Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Real Truth About the Tibetan Goji Berry

No doubt, youve probably heard the name Goji before. The Goji berry has been hailed as a super food by many experts, and its quickly becoming the hottest product in the health-food industry. The loudest arguments for its use are coming from those that have something to gain from its sale, so its no wonder that half-truths, myths, and even outright lies abound. To understand the hoopla around this little red berry, you have to understand the facts.

In the English-speaking world, Goji berry has been widely used as a synonym for wolfberry which is the name for the fruit of two very closely related species, Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense. They are also known as Chinese wolfberry, Red medlar, Bocksdorn, Cambronera, Duke of Argylls Tea Tree, or Matrimony vine. The origin of the word Goji seems to be unclear, until you dig a little deeper.

In 1973, Amchi Thubten Lekshe (Dr. Bradley Dobos), and his Tibetan medical teacher, Dr. Amala Lobsang, were on a botanical collection trip in the mountains of Tibet. After several weeks of walking and collecting many varieties of botanicals, including the ancient Tibetan Lycium, Dr. Bradley made a decision. Many of the Tibetan names in the numerous dialects had sounds like qouki, qou ki ji, quak qou, kew ji, and kew ki, so Dr. Bradley started calling it Goji, in order to stop stumbling over the many sounds, and to make it simpler, when talking and writing about the Tibetan Lycium. His teacher agreed that this was an easier sound to work with.

After doing extensive research, they concluded that the name Goji never existed in China or Tibet before Dr. Bradley started using it in August of 1973, and they could not find the word, in relation to the berries, in any other language. In 1976, Dr. Bradley began using these ancient Tibetan berries in his tea blends and formulas, at the Tenzing Momo herbal apothecary and clinic, located in the world famous Pike Place Market, in Seattle. People from many countries purchased these teas, and the Goji name stuck. However, it wasnt until he started packaging and selling the berries, with the Goji name printed on the labels, that it started getting world recognition. It was only then that the Chinese wolfberry growers started calling their wolfberries Goji, for marketing purposes. (There is no mention of Goji berries anywhere in the world, prior to 1974.)

* In Tibetan the berries are called dre-tsher-mai-dre-bu, with dre meaning ghost, tsher-ma meaning thorn, and dre-bu meaning fruit.

* In Japan these fruits are called kuko no mi, or kuko no kajitsu.

* In Korea the berries are known as gugija.

The species produce a bright, orange-red berry, that tastes something like a cross between a cherry and a cranberry. 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, ranging up to 1000 acres. In addition, commercial volumes of wolfberries grow in the Chinese regions of Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Shanxi and Hebei.

In Ningxia, wolfberries are celebrated each August with an annual festival that coincides with the berry harvest. In Tibet and Mongolia, celebrations last for two weeks out of the year, where the locals honor it with festivities.

Pesticides are extensively used in commercial wolfberry cultivation in China, to prevent the destruction of the delicate berries by insects. The FDA has detected high levels of insecticide and fungicide residues in some imported Chinese wolfberries and wolfberry products, leading to their seizure. Organic certification currently does not exist in China, yet many Western resellers falsely state that their wolfberries are organically grown. These berries are often marketed as Tibetan or Himalayan Goji" berries and claimed to have been wild crafted or wild harvested.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

Despite claims that wolfberries sold in Europe, the United States, and Canada meet organic standards, there is no public evidence for standardized organic certification of commercially grown wolfberries coming from China. It seems that there is only one source for authentic, wild crafted Tibetan Goji berries, and it comes from The Tibetan Goji Berry Company. The Tibetan Goji Berry Company is associated with the Tanaduk Botanical Research Institute of Tibetan Medicine. Since 1974 the institute, along with directors of His Holiness The Dalai Lamas Institute of Tibetan Medicine, is using the Goji berry as a vehicle to bring support to the Tibetan farmers and to Tibetan exiles in general.

The original Tibetan Lycium (Goji) has been used extensively in Tibetan medicine, going back seventeen centuries. China never had an indigenous Lycium and research shows that although Tibet has forty one Lycium types, China has only one. The relocation of the plant to China, thousands of years ago, created great differences between the Chinese Lycium barbarum and the ancient Tibetan Goji berry. The Chinese wolfberry has undergone many environmental changes since it was taken from Tibet, and the Chinese growers openly admitted to using DDT and other toxic chemicals, for over sixty years. This has made the Chinese Lycium undesirable for medicinal purposes, or as a food source.

The names Himalayan Goji berry and Tibetan Goji berry have been thrown around in the global health food industry for a while now. Its supposed to indicate berries that have been grown or collected in the Himalayan region, yet the companies marketing such berries tend not to specify the exact location their berries supposedly come from.

Earl Mindells website does state that his Himalayan Goji berries actually come from Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, and the Tian Shan Mountains of western Xinjiang, China, but these are not the Himalayas.

Here is the truth.

Although Lycium species do grow in some regions of Tibet, commercial production of wolfberries in the Tibetan Himayalas is a myth. The mountain range bordering the Tibetan Plateau is a region inhospitable to commercial cultivation of plant foods. At 10,000 ft, the Tibetan plateau creates unfavorable conditions for fruit crops. While it is true that limited fertile regions exist in the valleys of Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyantse, and the Brahmaputra River, there are no reliable reports on the commercial production of Lycium berry species from these Tibetan regions. For these reasons, true Goji production is only possible in fertile valleys, with an elevation of no more than 2,000 feet.

Wolfberries have long played an important role in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), despite a history of extensive use of pesticides. In TCM terms, wolfberries are sweet in taste and neutral in nature. They act on the liver, lungs, and kidneys and enrich yin. They can be eaten raw, consumed as juice or wine, brewed into an herbal tea or prepared as a tincture. The berries are also used in traditional Korean medicine, traditional Japanese medicine, and of course in traditional Tibetan medicine. An early mention of wolfberry occurs in the 7th century Tang Dynasty treatise Yaoxing Lun. It is also discussed in the 16th century Ming Dynasty Compendium of Materia Medica of Li Shizhen.

Wolfberry polysaccharides were shown to have an antioxidant activity in vitro and might also have biological activities in vivo. This is currently being researched. Wolfberry fruits also contain zeaxanthin, a carotenoid that is selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea where it is thought to provide protective light-filtering properties. Several published studies, mostly from China, have also reported possible medicinal benefits of Lycium barbarum, especially due to its antioxidant properties, including potential benefits against cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, vision-related diseases (such as age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma), having neuroprotective properties or as an anticancer and immunomodulatory agent.

Wolfberries contain many nutrients and phytochemicals, including 11 essential and 22 trace minerals,18 amino acids, 6 essential vitamins, 8 polysaccharides and 6 monosaccharides, 5 unsaturated fatty acids (including the essential fatty acids, linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid), beta-sitosterol and other phytosterols, 5 carotenoids (including beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, lutein, lycopene and cryptoxanthin), and numerous phenols.

The wolfberry is best known in the United States and Canada as a juice, marketed over the Internet, and has been increasingly mentioned in reports as an exotic superfruit, with an unusual antioxidant strength. However, juice prepared only from fresh wolfberries is rare. The great majority of these commercial juice products are blends of several other fruit juices, yet they are being labeled as pure Goji juice. (The percentage of wolfberry contained in these juices is usually not stated on the labels.)

Out of all the companies selling Goji products, there are two that needs mentioning FreeLife International, a Multi Level Marketing company that markets a product called Himalayan Goji Juice, and another company, called Tibet Authentic.

The driving force behind FreeLifes product, is pharmacist and nutritionist, Earl Mindell. FreeLifes website claims that theirs is the first company to perfect a difficult and demanding proprietary extraction process and create the only standardized form of this incredible plant available in the world today. In light of the above information, this has been questioned by many.

FreeLife also claims that Thanks to years of dedicated scientific research, FreeLife is the only company in the world to have developed a Spectral Signature to identify, isolate, and harvest only those special Goji berries with the exact nutrient profile of the legendary Goji from the Himalayas.

Spectral signatures don't mean much. They only indicate chemical markers and the amount present in the sample. And considering that FreeLifes wolfberries are coming from China, where most wolfberries come from, it's highly unlikely that the berries FreeLife uses are anything special.

However, the biggest offender with the most outlandish claims for the Goji berry is Tibet Authentic.

Tibet Authentics website claims that the Tibetan Medical College is partly owned by the Government of Tibet. This is not true, since Tibet has been under Chinese occupation since 1949. The website also claims the following: Our partnership with Tibet the Tibet Medical college brings to you authentic wildly grown Goji Berries. Only Tibet Authentic wildly grown Goji Berries are certified grown and harvested in the pristine Himalayan mountains of Tibet.

Taking into account the above mentioned conditions of the Tibetan plateau, it's obvious that this statement is false.

In his article The fruitless search for the Tibetan Goji berry (dated December 2, 2006) Simon Parry, reporter for the South China Morning Post, exposes the flamboyant man behind Tibet Authnetic. The man's name is Antony Jacobson. He is a 42 year old father of two, who used to own a patenting business in Melbourne, until a trek through the Himalayas five years ago gave him the idea to get into the health products business.

When you look at the claims Tibet Authentic makes, you find that they are full of holes, exaggerations, and even outright lies.

Tibet Authentic claims that their berries come from the remote Shannan and Nyingtri regions of Tibet. But, when Parry flew to Lhasa and asked to be taken there, company officials refused. Parry was determined to find out the truth and hired a four-wheeler to take him to Nyingtri, one of the areas Tibet Authentic claims their berries come from.

Nyingtri is a Chinese military base, located in a fertile valley, near the Indian border. Of course there were no signs of wolfberry production, no matter how hard Parry looked. When he consulted a local medicine expert, the man confirmed that only small quantities of berries grow in the surrounding hills. And when Parry told him about the scale of exports Tibet Authentic claims, this same man laughed and added Thats impossible there arent enough around here to send even one tonne overseas.

So whats the take home message? Do your research! And if you do decide to buy Goji berries, contact The Tibetan Goji Berry Company. They have an authentication service that assures that you are using authentic, Tibetan, wild-crafted Goji berries, that have been harvested in managed co-ops in the pristine valleys of Mongolia and India.

This way at least your conscience will be clear, and who knows maybe it will even improve your karma a bit.

Chaba Gryphon is an entrepreneur with interests which include health, nutrition, business and international communications. He started such informational websites as and and is currently working on promoting the international language, through his "One World, One Voice Project", which you can find here:


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