The Desert Agri-Research Center in Ramat Hanegev is constantly searching for new crops, which can successfully withstand the extremely harsh conditions characteristic of the arid Negev while bringing an additional advantage to the region’s farmers. This quest has led us to consider new varieties of tomatoes and peppers, or trying out unique growing methods in plant cultivation or irrigation. Occasionally, a new, previously unknown plant comes to our attention in Israel and our task is to appraise its potential.
In this way we received for our consideration the Goji berry plant (Lycium Barbarum). The Goji is a perennial shrub belonging to the Solanaceae family that is popularly known as the wild bramble (or wolfberry) and is native to the arid regions of China and Mongolia. The fruit, red in color and about the same size as blueberries grows in clusters from the spring to the fall. The fruit’s taste reminds one of a combination of blueberries, raisins and wild raspberries.
The Goji is a unique fruit and owes its recognition as a Super Food to its being one of nature’s richest sources of anti-oxidants. According to the ORAC index issued by the USDA this fruit tops the list of food products possessing the capability to absorb free radicals, which are known to be harmful to human health.
Traditional Chinese medicine has been using the Goji fruit and its leaves for thousands of years and it may be consumed as fresh fruit or in raisin form, as well as in drinks and ointments. It is widely believed that the fruit can protect the liver, strengthen the immune system to increase life expectancy, improve blood circulation, lead to better eyesight, enhance sexual functioning and virility, and additional qualities. The wonders of the Goji fruit were also discovered in the developed western countries and even became a regular part of a healthy diet in the United States and
Western Europe since the beginning of the current millennium. The fruit has been subjected to increasing scientific research over the years and the findings have shown that 11 minerals essential for the human body in addition to a further 22 trace elements are present in the fruit. These minerals and elements include zinc, selenium, calcium and iron (in considerable quantities), carotenoids in addition to vitamins B, C, E, and similar; and fatty acids. These conclusions have gained considerable support based on experience.
Western dieticians and nutritionists are also of the opinion that Goji berries strengthen the immune system, improve the body’s energy levels, reduce weakness and fatigue as well as suppress appetites and thereby contribute to an overall wellbeing.
During the current year this fruit has been harvested for the first time at the Desert Agri-Research Center in Ramat Hanegev and we are now devoting considerable efforts to developing the optimum growing and harvesting methods, suitable guidelines and aiming to achieve an extended shelf-life for the fresh produce. We are striving to produce fresh high-quality fruit which may be marketed as a specialty crop for export and for sale at health food stores.
Nowadays imported Goji fruit is available in Israel at health food stores only as dried raisins and comes in small packets. The fruit is expensive costing at least 120 NIS per Kg. The imported Goji berries and particularly those from China are sometimes of questionable quality and the level of preservatives may be less than satisfactory. We hope to see this plant being grown commercially in the Ramat HaNegev area in the near future and contributing to the range of crops growing in the fields of farmers in our region.