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Herb Gallery

Gou Qi Zi (Lycium barbarum)

  • Botanical name: Lycium barbarum
  • Common name: Lycium fruit, Chinese wolfberry, Matrimony vine
  • Family: Solanaceae, nightshade family
  • Part used in Chinese medicine: fruit
  • Major Chinese medicine actions:
  • Nourishes Kidney and Lung yin, nourishes Liver blood, benefits essence
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

Lycium berries are harvested when ripe in late summer or early fall. In China there is an annual festival held in August in Ningxia, which is an important center of cultivation for the region. The oblong, red berries are very tender and must be picked carefully or shaken from the vine into trays to avoid spoiling. The fruits are preserved by slowly drying them in them in a shaded, well-ventilated area, or by mechanical dehydration employing a progressively increasing series of heat exposure over 48 hours. The fruits are not turned during the drying process as this may cause them to bruise, turning them black.

Western consumers should be careful to choose berries that are dark red, but not unnaturally bright red in color. Lycium berries for export are often treated with sulfites in order to preserve their color as they can be damaged during long months of travel. The sulfites cause them to turn a bright fresh red.

The root bark of the same Lycium plants (Di Gu Pi) is also used in Chinese medicine. It is harvested in spring or autumn.

Harvesting and Preparation

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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.