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What Are Goji Berries and Are They the Same As Wolfberries?
There is a wonderful red berry that grows all over the world, and people in many places call it by different names. Many English speakers call it Wolfberry, and today even more English speakers call it Goji Berry. But it’s really the same thing.
As we all know, Science assigns two Latin names to each botanical organism, a genus and a species. Two plants that are even slightly different from each other have different species names. Thus, if two plants have the same genus and species names, they are the same plant. People may call them by different names, but that does not change the fact that they are actually the same thing.
The Goji berry / Wolfberry plant, whose genus is Lycium, has two closely related species. One species is known as Barbarum and the other is Chinensis. Both species grow in many places on earth.
Since people in different countries tend to speak different languages, it is not surprising that the Chinese and Tibetans do not call these berries wolfberries. China has many dialects. The plant is often called gǒuqǐ and the berries are called gǒuqǐzi (zi means “berry”) “Goji” is a simplified pronunciation of gǒuqǐ.
A similar word can be found in other languages. For example, in Korea, the berry is called gugija, and in Thailand it is known as găo gè. Tibetan has many names for the berries, including qouki, qou ki ji, quak qou, kew ji and kew ki. In Japanese the plant is called kuko and the fruit is known as kuko no mi or kuko no kajitsu.
In about 1973, the word “Goji” began to be used for the first time in English so that English speakers could have a word for this berry that was similar to these Asian words. Since then, the word “Goji” has been used by many marketers, as the berries have appeared in more and more natural stores in the United States. The new word “Goji” is now quite commonly used.
It is not really clear where the word “wolfberry” originated. One theory is that it comes from the toponym “Lycia”, the ancient name for Anatolia, in Turkey, and “Lycia” can be heard in the name Lycium Barbarum. “Barbarum” means that the wolfberry plant could have come from somewhere else, like China, originally.
But this does not explain why it has the word “wolf”. Thus, another possibility is that Lycium Barbarum comes from the Greek word “Lycos”, or wolf. Wolves eat berries and other fruits to get the necessary fiber in their diet. They also eat tomatoes, the Latin name of which means “Wolf Peach” (Solanum lycopersicum.) The word “lycos”, or wolf, can be seen in Latin.
The genus Tomato (Solanum) contains another species, lycocarpum, which translates to Wolf Apple. This medium size yellow tomato is not familiar to many of us because it grows in South America. South American wolves eat them! It is not the same plant as the tomato that we use in North America. What is my point? I’ll get to that…
Goji berries and Wolfberries are in the Nightshade family (Solanaceae), and so are tomatoes! Nightshades are an important source of food and spices. Nightshade species include potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, chili peppers (capsicum), deadly nightshade (belladonna), datura (jimson weed), tobacco, mandrake, wolfberry and more.
Many of the species in this important family of foods are used in the manufacture of medicinal herbs by native peoples throughout the world. Some of them have psychoactive properties. Goji berries are legendary as a medicinal plant and have been used for centuries in many countries.
Goji berries and wolfberries have many other names, such as boxthorn, Duke of Argyll’s Tea Tree, Matrimony Vine, Bocksdorn, Cambronera, Chinese Wolfberry and Red Medlar.
The point here is that Lycium Barbarum and Lycium Chinensis are two completely different species, two completely different plants. Many people proclaim different names for themselves. They say, for example, that “Tibetan Lycium Eleagnus Barbarum” is the TRUE Himalayan Gogi berry, even though it doesn’t actually exist as a species.
There is no doubt that these two species have different medicinal and nutritional properties, BECAUSE they are different species. In fact, it is not only that the different species are different from each other, it is also true that all VARIETIES of each species are slightly different chemically and therefore nutritionally.
In some mountainous areas of Tibet and northern China, there is what is commonly known as the “Goji belt”, a fertile high-altitude region where Goji plants are cultivated and grow in the wild. The “highest quality” Goji berries are produced in the best location and climate, which happens to be this Goji belt. This is because of the purity of the water and the soil rich in minerals washed down from the high mountains.
The political struggle between Tibet and China is well known. There is also a Tibetan/Chinese political fight over what defines a Goji berry. From a Western perspective, this is just confusing.
Moreover, the name Tibet carries an unmistakable mystique. It is therefore easy for Western marketers to capitalize on this, asserting the superiority of TIBETAN Goji berries over all others. But, as we have shown, from a scientific perspective, “Tibetan” Goji berries do not exist.
Tibet, a country more vertical than horizontal, mostly dry, barren and arid, with few roads between the highest mountains in the world, is not famous for agriculture. It is close to China. Political boundaries really don’t matter to the soil or the Goji plants; instead, as has been mentioned, the soil and climate are important factors when growing Chinese wolfberries and Goji berries.
The highest quality berries have the highest levels of glyconutrients and are grown in the Ningxia and Xinjiang provinces of China, right in the Goji belt. These areas have an exceptional growing season, unusually alkaline soil, adequate rainfall and extreme temperature fluctuations from 102 to -16 degrees F.
The Goji belt produces four grades of Goji berry: super, king, special and Grade A. The largest berries are “super”, the second largest are “king”, etc. You can find marketers advertising their berries as the biggest, but they are still all the same fruit, Lycium Barbarum. I know that except, of course, they are Lycium Chinensis.
Wolfberries, Gojis, they are wonderful. It is easy for politicians and marketers to confuse and blow smoke around a bushel of Goji berries or Goji juice. In any case, nothing clouds the central fact that this unique berry is the greatest nutritional powerhouse in the world!
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