions ranging from the extreme rugged Himalayan mountains to the searing hot Arizona desert (5). Two years after cultivation the plants will begin to yield berries, with full maturity reached after 4-5 years (9). The only commercial producer of goji berries in eastern Canada are V & M Szuckso farms in Norfolk County. A fan of the dried berries, Mary Szuckso was interested in trying a fresh one. After discovering that the plants are well suited for the climate and soil in her area she found a distributor of the plant and soon planted 2 acres . Three years after planting they are already enjoying the harvested fruit! (7). It has been reported anecdotally that hobby gardeners across Canada, from BC to Quebec, have had great success at growing goji berries from seedlings, cuttings, and seeds. It appears that the versatility of goji makes it well suited for the variety of climates Canada has to offer (8).

Filled with nutrients, and offering a high dose of antioxidants, these small himalayan berries may soon be the most popular superfood available. A dose of goji a day may in fact keep the doctor away!

References:
1. “What are Goji Berries?”. About.com. http://altmedicine.about.com/od/completeazindex/a/goji.htm (20/05/2012).
2. “Premium Goji Berries”. Aviva. http://www.aviva.ca/shop/products.asp?itemid=1354&catid=225 (20/05/2012).
3. “Getting Juiced”. CBC News Marketplace. http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/webextras/goji/berries.html?goji (21/05/2012).
4. “The benefits of goji berry consumption has recently become popular out of a wide variety of ancient Chinese longevity secrets”. Secrets of Longevity. http://www.secrets-of-longevity-in-humans.com/benefits-of-goji-berry.html (21/05/2012).
5. “Goji Berries: What are they good for?”. Oak Park Chiropractic Care. http://ability-healthcare.com/blog/holistichealth/goji-berries- (23/05/2012).
6. “What is Goji Berry?”. Chinese-green-teas.com. http://chinese-green-teas.com/goji_berry.html (24/05/2012).
7. “Goji Ontario”. V & M Szucsko Farms LTD. http://www.gojiontario.com/index.php. (25/05/2012).
8. “Has anyone grown goji berries?”. UBC Botanical Garden Forums. http://www.botanicalgarden.ubc.ca/forums/showthread.php?t=31203 (24/05/2012).
9. “Goji Berry Planting Instructions”. Ehow. http://www.ehow.com/way_5553806_goji-berry-planting-instructions.html (21/05/2012).
10. “Top 10 superfoods: Goji berries, cinnamon, tumeric and more”. Canadian Living. http://www.canadianliving.com/health/nutrition/top_10_superfoods_goji_berries_cinnamon_turmeric_and_more.php (21/05/2012).

Katan Kitchens is as much a personal passion, as a professional venture for Jamie. Having suffered through a ‘health crisis’ in 2007, he has spent the past several years using his research and chemistry/environmental science education towards understanding the role of diet in health; with a focus on SuperFoods for individuals with allergies, intolerances and indigestion. Follow Jamie on Twitter @Katankitchens, or on his blog at katan.ca/blog/

- Jamie Draves, founder of Katan Kitchens