Growing Goji Berries
For centuries, the Chinese have nibbled the bright orange-red berries of Lycium barbarum, a vining shrub native to Asia. The small, sweet fruits—known as goji berries, vitamin berries or wolfberries—are believed to improve eyesight and have been used to treat diabetes, circulatory problems and other health problems.
Are these benefits real? Researchers say the berries are high in antioxidants, proteins and complex starches that may boost the immune system. They also contain vitamin C and vitamin A compounds. While some health food advocates and alternative medicine practitioners praise them, the hard scientific evidence isn’t in yet. It’s still too soon to confirm all the claims for the berries, which have been called a superfood.
Whether or not they’re really the next big thing in nutritious eating, goji berries do make a beautiful addition to our gardens, with white, purple or lilac-colored flowers held on long, flexible, vine-like branches.
These undemanding shrubs, which are hardy in zones 5 to 9, thrive in full sun. The flowers start opening in early summer and form juicy fruits that taste somewhat bitter until they’re completely ripe. It’s best to let them stay on the vines for several weeks before harvesting.
The fruits and flowers keep coming until the first killing cold snap. If you live in a region rated colder than hardiness zone 9, you’ll need to replant each year, but otherwise, the plants should survive under a blanket of mulch.
Pests and diseases seldom bother goji plants, but birds and animals may raid the fruit. If yours start disappearing, toss netting over the shrubs to help deter hungry wildlife.
Feed the bushes with a fertilizer for woody spring-flowering plants, or use rose fertilizer. The plants are self-fruiting, so you don’t need more than one to set a berry crop.
Try your plants in containers, if space is limited. Use a pot at least 18 inches in diameter with drainage holes. Water the plants as needed when the temperatures heat up.
Goji Shrubs to Try:
- ‘Lifeberry’ matures at 5 to 7 feet high with royal-purple flowers. Although it tolerates light shade, it prefers full sun. It can withstand drought once established.
- ‘Sweet Selections’ bears tomato-red fruits and silver-blue foliage on bushes that reach 6 to 8 feet high. It will grow in alkaline soil (with a pH of 7 to 8.5), as long as the soil is well drained.
- ‘Big Lifeberry’ has a mounding or trailing habit and grows 10 to 12 feet, so stake it for easy harvesting and to keep the fruits off the ground. (The vine-like branches can get heavy when they’re loaded with fruit, so use sturdy stakes.) Hardy to zones 5 to 8, it adapts to average, well-drained soils and part to full sun. Be conservative if you trim in early spring, since the berries grow on new wood. It typically bears fewer, but larger, berries than ‘Lifeberry’.
When you’re shopping for these shrubs, you’ll find most sold simply as “goji berries” rather than by variety names.
Goji berries are good for eating fresh or cooked. To dry them, spread the berries in a single layer on some paper and keep them in a cool, dry, dim location. Then use them dried or rehydrate them with a little water or fruit juice. Be aware that the berries can interact with some drugs, and some allergy sufferers have complained of skin rashes. If you take medications or have any health concerns, check with your doctor before growing or consuming them.
Otherwise, enjoy this delicious recipe, or experiment with one of your own.
'Sweet Lifeberry' Breakfast Bars
Recipe courtesy of Proven Winners ColorChoice
- 3/4 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
- 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- 8 ounces low-fat vanilla yogurt
- 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons nonfat milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
- 3 cups old-fashioned oats
- 1 cup dried ‘Sweet Lifeberry’ goji berries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In large bowl combine sugars, yogurt, egg whites, oil, milk and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well. Stir in oats and goji berries. Spread dough onto bottom of ungreased 13" x 9" baking pan. Bake 28 to 32 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on wire rack, then cut into bars. Cover and store in a cool, dry place.