There’s no doubt that the improvements in transportation methods over the last few decades have opened up a whole world of new foods. My dad used to work in fruit and veg and he often speaks about seasonal fruit as well as that many of the foods we take for granted today weren’t easily available twenty or thirty years ago. One of the new foods, that really isn’t new at all, that is now easily available are goji berries. But what are they and why should we eat them?
Meet the goji berries
Goji berries are also known as wolfberries among a big list of other names. Their Latin name is Lycium barbarum and they are the berries of a woody perennial plant that is found primarily in North China. The plant produced bright orange-red coloured berries that have been used in traditional Chinese medicine practises going back thousands of years, though the English word ‘goji’ is a fairly recent tag given to the berries based on the Chinese name for them.
While a seemingly recent addition to our food counters, the berries have actually been known in the UK as far back as the 1730s, when the Duke of Argyll brought the plant for hedging in coastal areas. It became known as the Duke of Argyll’s Tea Tree and its berries were popular with the local birds. It is still found in British hedgerows today, including near Ipswich.
Before we start, let’s remind ourselves that these health benefits are what people have reported rather than scientifically proven, so please remember this. However, there are a number of claims surrounding the benefits of the berries that makes them worth adding to your diet – plus they are low in calories, which is something many people use as a guideline for goodness.
As with most berries, goji berries are full of vitamins as well as anti-oxidants, both of which help overall health. They are high in levels of a specific anti-oxidant called zeaxanthin, also found in saffron and bell peppers, that gives them their colour. It also helps to protect against the natural break down of cells when exposed to radiation and smoke. Some people have also reported that they can help with the inflammation caused by arthritis.
They are high in vitamin C as well as in fibre and have around 20 different trace minerals in each little berry. Some sources say they have as much as 15 times the iron found in spinach as well as calcium, zinc and selenium. They also contain beta-carotene which is connected with a healthy glow and good skin condition.
Their complex carbohydrates raise blood sugar slowly so there’s no big sugar rush and craft when eating them. While this doesn’t automatically mean you lose weight, it can assist in weight loss by helping you to have tasty, healthy snacks.
Eating goji berries
It is possible to grow your own goji berries in a lot of places as the bush is relatively simple to grow. The most common way to buy goji berries is dried and they store for a long time this way. To rehydrate them, just soak them in water for 15-20 minutes and they are ready to go.
I’m a smoothie fan, so the easiest way to eat these berries for me is in a smoothie. There are some great recipes on Pinterest including a tasty one that combines a banana, 1 ½ cups of mixed berries, ¼ cup goji berries then adds 1 cup of milk or almond milk, one tablespoon of honey or agave nectary and 1 cup of Greek or coconut yoghurt. The result is a very tasty, very goodness-filled smoothie.
Another popular menu idea for the berries is to use them in cereal, oatmeal or with yoghurt. You could also mix them with dark chocolate and your favourite nuts for a trail mix idea. Their sweet but slightly herby taste means they go well with pork or turkey and the vitamin C content also aids digestion of the iron in the meat.
So far, there seems to be a potential interaction between the berries and a blood thinner called Warfarin that means if you are taking the drug, best to avoid the berries. There is also a chance that they might interfere with diabetes and blood pressure drugs, so chat with your doctor or pharmacist before snacking on these red berries, just to be safe.