By Pauline Lloyd
Goji berries (Lycium) are a powerful, nutrient-rich superfood. They make an excellent tonic and are often eaten in a raw food vegan diet. Containing 500 times more vitamin C by weight than oranges and over 20 trace minerals, including iron, copper, calcium and zinc, they are also the richest known source of carotenoids (including beta-carotene) in the world. They also supply anti-oxidants, 18 amino acids and other vitamins, including B1, B2, B6 and vitamin E.
Packets of dried goji berries can be purchased by mail order from suppliers such as the Fresh Network. They are also available from some health shops. However, it is now possible to grow a supply of fresh berries in your garden using bareroot plants supplied by Thompson & Morgan, thus reducing food miles.
Growing to a height of about 2 metres (6 ft), goji berry plants like a moderately fertile and well-drained soil. To improve drainage try adding some vermiculite to containers or additional plant compost to the soil if planting in the ground. Plant in full sun for the best berry production, growing in a south-facing position if possible. Goji berry plants will also grow in a large container, such as a sawn-in-half-barrel and container-grown plants can be brought in the winter and put out again in the summer. However, you will need to replace some of the soil in the container each year and also give them a yearly dressing of compost.
The Goji plant
Water new plants well after planting, especially in dry periods. However, once established goji berry plants are extremely drought tolerant and only need watering when the soil has dried out. Apparently, they do not like too much rain and are ideal for covering dry banks. Alternatively, they can be used to make a hedge or windbreak in a coastal garden. Plants should be set out 2m or 6′ apart. Originally cultivated in the valleys of the Himalayan Mountain Range, goji berry plants are fully hardy down to -15 degrees C and according to Thompson and Morgan, who supply bareroot two-year old plants, they should do well in the UK climate being as easy to grow as tomatoes. I am currently testing out how well they grow in the UK. They are certainly being well tested, as ever since I have put my new plants out it doesn’t seem to have stopped raining!
Thompson & Morgan’s bareroot plants are quite expensive to buy. However, according to information available on the Internet it’s also possible to produce your own plants by removing seeds from shop-bought dried goji berries. To test this out I planted several berries from a packet of dried goji berries I purchased in Holland & Barrett and lo and behold about 2-3 weeks after planting many seedlings have now emerged. I will pot these up when they are large enough to handle and grow them on. Incidentally, I soaked the dried berries in a glass of water for a few hours before I planted them and then I put the pot of compost in a plastic bag in a sunny position indoors.
Plants flower late spring to summer and fruit up until the first frosts. Established plants should produce approximately 1kg of fruit per plant in their second year. Heavy pruning boosts berry production, so plants should be cut back hard in spring, then trimmed in early summer.
Excess berries can be dried on wire racks in an airing cupboard, in a slightly open oven set at the lowest temperature, or in a dehydrator on a low heat. When properly dry store the berries in an airtight container.
Suggested culinary uses
The dried berries can be used to make a trail mix by mixing them with chocolate chips, seeds, nuts, dried coconut and dried fruit. Dried goji berries can be used in much the same way as you would use dried raisins, perhaps adding them to salads or rice dishes. They can also be used in pies, compotes, sorbets, sauces, or made into smoothies. One of the simplest ways of using dried goji berries is to make them into a goji berry drink or elixir. Add a handful of berries to a glass of cold water and allow them to hydrate before drinking, chewing the berries as you drink. Alternatively, add a handful of the berries to a mug of hot water and brew for a hot, soothing tea.
This article appeared in Growing Green International magazine Num 20 (Winter 2007/8), p8. The original article included a mail order suppliers section, but most of this information has gone out of date so the section has been removed.