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Presented by: UT El Paso / Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program & Paso del Norte Health Foundation

Goji


Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD.

Scientific Name:

Lycium barbarum

Botanical Family:

Solanaceae

Other Common Name:

Matrimony vine, Chinese wolfberry, Tibetan goji berry, Gou Qi Zi.
Another closely related species, L. chinense Mill., is also used therapeutically.

Where is it found?

Tibet, Mongolia, and China.

Parts of the plant used:

Fruit (berry), root bark, and sometimes the leaves.

How is it used?

The berries can be eaten alone, but are also processed into juices and tablets. The leaves are a tea substitute.
The fruit has a mildly sweet licorice-type flavor and may be eaten raw or cooked. Only the fully ripe fruits should be eaten, as the unripe fruits could theoretically be toxic (Small, 2012). The root bark is known in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as Di Gu Pi and Gou Qi Gen Pi.
The Goji plant is used as a tonic, against coughs, as well as bleeding disorders (Wagner et al., 2011). Animal studies have shown the Lycium root bark has antibiotic actions as well as the potential to lower blood pressure (Tang and Eisenbrand, 2011).

What is it used for?

The whole plant (leaves, berry and root bark) has a long history of medicinal use in China and other parts of the Orient, both as a general, energy restoring tonic and also to cure a wide range of ailments from skin rashes and eyesight problems, hypertension, and diabetes (Chen and Chen, 2004; Tang and Eisenbrand, 2011; Duke and Ayensu, 1996).
The fruit of many members of the genus Lycium is a very rich source of vitamins and minerals, especially in vitamins A, C and E, flavonoids as well as carotene, riboflavin, ascorbic acid, thiamine, nicotinic acid, betaine, coumarin, zeaxanthin, cryptoxanthin, among other compounds. (Wagner et al., 2011).
Go ji is valued in Chinese traditional medicine for its benefits to anti-aging, vision, kidney and liver (Tang and Eisenbrand, 2011; Yang, 2010a,b; Bensky and Gamble, 2005; Duke and Ayensu, 1996).
Studies show that extracts from L. barbarum possess biological activities including anti-aging, anti-tumor, immune-stimulatory effects, as well as protecting cells from free-radical damage. Most of the studies emphasized that the protective function of a L. barbarum is due to its anti-oxidant effects (Tang and Eisenbrand, 2011; Luo et al., 2009; Yu, 2006).
In animal studies, both Lycium barbarum and L. chinense have been shown to lower blood glucose levels, improve glucose tolerance, and reduce fatigue. The active ingredients in the plant also have lipid (fat) modifying effects such as decreased total cholesterol and triglycerides, and increased high-density lipoprotein or HDL (Tang and Eisenbrand, 2011; Luo et al., 2004).
Laboratory (in vitro) analysis of Go ji fruits showed that multiple active ingredients are responsible for its antioxidant properties (Tang and Eisenbrand, 2011; Forino et al., 2015).
Natural antioxidants theoretically have the potential for use in retarding the aging process and preventing damage to the nervous system in Alzheimer’s disease (Tang and Eisenbrand, 2011; Wagner et al., 2011).
Laboratory studies undertaken in animals have shown that Go ji berry possesses antitumor effects and stimulates the immune system. Further clinical research is needed in order to establish this herb’s usefulness in the treatment of certain types of cancer and rheumatoid arthritis (Liu et al., 2015; Li et al., 2014; Xiao et al., 2014; Tang and Eisenbrand, 2011; Luo et al., 2009; Halstead and Holcom-Halstead, 2005).
The active ingredients in the Goji berry may also protect the liver and kidney from certain toxins due to its content of natural antioxidants (Xiao et al., 2014; Wagner et al., 2011; Jung et al., 2005; Wu et al., 2004).
A decoction made from the fruits is used to lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels and seems to act principally on the liver and kidneys. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the fruit is taken internally for the treatment of high blood pressure, diabetes, poor eyesight, vertigo (dizziness), lumbago (lower back pain), impotence (erectile dysfunction) and menopausal complaints (Tang and Eisenbrand, 2011; Luo et al., 2004; Wagner et al., 2011; Li, 2006).
The fruit is harvested when ripe and is dried for later use. The root bark is a bitter, cooling, antibacterial herb that is used to treat coughs and lower fevers, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels (Tang and Eisenbrand, 2011; Wagner et al., 2011; Luo et al., 2004 ).
Goji’s various active ingredients also possess important antibacterial and antifungal effects (Tang and Eisenbrand, 2011; Lee et al., 2004).
The Go ji berry and root bark are taken internally in the treatment of chronic fevers, internal hemorrhages, nosebleeds, tuberculosis, coughs and asthma. The root bark has diuretic, hypotensive, and antidiabetic actions (Tang and Eisenbrand, 2011; Wagner et al., 2011).
Further studies are needed on the mechanisms of Goji’s effects, and additional studies are needed to determine its clinical usefulness in humans.

Safety / Precautions

  • Products made from Go ji have not been thoroughly evaluated in pregnancy and lactation.
  • Avoid eating the unripe berries due to their potential toxicity (see above).
  • Potential herb-drug interactions may exist certain medications known as blood thinners, such as Coumadin® (warfarin), for example, which may increase bleeding (Lam et al., 2001).
  • Limited studies in humans show that the root bark may be of therapeutic value in the treatment of diabetes. For this reason, caution should be exercised if taking root bark preparations along with medications to treat diabetes.
  • Commercially available products containing Go ji berry juice may also contain orange or grape juice, which are usually high in sugar.

Before you decide to take any medicinal herb or herbal supplement, be sure to consult with a health care professional first. Avoid self-medication and self-diagnosis: Always be on the safe side!

References:

Bensky D, Gamble A. Chinese Herbal Medicine, Materia Medica, 3 rd ed.
Seattle,WA: Eastland Press; 2005; pp. 79-80.

Du X, Wang J, Niu X, Smith D, Wu D, Meydani SN. Dietary wolfberry supplementation enhances the protective effect of flu vaccine against influenza challenge in aged mice.
J Nutr. 2014; 144(2):224-9. doi: 10.3945/jn.113.183566.

Duke J, Ayensu E. Medicinal Plants of China. 2 Vols.
Algonac, MI: Reference Publications; 1985; pp. 607-608.

Forino M, Tartaglione L, Dell'Aversano C, Ciminiello P. NMR-based identification of the phenolic profile of fruits of Lycium barbarum (goji berries). Isolation and structural determination of a novel N-feruloyl tyramine dimer as the most abundant antioxidant polyphenol of goji berries. Food Chem. 2016;194:1254-9. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2015.08.129.

Jung K, Chin YW, Kim YC, Kim J. Potentially hepatoprotective glycolipid constituents of Lycium chinense fruits.
Arch Pharm Res. 2005; 28(12):1381-5.

Halstead B, Holcom-Halstead T. The Scientific Basis of Chinese Integrative Cancer Therapy.
Berkely, CA: North Atlantic Books; 2005; pp. 125, 246.

Lam AY, Elmer GW, Mohutsky MA. Possible interaction between warfarin and Lycium barbarum L. Ann.Pharmacother. 2001;35:1199-201.

Lee DG, Park Y, Kim MR et al. Anti-fungal effects of phenolic amides isolated from the root bark of Lycium chinense. Biotechnol Lett. 2004; 26(14):1125-30.

Li. T. Taiwanese Native Medicinal Plants.
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2006; p.66.

Li J, Pan L, Naman CB, Deng Y, Chai H, Keller WJ, Kinghorn AD. Pyrrole alkaloids with potential cancer chemopreventive activity isolated from a goji berry-contaminated commercial sample of African mango. J Agric Food Chem. 2014 ;62(22):5054-60. doi: 10.1021/jf500802x.

Liu Y, Lv J, Yang B, Liu F, Tian Z, Cai Y, Yang D, Ouyang J, Sun F, Shi Y, Xia P. Lycium barbarum polysaccharide attenuates type II collagen-induced arthritis in mice.
Int J Biol Macromol. 2015; 78:318-23. doi: 10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2015.04.025.

Luo Q, Li Z, Yan J, Zhu F, Xu RJ, Cai YZ. Lycium barbarum polysaccharides induce apoptosis in human prostate cancer cells and inhibits prostate cancer growth in a xenograft mouse model of human prostate cancer. J Med Food. 2009;12(4):695-703. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2008.1232.

Luo Q, Cai Y, Yan J, Sun M, Corke H. Hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic effects and antioxidant activity of fruit extracts from Lycium barbarum. Life Sci. 2004;76(2):137-49.

Small E. Top 100 Exotic Food Plants.
Boca Raton, FL; CRC Press; 2012; pp. 249-253.

Tang W, Eisenbrand G. Handbook of Chinese Medicinal Plants Vol. 2.
New York: Wiley; 2011; pp. 727-734.

Wagner H, Bauer R, Melchart D, Xiao P, Staudinger A. Chromatographic Fingerprint Analysis of Herbal Medicines, 2nd ed. Vol. 2. New York: SpringerWiene; 2011.

Wu SJ, Ng LT, Lin CC. Antioxidant activities of some common ingredients of traditional chinese medicine, Angelica sinensis, Lycium barbarum and Poria cocos. Phytother Res. 2004; 18(12):1008-12.

Xiao J, Zhu Y, Liu Y, Tipoe GL, Xing F, So KF. Lycium barbarum polysaccharide attenuates alcoholic cellular injury through TXNIP-NLRP3 inflammasome pathway.
Int J Biol Macromol. 2014;69:73-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2014.05.034

Yang Y. Chinese Herbal Formulas: Treatment Principles and Composition Strategies. London: Churchill-Livingstone; 2010a; p.151.

Yang Y. Chinese Herbal Medicines: Comparisons and Characteristics 2nd ed.
London: Churchill-Livingstone; 2010b; p.171.

Yu MS, Ho YS, So KF et al. Cytoprotective effects of Lycium barbarum against reducing stress on endoplasmic reticulum. Int J Mol Med. 2006; 17(6):1157-61.