The people ask: are Goji berries best eaten raw or cooked? This is my response to the following question sent in.
I received a box of dried fructus lycii, (goji berries)from a friend and on the back of the box it says ‘this product needs to clean and cook thoroughly before consumption. However, other google references to the berries say they can be eaten like raisins. Do these berries have to be clean(ed) and cooked?
Excellent question: it sounds like you bought some from a Chinese market or supplier? If so, yes, those ones definitely do, as they have been processed, stored, and packed in un-sanitary conditions. I bet Goji were eaten fresh from the tree, but since the whole storing and selling process was very unhygienic in the past, and remains so to this day (mouse and rat feces in storage, dust, people spitting, sneezing and coughing), the Chinese were and are very keen to wash and cook such things so as to avoid food borne bacterial, amoebic, and viral illness. That is one of the reasons you don’t see European style salads in India or China. You eat raw things you can peel or scrub. So for the Goji you ask about, protect yourself from food borne bacterial or viral infection and cook them.
Chinese medicine also considers raw food harder to digest, and dried fruits, having such intensely concentrated sugar are considered damp producing, so that to get the full benefit of Goji they were cooked and the essence extracted into a very digestible liquid; moreover when your digestion fires (Agni in Ayurveda) are stoked by the process of eating delicious aromatic cooked food like soup, your body is probably secreting increased digestive enzymes.
But if you buy the Goji from Heaven Mountain (see link below) or at Whole Foods, or any reputable undyed, unsulphured, organic brand, and if you have strong digestion, a good immune system, and don’t have a damp condition (e.g. dried fruit does not give you gas), then buy all means eat a small handful a day raw, or bring them on a hike in your trail mix just like a raisen.
Red Dye and Sulphur Dioxide
A secondary issue is that the cheaper Goji from China, such as you find in the Chinese herb store in Chinatown or the Chinese grocery like 99 Ranch Market here in San Diego, California, are typically dyed red with god knows which toxic dye. Of course they are also treated with sulphur dioxide as a preservative, as are any dried fruit that is not known to be specifically “unsulphured.” The quality of the Chinese herb story/grocery Goji is also typically lower to start with. So that is why I recommend Heaven Mountain, for example ( see below link). Goji treated with dye
Traditional Method for Using Goji Berry in Chinese Food Medicine
Cooked with other Herbs
Goji berries/Go Ji Zi/Fructus Lycii are traditionally eaten in Chinese medicine to nourish the blood and essence/jing, in conditions of weakness such as impotence and erectile dysfunction; for chronic low back or knee soreness; for the severe wasting and thirsting associated with diabetes and tuberculosis. For more complete info, see my earlier article Goji also is considered to have an affinity for the eyes, so it is used for the kinds of visual impairment associated with migraines. It is also used in digestive disorders like gastritis where there is dryness in the mouth, a bitter taste, and acid reflux.
It is critical to note that using Goji berries for specific health benefits means combining them with other herbs cooked in herbal teas–in fact the word for such a tea in Chinese–Tang–does not connote tea at all to a Chinese speaker, but is synonymous with the English word soup. That is because these herb teas are thick like soup, whereas tea, such as green or black tea, is light.
Once these herbal formulas are cooked, they can be dehydrated and made into pills (wan) or powders (san). Those are called “ready made” herbal prescriptions, which have been used since the 12th century for convenience sake.
Contraindicated in Weak Digestion/Metabolism with Dampness
Like all nourishing foodstuffs in Chinese medicine, from milk to meat to sugary fruit, Goji berry is contraindicated in cases of weak digestion with accumulated dampness. If you are overweight, have chronic weak digestion, have a thick tongue coat, for example, or if everything you eat gives you gas, especially sugars, then you need to restrict sweet foods like Goji. Keep them to a minimum, and combine them with other foods that balance the effect.
Cooked as Soup with Meats and Vegetables
That is another reason why Goji are typically cooked–cooking foods makes them easier to digest. Goji are historically cooked in many kinds of meat soup from chicken to pork to sea turtle in which they combine with the equally blood and essence nourishing properties of the flesh food, and they are balanced by the use of digestive herbs like ginger or dried tangerine peel, as well as the inclusion of light green leafy vegetables like cabbage or bok choy. I have also cooked them with tofu, which is lovely, as the red berries contrast beautifully with the white tofu.
It is in this soup form that historically goji were seen to have their full benefit as a nutritive food to promote wellness and longevity–as essence extracted into a very digestible liquid. And when your Spleen Qi/Agni is being stoked by the process of eating delicious aromatic cooked food like soup, your body is probably secreting increased digestive enzymes.
Historically China was a land of famine. Goji, having such high nutritive benefit, were a boon for skinny underfed folk; in the USA it is rare to find these people, were are chronically overfed, congested, and stressed. When we are mildly emotionally depressed we tend to eat more; in Chinese culture people lose their appetite with stress. So be careful. Know your body and digestion. Use Goji as a raw food snack if you have regular bowel movement, a clean thin white tongue coat, are not obese, do not have digestive issues involving gas, bloating or pain. And when you do buy them get them from a reputable, clean source, like this one Heaven Mountain Goji Berries
Eyton Shalom, M.S., L.Ac.
copyright eyton j. shalom, march 2013 san diego, california, all rights reserved, use with permission