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Di Gu Pi (Lycium barbarum)

  • Botanical name: Lycium barbarum
  • Common name: Lycium bark, Wolfberry root cortex, Matrimony vine
  • Literal name translation: earth bone bark
  • Family: Solanaceae, nightshade family
  • Part used in Chinese medicine: root bark
  • Major Chinese medicine actions:
  • Cools blood, clears deficiency heat, drains Lung heat
Lycium barbarum
Lycium barbarum
Lycium barbarum

Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Lycium barbarum;12/2006; author Paul144; permission under GFDL
Photo 2: Lycium barbarum;12/2006; author Paul144; permission under GFDL
Photo 3: Lycium barbarum; 09/2004; author TeunSpaans; permission under GFDL

Growing and Propagation

The plant can be grown as a shrub or vine, or a tree shaped shrub as described above. It can grow 6 to 8 feet tall if not pruned, and has lavender to pink flowers that bloom April to June. It does best in a cool climate with full sun and sandy soil that is moist but well drained. The plant has been found in altitudes up to 13,000 feet and is hardy to -10 degrees F, growing in USDA zones 6 to 9.

Propagation is by seed or cuttings. Cuttings should be taken from the previous years growth, in the spring before the flower buds fully develop. They are cut into 6-inch lengths and planted in a peat bed at an angle. Keeping them warm and protected until new roots are established, the plants can then be transplanted to a more permanent location. Beginning in the second year of growth when plants are 4 feet high, they can be pruned on top to encourage branching.

Harvesting and Preparation

The berries of Lycium barbarum, Gou Qi Zi, are harvested when ripe in late summer or early fall. The root bark, Di Gu Pi, is harvested in the spring or fall, though the best time is considered to be from November to the following spring. The root bark is cleaned and dried in the sun. For medicinal use, good quality Di Gu Pi consists of large, thick pieces without heartwood.

Standard Medicinal Species:
Lycium chinense
Lycium barbarum


Gou Qi Zi, or Wolfberry, is the fruit produced from 2 very closely related species, Lycium chinense and Lycium barbarum. Lycium chinense is grown in the south of China and tends to be a somewhat shorter shrub, while Lycium barbarum is grown in the north, and s slightly taller. They are both members of the Solanaceae family, which is the nightshade group and includes hundreds of food plants such as potato, tomato, eggplant, and peppers, as well as poisonous plants such as belladona.

In the West, Gou Qi Zi has recently become a popular “health food”. Called Goji berries, they are commonly marketed as a “superfood” and sold at highly inflated prices. Though an important herb in Chinese medicine, it is not generally recommended for all. When used as a daily blood tonic tea only a small amount of berries are used. The berries are sweet with a licorice-like flavor and are traditionally added to soups made with chicken, duck or pork.

In China, lycium berries are commonly grown on large plantations, often government owned. By removing the suckers on the largest stem of an individual plant, it is gradually pruned over time to the form of a small tree. The berries grow on arching branches, and like coffee beans, do not all mature at the same time, therefore must be hand-picked individually.