bePlace: China

Uses: Eaten out of hand as a snack, in granola, atop cereal and in baked goods or in teas and soups

Fun fact: Ningxia Province, which produces a large share of China’s goji berries for export, holds a goji berry festival each August to celebrate the annual harvest.

The goji berry has enjoyed much fanfare as a medicinal wonder. For a few thousand years these small red berries have been the center of many tall tales of healing and extreme longevity. Despite the trumped-up health claims, goji berry’s history and benefits are in fact quite impressive!

History of Goji Berries

Called gǒuqǐ in Chinese, goji is a perennial shrub that can grow to 12 feet tall in the wild. This unique member of the solanaceous family (which includes tomatoes and eggplants) is actually quite hardy and can withstand very harsh winters, down to USDA hardiness zone 3.

From spring to summer the ordinary-looking bushes produce pretty, purple flowers that eventually turn to small berries that can range in color from red to yellow, orange and black. These small berries have been revered since ancient times as a supremely healthy snack.

View of a shrine on a hill in Ningxia province

Ningxia Province

Goji berry plants have been cultivated for over 4,000 years in the arid and semi-arid regions of northwest China, where they are believed to have originated. They have long been prized as a healthy food and potent medicinal plant, used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote liver and kidney health and improve vision. Perhaps the most famous (or infamous) health claim is that goji contributes to longevity.

Goji berry gets its first recorded mention in 200 BCE in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, the oldest reference book of Chinese medicinal herbs. This invaluable medicinal and agricultural knowledge was written from the perspective of the mythical Chinese emperor Shennong. His name translates to “Divine Farmer,” or “Divine Husbandman,” and he is a deity in Chinese and Vietnamese folk religion.

The Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing lists over 365 herbs, which are categorized as top, middle and low grade. Goji berry ranks as a top-grade herb for its safety and health benefits.

 Shen Nong


Shennong is considered the father of Chinese medicine, and he is revered for having bestowed ancient Chinese culture with its knowledge of herbal medicinal and agricultural practices, including the invention of agricultural irrigation, the plow, the axe, and more.

Legend says that Shennong tried each individual plant for its safety, and since his body was transparent, he could see the effects of a particular plant on his system.

In the 16th century, during the Ming dynasty, Chinese herbalist Li Shizhen described goji in-depth and extolled its numerous benefits in the Compendium of Materia Medica. This collection of books was a treatise on traditional Chinese medicine and is considered the world’s first pharmacopeia. These books included over 1,800 entries and took 27 years to write. Li wrote that the goji aids the liver and kidney channels. (In traditional Chinese medicine, channels are invisible energy pathways through the body.)

Chinese herbalist Li Shizhen

Chinese Herbalist Li Shinzen

Li’s Materia Medica also describes the Ningxia region of China as the authentic origin of the goji berry. Today it is the smallest of China’s provinces but its largest goji-producing region, responsible for about 40 percent of the country’s goji berry export each year.

Goji has famously been claimed to extend longevity, but no story beats that of Li Ching Yuen, a prominent Chinese herbalist who asserted that he was over 200 years old. In an interview from the 1920s, he attributed his longevity to a steady diet of Chinese herbs, rice wine, and goji berries. In a 1933 obituary in The New York Times, he was described as having outlived 23 wives and fathered 200 children in his lifetime. Li Ching Yuen’s claims have lost credence in modern times, but they illustrate the staying power of this legendary link in Chinese culture between goji berries and a long life.

Goji Berry Benefits

Dried goji berries are a very popular snack in China, and you’ll find them in a wide variety of preparations. In the early 2000s, the goji berry craze came to America, thanks to a savvy marketing strategy that hyped the berry as a superfood.

Goji may have a few sketchy claims attached to its reputation, but this shouldn’t detract from its genuine and scientific health benefits. It is rich in antioxidants, which may help prevent free radicals from damaging DNA, lipids, and protein. This is likely the basis for the anti-aging claims.

In 2018, Baker Creek’s Deb Vlietstra visited a remote desert village on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to search for the last surviving wild goji plants. From Beijing, the trip required a two-hour flight, a seven-hour train ride, and two more hours by car! It was worth the trip; once she arrived in this village in the center of China’s largest desert, she saw goji bushes that were over 100 years old!

Red goji berries

Goji Berries

The Chinese government has started to protect the wild goji berry plants, and research institutions have been founded to save this endangered plant. While in the heart of Goji berry country, she visited a massive Goji berry farm, where she sampled an impressive array of Goji berries of different sizes and colors. She drank black goji berry tea, and tasted extra-large red varieties and the very rare yellow and white goji berries!

How to Grow Goji Berries?

Goji berry bushes are cold hardy and extremely prolific. This makes them one of the most rewarding perennial fruits to grow and especially beloved in temperate permaculture food forests. Pruning can keep the bushes tidy and compact, or they can be allowed to reach their full potential, up to 12 feet tall! Plants are perennial in USDA zones 3-9 and will thrive in mediocre soil and with minimal water.

The plants do particularly love alkaline soil; amendment to raise pH will help to optimize growing conditions, but it is not necessary. Plants will flower in spring and summer and will be laden with small red fruit in early fall.

Are you ready to discover other unique berries for your garden? Then explore our shop for a wide selection of seeds and start cultivating your botanical dreams today!