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Fresh Pick: Goji Berries

What goji berries lack in size, they more than make up for in health benefits—from younger-looking skin to optimal sexual function.

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Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall build—oh wait, that’s Superman! But if you believe the chatter surrounding goji berries, they’re the botanical equivalent of a classic superhero.

This small, nutritious fruit has been a mainstay of long-lived villagers in China and Mongolia for centuries, and while it might not seem to qualify for fresh-picked status at first glance (unless you happen to be vacationing in the region), its blockbuster nutritional profile makes it a must-have for the modern, health-conscious foodie.

Researching Goji Berries

Colloquially known as the “happy berry,” goji is a small, red berry about the size of a grape that is found in the mountain valleys of China and Mongolia. Revered for millennia for their wide-ranging health benefits, goji berries are celebrated in a two-week festival in Ningxia, China. The harvesting process is unique—the fruits cannot be picked, or they become discolored and useless. Instead, they are gently shaken onto mats, then rinsed and sorted, and either used immediately or dried for later use (and export).

These sweet-tart berries have intriguing health benefits—denizens of the regions where goji grows naturally are remarkably free from all sorts of diseases and maladies, and often live to be 100 years of age or more. In Chinese medicine, goji berries are employed to treat deficiencies of chi (vital energy or life force). Traditionally, this modest fruit is used to strengthen the immune system, promote heart health, enhance mental acuity, support liver function, increase energy levels, and improve sexual function.

 And there’s more—research suggests that unique polysaccharides isolated from goji berries may hold promising cancer-preventive properties, as well as anti-inflammatory and antiaging components. All this and more in one tiny little berry. Noted dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, MD, author of 7 Secrets to Beauty, Health, and Longevity and other books, recommends goji for its ability to stimulate the secretion of human growth hormone (which is thought to inhibit the classic signs of aging, such as wrinkles).

Nutritionally, the goji berry is nothing short of miraculous. It contains gargantuan amounts of vitamin C (more than oranges), as well as all the antioxidant B vitamins; large doses of vitamin A, 18 amino acids, and 21 trace minerals. The goji berry has more beta-carotene than carrots and is also high in protein, fiber, and iron (more than spinach).

Snack, Sprinkle, or Sip

Goji berries are available dried or in juices. Some reports indicate that the preferred variety is Lycium barbarum, but the evidence is varied and incomplete. When it comes to the juice, look for purity—the higher the percentage of goji juice, the better (100 percent goji juice is best). Many manufacturers combine goji with other fruits—read labels carefully to ensure you’re getting an ample amount of the berry. While organic is preferable, it may also be harder to find. Goji tea is another option widely available at health food stores.

Dried goji berries, which have an extremely mild, almost raisin-like, taste, can be used in smoothies, trail mixes, soups, stews, drinks, muffins, cakes, and cookies. Aside from munching on a handful of dried berries, try plumping them in boiling water and then using in place of raisins or dried cranberries in recipes or atop oatmeal or cereal.