COLUMBIA, Mo. — Vendors of products made from goji berries, also known as wolfberries, have touted a wide range of health benefits, including antioxidant activity, anti-aging properties and improved mental capacity.
“While the health benefits of the goji berry seem enticing, scientific evidence supporting these claims is not available,” said Michele Warmund, University of Missouri Extension horticulturist.
In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent warning letters to two goji juice producers for marketing their products as drugs intended to prevent or cure disease even though goji products have not undergone thorough scientific testing for safety and effectiveness.
One published study revealed that wolfberry tea inhibited the metabolism of the drug warfarin. Goji berries also contain atropine, which has medical uses but can be harmful or fatal in large doses.
Goji berries come from several species of shrub that belong to the same family of plants as tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes. One species — L. halimifolium, or the common matrimony vine — grows in parts of Missouri, typically in abandoned sites, old fields, roadsides and along railroad tracks.
The shrubs are usually about 3-5 feet tall and have arching branches that grow up to 10 feet long. One to three lilac-colored flowers develop at the nodes. In Missouri, plants flower from May through September, with small, red berries present in July through October.
The species escapes cultivation and becomes a nuisance. Young shoots and leaves may poison sheep and cattle when eaten.
“Until more information is available, blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, pomegranates, strawberries, oranges, mangoes, apples and tomatoes have many similar health attributes that have been more thoroughly tested,” Warmund said.
STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!
Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!