Little red berries pack mighty punch
Gouqi is known as the "king of berries" and has been used for thousands of years as an overall tonic to boost energy, immunity and fertility - and treat just about everything.
Ancient Chinese cherished three tonics for health - ginseng, lingzhi (lucid ganoderma, a fungus) and gouqi (Chinese wolfberry). The tiny red berries are justly famous - and more affordable.
Gouqi berries (lycium barbarum, or wolf berries) are a powerhouse of energy, nutrition and healing. A source of cooling yin energy, they are ideal for summer.
With a sweet, mild, somewhat raisin-like (some liken them to cranberry/cherry/plum) flavor, they are definitely not a bitter herb and are used in numerous recipes, in tea or eaten raw.
Rich in antioxidants, carotinoids, polysaccharides, flavonoids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, the berries can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, strengthen the immune system and do you a world of good. They are good for the liver, kidneys, skin and eyes and are said to slow the aging process. Today we know its anti-aging effects are largely produced by polysaccharides, flavonoids and carotenoids. The bright red color is a tip-off to nutrition.
Berries have been used to treat male infertility and boost sperm production, and both men and women have said it boosts libido; the gouqi vine is sometimes called the "matrimony vine."
Li Shizhen, a pharmacologist in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), said in "Ben Cao Gang Mu" ("Compendium of Materia Medica"), that gouqi is a remedy for thirst, heat stroke and fatigue. It can reinforce energy, strengthen muscles and improve eyesight.
Li said that gouqi from what is today's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region has the best taste and highest quality.
Berries are processed as dried fruit, semi-dried fruit, powder, juice and oil.
The region is known as China's "wolfberry valley" and is the main base of medicinal gouqi production, with modern processing plants.
"Wolfberry is a characteristic traditional Chinese herb," says Zhao Shihua, an expert on the herb in Ningxia. "Our mission is to explore its new health benefits and promote its worldwide sales."
The region's new wolfberry festival has drawn agriculturists, herbalists, researchers and business people from China and abroad.
"We find that each part of gouqi is valuable," Zhao adds. "The leaves, stems, flowers, seeds and bark all have medicinal effects."
Nowadays a great number of new products with wolfberry have been produced such as wine, drinks, tea, oil, milk, vinegar, honey and even cosmetics.
A new product is gouqi sprout tea. Although the tender sprout has no flower and no fruit, it contains a concentration of the most healthful elements.
This light-flavored sprout tea is suited to office workers who are on the go. It is said to ease the mind and reduce facial acne. Used as eyedrops, it can relieve watery eyes and mild conjunctivitis, say its proponents.
Chinese people often add gouqi to soups, teas, congees and other dishes, not only for its bright red color but also for its vision and skin-care benefits.
Experts say, however, that the best way to absorb its full nutrition is to eat the berries directly. Many people in Ningxia eat a bowl of fresh berries daily. That's part of their secret of long life.
City dwellers should eat about 30 grams of dried fruit a day for long-term health benefits.