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The Goji Scam

Botanical name: 

Goji berries are your normal Lycium berries.

The following is gleaned from a recent discussion on a mailing list for herbalists:

1) Both Lycium eleagnus pungens and Lycium eleagnus barbarum are manufactured names; there is no such thing, botanically. The berry sold under those names is your normal Lycium barbarum or wolfberry.
2) There is no such thing as wild Tibetan goji berries. These, too, are normal Lycium barbarum berries. Ditto for Himalayan goji.
3) The so-called Tibetan-grown goji berries are a) normal lycium berries (Lycium barbarum), and b) Mongolian-grown, like the rest of the Lycium berries on the market.
4) Lycium is in the Solanaceae (nightshade family). Elaeagnus is in the Elaeagnaceae (oleaster family). They are not related, nor have they been each other's synonyms.
5) You can buy lycium berries (Lycium barbarum) in bulk herb stores at $7-$10 a pound. Good quality lycium berries are the same stuff that is sold as goji for a far higher price. By the way, sulphured lycium berries are bright red-orange, and they are not good quality.
6) The statement that Chinese-grown Lycium berries are pesticide-laden is just commercial competitor-bashing. If somebody tries to tell you that ask them for the lab reports.

The name "goji berry" comes of course from the Chinese name for lycium: Gou Qi Zi. It helps to know that qi is pronounced "chi".

There. Now, don't get hoodwinked, don't hop onto bandwagons, and don't buy goji berries. Buy unsulphured lycium berries instead. Your wallet will thank you.

Update: Before you decide to comment on this post: nobody but me will ever see your pro-himalayan-goji propaganda here, and I only read the first two or three lines of your comment before I push the "delete" button. Like this: clicky clicky.
Because I won't let any MLM scammers hawk their wares on my blog. So shoo. And do stay away, there's a good scammer.

Update: Comments are now closed.

February 2017: A large Swedish food store chain has tested goji berries and found contaminations in pretty much all of them (including Chinese).


Gojiberry juice is now widely available at many health food stores and other retail outlets in Canada, the U.S., Britain, and elsewhere. In light of the phenomenal amount of misinformation about the berries being promulgated on the web, before buying a goji product you might want to read up on the subject. So far, the only book on the the berries I can recommend is: Gross PM, Zhang G, Zhang R, Wolfberry: Nature’s Bounty of Nutrition and Health. BookSurge Publishing; 2006.

Two other books are:

Mindell E. Goji: The Himalayan Health Secret. Second ed. Lake Dallas, TX: Momentum Media; 2003.

Young G, Lawrence R, Schreuder M, Discovery of the Ultimate Superfood. Orem, UT: Essential Science publishing; 2005.

For a information on the authors of the these two other, nonrecommended books, see:

I've been led to this blog discussion via an email exchange between Ken Jones and Richard Zhang, my colleague on wolfberry projects including the book we published this year. I'll enjoy diving in to your discussions about the "goji scam" and other topics of interest concerning this nutrient-rich plant.

I can tell you that the wolfberry book project was launched by a simple challenging question that perhaps can never be adequately answered, but is nonetheless appealing and forces useful comparisons with other nutritious plant foods: is wolfberry Nature's most nutrient-rich food?

I love that question because it causes us to think objectively "in data", i.e., to compare objective values for nutrient and phytochemical content between nutritious plant foods. All the data for wolfberries in the book were obtained by independent contract lab assays and cross-referenced to other reliable sources. We spent one long chapter (3) comparing wolfberry nutrients one-by-one with those in spinach, flax seeds, blueberries and papaya. I have other tables using soybean as the benchmark.

Bottom line: soybean comes closest to wolfberry's nutrient diversity and density, but doesn't appear to have equal phytochemical value, mainly due to the combination of carotenoids and phenolics (antioxidants) in wolfberry -- a unique "signature" unlike any other edible plant I know.

But that's possibly a good place to stimulate another thread here: what plant do you feel is Nature's most nutritious food, and do you have the data to back up your candidate?

I'm attracted to join your discussion as time permits for another reason -- writing the chapter on taxonomy of wolfberry (8) was my first exercise in describing botany, for which I am all self-taught and therefore in need of a better education! I hope to learn from you here.

Thanks and see you next post.

I've replied here.

Henriette, don't know who you are, but THANKS for telling it like it is! I'm preparing a monograph on Lycium for my American Herb Association Quarterly based on studies, history & botany. Then started to swim through the hype so checked your site (Michael Moore told me about you a few years ago). It matches everything I've researched so here's another herbalist supporting you. Will mention your blog. And Ken--hi!--would like to quote a couple things you said on this site.

Thanks for that, Kathi!

Kathi Keville is one of the better-known herbalists in the U.S. and along with being a respected author of a number of books on herbal medicine, has headed up the American Herb Association for well over 20 years. A monograph on Lycium in the AHA Newsletter will be most welcomed and likely widely referred to.

You certainly have my permission to quote me. Best obtain that from Henriette, too.

Crawling around on the web, I have come to the conclusion that a few of people are spending an awful lot of energy creating hype about the berries when they could be telling truths. No doubt, they figure that maintaing the lies is maintaing sales. Here's a handful of the current fallacies being promulgated about goji berries on the web today, all of which can be refuted with facts, if anyone would just take the time to study the scientific and historical literature already published on the berries. These are mostly in addition to those posted earlier on this blog:

That goji berries by themselves have an ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbing Capacity) value of over 25,000.

That they have an ORAC value of over 30,000.

That they have the highest ORAC value of any plant known.

That either in "Tibet" or the "Himalayas" the local people hold a two-week festival celebrating the berries.

That there is a taxonomically distinct species known as "Lycium tibetica".

That the berries being sold in the West are harvested in "Tibet" or the "Himalayas".

That the berries are "not Chinese".

That Chinese goji berries originated in Tibet or the Himalayas.

That Chinese goji berries are by default loaded in pesticides.

That the Dalai Lama has anything to do with them.

That Tibetan doctors use goji berries obtained in Tibet.

That the berries contain 500 times the content of vitamin C in oranges.

That the berries contain more Beta-carotene than found in carrots.

That the berries have some property that makes people feel "happy".

That "goji" is a Tibetan or Mongolian name.

Henriette, i was looking on the web for a berry to grow, adapting well in my area.
After 10 minutes reading enormous goji sales pitch I felt as if transported in 18th century
where charlatans were selling miracle elixirs.Your site made me realise that finally a sucker is still born every minute, and that with internet he can get screwed for life.
And the peddler can do it from his home spa to millions of potential believers simultaneously. I suggest to coin a term to define this new web era of exotic planetary gullibility that we could call Gojibilty.

Hello there, and Ken and Kathy especially...
Here I am sitting, as a kind of serious researcher. In Europe. In a scandinavian country, which is small and our pharmaceutical lobby huge and feeling selfimportant. For years I have fought against the limitations which the newly imposed EU directives on for example 'traditional medicines' pose for the free availability of many herbs. Especially herbs, which we cannot document as having been in use traditionally in Europe. Like chinese herbs. Like Lycium spp. fruits.
Anyhow, when I look at the hypes, with which certain products are sold at often ridiculous prices to often very sick, lonely or otherwise unfullfilled people, I do see a huge need for correct information. And this not on 'products' with shiny names, selling dreams. But correct info on plants, herbal medicines to aid in the selfhealing process.
In my country here, we are in the situation, that Lycium fruits, chinenses and barbarum, are being classified as 'toxic', because they belong to the solanacea family(!!). So much for the qualifications the 'responible' person holds. But power has a different impact than knowledge.
Fructus lycii is going to be on the 'druglist' of unacceptable plants.This on the account of citing 2-3 refs, about 40 years old. Anyway.
I am working on a monograph to be submitted shortly to counteract this descision, and serious research reveiled a wealth of scientific international research, most of it even recent. What I am missing, is a clear ref on what you, Ken, called the 'taxonomically, genetically and phytochemically difference between L. barbarum and L. chinense. Even in the PRC pharmacopoeia, fructus lycii's botanical origin is given as L. barbarum, L. chinense..
And I would be very greatful for any botanical refs you, Ken, might have on this.

Again, serious info, in my opinion, seems to be the only way to counteract ignorance (both regarding laypeople and the socalled experts) and commercial interest (both regarding 'dreamsellers'and the pharmaceutical industry).
Well, I'm not a chatter, really.
What this thread here has shown me though, is, that the juice of Lycium fruits- real or adulterated- but nevertheless declared as that, is approved as 'food', a nutritional drink, and I might need some refs for that as well, at least regarding Europe, since we here 'ofcourse know, that the americans are crazy'...

Last, not least, now that I say something... Henriette, bravo for keeping on

Many regards

Have'em ban cayenne (or chili), eggplant, tomatoes, and paprika as well. They're all solanaceous fruit.

As to information fighting against ignorance, well, the opposition has far larger budgets than herbalists have. Add to that that there's quite a lot of MLM scams which cash in on the herbal craze, and well, I'm content to keep my own corner clean.

If you really want to do something, do grassroots things. Write non-hysterically about herbs in glossies and newspapers, do herbal classes, that sort of thing. That's what I do. In Finland, which probably is far stricter than Denmark on this whole "herb" lark.


I can well appreciate the dilemma you face in Denmark. Half my relatives are Danes so I know how crazy they can get. In Canada and the US, history of use can be traced back over 100 years when Chinese immigrants must have brought the berries from China and dispensed them in their local pharmacies, whether in the Chinatowns that prung up in the West or as they worked in mines and built our railroads. Still, one should be able to trace the use of the berries in Chinese medicine as practiced in Europe for what must be over 50 years.

As for the 3 or 4 references being cited in objection to their approval, I'll bet they have something to do with the presence of belladonna (tropane) alkaloids. Belladonna (Atropa belladonna L.) is a member of the same plant family of goji, Solanaceae. Some earlier studies reported that the alkaoids (atropine and hyoscyamine) were in appreciable amounts in the berries and leaves of Lycium barbarum; however, subsequent investigations have only found them in trace amounts in cultivated berries and certainly not enough to cause any toxic effects. See for example, Adams M, Wiedenmann M, Tittel G, Bauer R, HPLC-MS trace analysis of atropine in Lycium barbarum berries, Phytochem Anal. 2006;17(5):279-283. It's possible that the species used in the early studies were not correctly identified and may have been some other Lycium with red berries. In any case, the authors of the recent study still caution that if the berries are being collected in the wild, there is a chance that some species which might contain higher amounts of the alkaloids could be mixed in with L. barbarum, and for that reason "wild" berries should be checked before processing for distribution. Because of the lack of research in this area, one American company I did some consulting for on the subject of the berries followed my advice to check for belladonna alkaloids even though their supply was from cultivated plants in China. They found none.

At least until I know more, I'm not sure that distinguishing Lycium chinense from L. barbarum will help in your situation.

Thanks Ken,
Yes, I thought that it must have been on the account of 'solanaceae equals alkaloids', however, its other natural product categories mentioned in the literature, such as polysaccharides, flavonoids, carotenoids, xanthophylls etc., and an abundance of them rarely shows a noticable or substantial amount of tropanes in the same plant.. Thanks for the ref-
Looking forwards to further communication, as you say, probably more appropriate outside this blog

i was shopping for raw cacao then i saw these 'goji berries' for a chunk of money...then i asked my dad if he had them before, and he said, "yeah, you have too, your mother puts it in the soup she makes us everyweek, but it's only $1.39 to two bucks."

then i looked at the packages that i have at home in the fridge, and it saids lycium fruit and it's the same thing as goji. i now make my own goji juice drink, i boil it in a medium it with one honey-date, i let it boil to half, add water back, let it boil to half again to get all the nutrients and flavor out, and i drink it hot, before i go to bed. so yummy. it's my night time cocoa.

April: If your mother puts it in the soup she makes every week, I can only assume that she is Chinese. I would be interested to know and also what she says the berries are "good for".

Further to my post on April 8, 2006, I have still not found what name Tibetans use for the berries. As might be expected, a recent expose (see Parry S, "A fruitless search", South China Morning Post, Dec. 2, 2006, p. A16) puts the source of the so-called "Tibetan" goji berries reaching the West in serious doubt as anything other than China-grown berries. The journalist did manage to find some small shrubs with red berries in SE Tibet that appear to be a species of Lycium, but in the area there was nowhere near enough to account for the tonnages seen in the West. Curiously enough, Tibetans who had traversed the Himalayas all their life didn't even know what they were, had never seen them before, and had never heard the name "goji". Traditional medicine practised in Tibet incorporates much of Chinese medicine so it was no surprise to learn that dried goji berries were available in the local traditional pharmacies in the capital of Tibet; however, they were all imported from China. Nuff said? If not, see the article for more.