If you’ve been hip to superfoods for any length of time, you’ve probably come across goji berries—arguably one of the first far-flung foods that gave superfoods their exotic reputation.
They certainly have all the trappings of an exotic health food: they have featured prominently in Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years, and have long been the food of choice for monks high in the Himalayan mountains, who consume them to aid meditation and promote vitality and longevity. Goji berries were discussed as a superior health elixir in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, the world’s oldest extant manual on Chinese herbalism.
Some experts believe that “superfoods” have been overhyped—that they command high prices because of their exotic origin story rather than actual superiority as a health food. But goji berries have more than a romanticized history going for them: a wealth of modern studies have adequately demonstrated that their superfood title is well-deserved.
Here’s just a taste: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial (the gold standard of medical research) demonstrated that consuming goji berries on a regular basis can improve “energy levels, athletic performance, quality of sleep, ease of awakening, ability to focus on activities, mental acuity, calmness, feelings of health, contentment, happiness, fatigue, and stress.”
And believe it or not, that’s just a small sampling of the benefits offered by these miraculous little berries.
The multi-talented goji berry
Goji berries, called Lycium barbarum in scientific nomenclature (and also known as wolfberries), just might be one of the most versatile functional foods available to us. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits they have to offer, broken down into categories (so that we can better understand how they do what they do).
Antioxidant activity, detoxification, and immune support. First and foremost, goji berries are an exceptional source of antioxidants and beneficial nutrients. This may seem unimpressive, given that every superfood these days is lauded for its antioxidant content and nutrient density. But goji berries have some rare antioxidants that set them apart, as well as a rich profile of amino acids (protein) and fatty acids—an incredibly rare occurrence in fruits.
Goji berries also outperform many common fruits and veggies when it comes to vitamin content. For example, they have more beta-carotene than carrots, more iron than spinach, and 500 times more vitamin C than oranges. Needless to say, this balanced nutritional profile works wonders to strengthen the immune system and detoxification mechanisms throughout the body.
Energy and mood. All this nutrient density also translates into a serious boost for your mood and energy levels. In the study quoted earlier in this article, researchers found that participants who drank just one serving of goji berry juice daily for two weeks experienced increased energy, enhanced physical performance and recovery, increased stamina, and improved feelings of general well-being.
Disease prevention and treatment. Now that it’s proven itself as an extraordinary general health tonic, the next frontier for goji berries is the prevention and treatment of disease. Functional foods are making slow progress as legitimized treatment modalities in mainstream medicine, but the research data makes goji berries hard to ignore. These powerful berries have been used medicinally in Traditional Chinese Medicine for millennia, but only recently has peer-reviewed researched come to elevate their status from “folk remedy” to “legitimate” medicine.
Studies have demonstrated that goji berries combat infertility by balancing the hormonal system and raising levels of endogenous antioxidants in the reproductive system, protect eye health and serve as an effective treatment for glaucoma, stabilize blood sugar in those with diabetes and metabolic syndrome, and even kill skin cancer cells.
There’s no wrong way to use goji berries
Thanks to the booming popularity of goji berries as a superfood, you have plenty of choices available to you when it comes to consuming them.
You’ll rarely find them in their original form, but the vast majority of dried goji berries are sun-dried, and thus still raw (this process preserves their many fragile nutrients). Dried (raw) goji berries make an excellent snack on their own, and work just as well added to trail mixes, granolas, cereals, and smoothies. I like mine in muesli, mixed with gluten-free oats, chia seeds, and raisins, soaked overnight in homemade almond milk. While they do add a great, tangy flavor to cooking recipes, it’s important to remember that heating them will denature many of their beneficial nutrients (using them as a garnish is perhaps a better choice).
Goji berry juice, fruit “puree,” and ground goji berry seed powder are also available. All of these forms live up to the nutritional benefits of raw goji berries, though any prepared and packaged goji berry product will most likely be more expensive than bulk raw berries purchased in bulk.
Try not to worry about the price too much, though, and just go with the form of goji berries that you most enjoy integrating into your diet. They may seem a bit pricey, but for an extra $10-20 per month (the average cost of a bag), goji berries pack a powerfully healing punch.