Why not include superfoods in your bounteous home food garden … then you’ll always have them on hand! What do we mean by superfoods? Basically they are nutrient rich foods. We think they’re worth talking about whatever side of the debate you’re on. Personally we think food is all about taste as well and fresh produce which you grow yourself is always best. How and if goji berries positively impact your health, how much you should have and how often is relative to your own health story so make a decision that’s right for you. If in any doubt always consult with a practitioner you trust.
Their sweet fruits, healthful qualities and capacity to grow in diverse climates make goji berries (species name Lycium) a very exciting addition to Australian organic gardens. While there are many species of Lycium, there are two basic varieties that are maintained as producers of the berry. There is a vine variety (Lycium chinense) and a shrub variety (Lycium barbarum).
There is sometimes confusion with another species Lycium fericossimum or ‘African Boxthorn’ which has been declared a weed and is dangerous for our Australian ecosystem. It was brought into the country from South Africa in the 1950’s by lazy farmers who wanted to create hedgerows to contain cattle rather than build fences. The growth habit of African Boxthorn is much like a briar, creating dense thickets that are impossible to maintain whereas the Goji is relatively thornless and has a much more convenient growth habit. The fruit of the African Boxthorn is smaller by far and therefore attractive to small birds.
So make sure you purchase the correct species and purchase your plants from a reputable place.
Even though, at this stage, there is no indication the Goji Berry variety is dangerous to our Australian ecosystem, if commercial quantities are grown in Australia this may change (see more information at the end of this post). To be on the safe side we recommend planting your Goji berry plants in pots.
Check their food score
You can check the nutritional value of Goji berries using the food score search on The Environmental Working Group website. They have assessed over 80,000 products for any nutrition, ingredient and processing concerns. They also have a fantastic App for iPhone which enables you to check particular brands when you’re in the supermarket.
Growing Goji berries vines
“This variety is the one most specified in Traditional Chinese Medicine and the root bark is excellent for respiratory difficulties and diminishing vision. They tend to work better than the ‘shrub variety’ in pots, as long as the pots are large enough.” Goji Plants Australia
The goji vine lasts for up to eight years. It can become a big plant if you provide it with a climbing frame. You can also grow it like a bush by planting in a pot (minimum size of 20 litres) and pruning each year to control growth. The plant tolerates a temperature range of –15°C to over 40°C. Plant after the last frost in a sunny spot, sheltered from the wind, in well-drained soil; the soil does not need to be rich at all. Gojis like a high pH of 6.5–8. Allow 60 centimetres between plants and 2 metres between rows.
Goji vines fruit in the first year with a small crop. Prune when fruiting finishes to ensure a full crop in the second year. No fertiliser is needed. The main pests are fruit-eating birds, which love eating the berries so you may need to cover the plants with netting. Watering on the foliage may harm the fruit blossoms so it’s better to water the roots. If there is not regular rainfall, mature plants may need to be watered once every two weeks with 3–5 centimetres of water. When established, these plants are very drought tolerant. After the third year, the plant can send out runners and take over a bit, so control growth if you have limited space.
Harvesting and eating
The key to increasing your crop each year is pruning. You can eat the leaves as well as the berries. Leaves can be harvested all year long; however, if you are growing plants mainly for fruit, avoid removing the leaves until late autumn, before the first frost. Eat the berries straight from the plant. If you have a surplus of fruit you can store them in a food dehydrator or simply put them straight into the freezer. Leaves and tender stalks can also be eaten straight off the plant as highly nutritious salad greens, or you can cook them as a green vegetable.
A note about Goji berry shrubs
This variety is a deciduous shrub that can grow to 2.5m high and across. It can be bound to a stake to make it easier to pick the berries which are harvested twice a year in late spring and summer. It loves a sunny position but the soil will need to be well drained. When it drops its leaves in winter you will need to prune the shrub back quit significantly which will also stimulate a bigger yield of berries.
Buying Australian grown Goji berry vines and shrubs
While there are many species of Lycium, there are two basic varieties that are maintained as producers of the berry. There is a vine variety (Lycium chinense) and a shrub variety (Lycium barbarum)
Goji Plants Australia has been selling both varieties across Australia since 2005 and has received amazing reports of success from every corner of the country.
Buying goji berry plants or seeds: click here. Plants are wrapped in heat protective foil bubble wrap and are packed into a box. (Unfortunately they cannot send live plants to TAS, WA or overseas due to state regulations)
Goji Plants Australia’s Lycium tube stock has either been struck from seed grown from our own plants, which are at least second or third generation Australian, or taken as cuttings from these plants. In either case, the tube stock is at least four to six months old.
Once purchased: The plants will need to stay in their pots for a week or so to get used to their new environment but will then be ready to transplant either into the garden or a large pot if you prefer. Because of their deciduous nature, the plants that you receive will be smaller in winter.
The Little Goji Berry Book: If you want to know more Goji Plants Australia has produced a great book which looks at goji berries from the real practical point of view of growers and propagators of the plants. A section of this book is available as a free download when you purchase either seed or plants, with added information regarding the plant as a herb in both Eastern and Western medicine, commercial growing tips and recipes to complete the story.
More on the distinguishing the varieties.
“Lycium ferocissimum (African Boxthorn) presents considerable challenges for effective control using chemical and physical methods of suppression. In sensitive natural ecosystems, management options are limited and may incur off-target damage. In agricultural habitats, a broader range of management options are available, but treatment incurs considerable costs and persistent application is often required. The negative impacts of L.ferocissimumon environmental and agricultural values are considerable (decline in biodiversity values, reduced productivity, host to pests and pathogens) and greatly outweigh positive attributes (provision of habitat in degraded areas)” p.3
“Lycium barbarum (Chinese Boxthorn, Goji Berry) (syn. L. chinense) is native to central China and was introduced to Australia as a garden plant, possibly from Europe, and has established weakly in coastal and near-coastal areas of south-east Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. The species can be difficult to distinguish from L. ferocissimum at the flowering stage. L. barbarum is an important herbal and medicinal plant in Asian culture and has recently received considerable attention for its potential therapeutic properties. It has some potential a future crop in Australia for medicinal and culinary purposes” p. 10
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- Feature image credit to ©iStock.com/oliverbarth