Lycium barbarum (Chinese: 寧夏枸杞; pinyin: Níngxià gǒuqǐ) is one of two species of boxthorn in the family Solanaceae from which the wolfberry or goji berry is harvested, the other being Lycium chinense (Chinese: 枸杞; pinyin: gǒuqǐ). It is native to southeastern Europe and Asia.
It is also known as Chinese wolfberry, Chinese boxthorn, Himalayan goji, Tibetan goji, mede berry, barbary matrimony vine, Duke of Argyll's tea tree, Duke of Argyll's tea plant, Murali (in India), red medlar, or matrimony vine.
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Leaves and flower
L. barbarum leaves form on the shoot either in an alternating arrangement or in bundles of up to three, each having a shape that is either lanceolate (shaped like a spearhead longer than it is wide) or ovate (egg-like). Leaf dimensions are 7-cm wide by 3.5-cm broad with blunted or round tips.
The flowers grow in groups of one to three in the leaf axils. The calyx (eventually ruptured by the growing berry) consists of bell-shaped or tubular sepals forming short, triangular lobes. The corolla are lavender or light purple, 9–14 mm wide with five or six lobes shorter than the tube. The stamens are structured with filaments longer than the anthers. The anthers are longitudinally dehiscent.
In the northern hemisphere, flowering occurs from June through September and berry maturation from August to October, depending on the latitude, altitude, and climate.
L. barbarum produces a bright orange-red, ellipsoid berry 1–2-cm deep. The number of seeds in each berry varies widely based on cultivar and fruit size, containing anywhere between 10–60 tiny yellow seeds that are compressed with a curved embryo. The berries ripen from July to October in the northern hemisphere.
Lycium, the genus name, is derived from the ancient southern Anatolian region of Lycia (Λυκία). The fruit is known in pharmacological references as Lycii fructus, which is Latin for "Lycium fruit".
"Wolfberry" is the most commonly used English common name. The origin of this name is unknown, perhaps resulting from confusion over the genus name Lycium, which resembles "lycos", the Greek word for wolf.
In the English-speaking world, the name "goji berry" has been used since the early 21st century. The word "goji" is an approximation of the pronunciation of gǒuqǐ (枸杞), the name for the berry producing plant in several Chinese dialects, including Hokkien and Shanghainese. This name possibly derives from the same roots as the Persian language term gojeh (گوجه) which means "plum/berry".
The majority of commercially produced wolfberries come from the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of north-central China and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of western China, where they are grown on plantations. In Zhongning County, Ningxia, wolfberry plantations typically range between 40 and 400 hectares (100–1000 acres or 500–6000 mu) in area. As of 2005, over 10 million mu have been planted with wolfberries in Ningxia.
Cultivated along the fertile aggradational floodplains of the Yellow River for more than 600 years, Ningxia wolfberries have earned a reputation throughout Asia for premium quality sometimes described commercially as "red diamonds". Government releases of annual wolfberry production, premium fruit grades, and export are based on yields from Ningxia, the region recognized with
- The largest annual harvest in China, accounting for 42% (13 million kilograms, 2001) of the nation's total yield of wolfberries, estimated at approximately 33 million kilograms (72 million pounds) in 2001.
- Formation of an industrial association of growers, processors, marketers, and scholars of wolfberry cultivation to promote the berry's commercial and export potential.
- The nation's only source of therapeutic grade ("superior-grade") wolfberries used by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine.
In addition, commercial volumes of wolfberries grow in the Chinese regions of Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, Gansu, Shaanxi, Shanxi, and Hebei. When ripe, the oblong, red berries are tender and must be picked carefully or shaken from the vine into trays to avoid spoiling. The fruits are preserved by drying them in full sun on open trays or by mechanical dehydration employing a progressively increasing series of heat exposure over 48 hours.
Wolfberries are celebrated each August in Ningxia with an annual festival coinciding with the berry harvest. Originally held in Ningxia's capital, Yinchuan, the festival has been based since 2000 in Zhongning County, an important center of wolfberry cultivation for the region. As Ningxia's borders merge with three deserts, wolfberries are also planted to control erosion and reclaim irrigable soils from desertification.
China, the main supplier of wolfberry products in the world, had total exports generating US$120 million in 2004. This production derived from 82,000 hectares farmed nationwide, yielding 95,000 tons of wolfberries.
Pesticide and fungicide use
Organochlorine pesticides are conventionally used in commercial wolfberry cultivation to mitigate destruction of the delicate berries by insects. Since the early 21st century, high levels of insecticide residues (including fenvalerate, cypermethrin, and acetamiprid) and fungicide residues (such as triadimenol and isoprothiolane), have been detected by the United States Food and Drug Administration in some imported wolfberries and wolfberry products of Chinese origin, leading to the seizure of these products.
China's Green Food Standard, administered by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture's China Green Food Development Center, does permit some amount of pesticide and herbicide use. Agriculture in the Tibetan plateau (where many "Himalayan" or "Tibetan"-branded berries originate) conventionally uses fertilizers and pesticides, making organic claims for berries originating here dubious.
The Duke of Argyll introduced Lycium barbarum into the United Kingdom in the 1730s where it is known as Duke of Argyll's Tea Tree. It was and still is used for hedging, especially in coastal districts. Its red berries are attractive to a wide variety of British birds.
The plant continues to grow wild in UK hedgerows. On 15 January 2003, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs launched a project to improve the regulations protecting traditional countryside hedgerows, and specifically mentioned Duke of Argyll's Tea Tree as one of the species to be found growing in hedges located in Suffolk Sandlings, Hadleigh, Bawdsey, near Ipswich, and Walberswick.
On June 18, 2007, the FSA (UK Food Standards Agency) stated that there was a significant history of the fruit being consumed in Europe before 1997, and has removed it from the Novel Foods list. It is now legal to sell the wolfberry in the UK as a food as reported by the British Food Standards Agency, but see section below: Marketing claims under scrutiny in Europe.
Importation of mature plants
Importation of wolfberry plants into the United Kingdom from most countries outside Europe is illegal, due to the possibility they could be vectors of diseases attacking Solanaceae crops, such as potato or tomato.
- Gouqi jiu
- List of culinary fruits
- Sea buckthorn – another medicinal plant that somewhat resembles Wolfberry
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