Goji berries (Gǒu Qǐ Zi) in Chinese medicine

Goji berries

Chinese: 枸杞子

Pinyin: Gǒu Qǐ Zi

Parts used: Dried ripe fruit

TCM category: Tonic herbs for Yin Deficiency

TCM nature: Neutral

TCM taste(s): Sweet

Meridian affinity: KidneyLiver

Scientific name: Lycium barbarum

Other names: Wolfberry, Lycium chinense, Gou Qi Zi, Lycii berry

Use of goji berries (Gǒu Qǐ Zi) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitionner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Pick the fruit when it is ripe, remove the stem and dry in the shade until wrinkles appear.

Dosage: 2 to 4 fruits

Main actions according to TCM*: Tonifies the Yin of the Liver and Yin of the Kidneys. Brightens the eyes. Moistens the Lungs.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which goji berries may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Knee pain Tinnitus Diabetes Anemia Impaired vision

Contraindications*: Should not be used by those with patterns of Heat and Excess, nor should it be used when there is Spleen Deficiency with Dampness or loose stools. Unidentified Goji berry phytochemicals may inhibit metabolism of other medications, such as those processed by the cytochrome P450 liver enzymes. Such drugs include Warfarin, or drugs for diabetes or hypertension.

Common TCM formulas in which goji berries are used*:

Key TCM concepts behind goji berries' properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), goji berries are plants that belong to the 'Tonic herbs for Yin Deficiency' category. Tonic herbs are used for patterns of Deficiency, when one lacks one of the 'Four Treasures' (Qi, Blood, Yin and Yang). Yin tonics have a heavy, moist nature. They either nourish the Kidneys and Liver or moisten the Lungs and Stomach. Extreme Yin Deficiency often translates into a 'burn-out', unfortunately more and more common among people today. It is worth mentioning that another great remedy against Yin Deficiency is a lot of rest and sleep; no herb will ever be able to replace this!

Furthermore goji berries are plants that are Neutral in nature. This means that goji berries typically don't affect the balance in your body. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Eating too many "Hot" (Yang) ingredients can lead to an imbalance whereby one has a Yang excess. The inverse is true as well: too many "Cold" (Yin) ingredients can lead to a Yin excess. The Neutral nature of goji berries means that you don't have to worry about that!

Goji berries also taste Sweet. The so-called "five elements" theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Sweet ingredients like goji berries tend to slow down acute reactions and detoxify the body. They also have a tonic effect because they replenish Qi and Blood.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what organs and meridians they target. As such goji berries are thought to target the Kidney and the Liver. According to TCM, the Kidneys do not only regulate the urinary system but also play a key role in the reproductive system and the growth and aging process of the body. The Liver on the other hand is often referred as the body's "general" because it is in charge of regulating the movements of Qi and body fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions.

Research on goji berries

Goji berries have antioxidant effects in humans1 and anti-inflammatory effects in mice2

Goji berries increase metabolic rates and reduce waist circumference3

Goji berries has a high concentration of Vitamin A, C, and E, and carotenoids, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. However more research is needed to confirm the efficacy of Goji berries for vision enhancement or prevention of vision disorders4

Sources:

1. Amaqase H, Sun B, Borek C. (2009) Lycium barbarum (goji) juice improves in vivo antioxidant biomarkers in serum of healthy adults. Nutr Res. 29(1):19-25

2. Philippe D, Brahmbhatt V, Foata F, Saudan Y, Serrant P, Blum S, Benyacoub J, Vidal K. (2012) Anti-inflammatory effects of Lacto-Wolfberry in a mouse model of experimental colitis. World J Gastroenterol 18(38):5351-9

3. Amaqase H, Nance D. (2011) Lycium barbarum increases caloric expenditure and decreases waist circumference in healthy overweight men and women: a pilot study. J Am Coll Nutr 30(5):304-9

4. Ulbricht C, Bryan J, Costa D, Culwell S, Gises N, Isaac R, Nummy K, Pham T, Rapp C, Ruise E, Weissner W, Windsor R, Woods J, Zhou S. (2015) An Research Findings-based systematic review of goji (Lycium spp.) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. J Diet Suppl. 12(2):184-240

Use of goji berries as food

Goji berries are also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Goji Berry Chickpea Salad or Goji berries granola bars.