Goji berries dont have to be a high-priced, exclusive superfood. Theyre actually easy to grow in your own garden.
Native to Asia, goji berries (Lycium barbarum) are also known as wolfberries. They are a member of the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. The majority of commercially produced goji berries are grown in China. These are most commonly available dried and can be considerably expensive.
By growing your own goji berries, you can have an abundant supply of fresh, local, organic berries that are almost impossible to find in a store. Gojis are a perennial shrub that will come back every year, which means youll have an ongoing supply of this healthy berry for free.
Whats So Great About Goji Berries?
Traditional Chinese medicine has used goji berries for thousands of years. Some suggest goji berries can help diabetes, hypertension, menopause and even malaria, but research is still needed to support these claims.
A 2008 study did show that consuming goji juice for 14 days increased feelings of wellbeing and improved neurological performance and gastrointestinal functions. Other studies have found that consuming goji berries may help prevent macular degeneration, promote longevityand boost your immune system.
In addition, goji berries are high in antioxidants and nutrients. A one-ounce (28 gram) serving of goji berries has 50 percent of your daily recommended vitamin A, 14 percent of your iron, 9 percent of your fiber, as well as high amounts of selenium, copper, riboflavin, protein and vitamin C.
Tips for Growing Goji Berries
Goji berries are hardy to USDA zone 5. They form a loose shrub thats 4 to 7 feet (1.2 to 2.1 meters) tall with long, vine-like branches. The small, purple flowers start in spring and will continue through the summer. This gives you a consistent crop of berries from early summer until frost.
1. Where to Get Plants
Garden centers are starting to carry goji berry plants as their popularity rises. You can also get young plants from mail order catalogues or online.
Its easy to start your own from seed as well. Try buying some packaged seeds or simply plant some of the dried berries you can buy for eating. Soak the berries for a couple hours before planting them in a potting soil mix. Keep the pots moist at room temperature and they should germinate in 2 to 4 weeks.
A small shrub will start producing berries within one or two years. A seedling will take about 3 years to make berries.
2. Soil and Location
Goji plants can handle a wide range of conditions. They prefer a moderately moist, well-drained soil, but they are also fairly drought tolerant.
The berries will produce and ripen the best in full sun.
You can also grow gojis in containers. Make sure to use a pot at least 18 inches (45 centimeters) wide to accommodate the full size of a goji shrub. It should be able to overwinter outside in USDA zones 6 and higher.
3. Support Structures
Goji berry shrubs have long, arching branches that hold up better with some structural support. A simple T frame works well, where you sink a post at both ends of a row of goji berry bushes, put one or more cross bars on each post to look like a T, then attach strong wires between the cross bars along the row. This will contain and support the branches.
You can also train gojis onto a trellis, fence or any other solid structure.
Due to their vigorous growth habit, gojis can be pruned anytime to control their height and shape. Its also beneficial to thin out at least one third or more of the branches in late winter. This will allow more light into the shrub during the growing season, which helps to increase the number of berries and ripening speed.
Gojis will often send out suckers as they get older. Youll probably see small goji shoots growing a few feet away from the main plant. You can simply pull these out or transplant them to an area where you want more gojis.
5. Harvesting and Storage
The young berries take a few weeks to ripen, so wait until theyre a nice dark orange or red shade before picking. The best way to judge when to harvest the berries is by their sweetness. Fresh gojis always have a bit of tanginess to them, but they sweeten up as they ripen. If you feel theyre still too tart or sour, give them a few more days to ripen and then sample again.
You can dry goji berries for storage in a dehydrator or by laying them out on paper in a warm, well-ventilated area for a few days. Fresh goji berries also freeze well. They can be packed into freezer bags and frozen directly without any pre-treatment.
6. Uses for Goji Berries
Goji berries can be eaten fresh or cooked. Theyre nutritionally dense and have a strong flavor, so you dont need to use a lot in any particular dish. They go well in smoothies, trail mixes and desserts, or as a garnish for cereals, salads or yogurt.
Try putting them in an apple crisp, carrot cake or another baked treat. They can also make a tasty addition to casseroles and soups.
The only risk found for goji berries is that they can interact with some medications, so check with your doctor before adding them to your diet.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.