Lycium Barbarum : A Potential Underutilized Crop with Great Medicinal Importance
Author: Aditi Mathur


Lycium barbarum belongs to family Solanaceae. It is a red-yellow colored berry fruit obtained from two closely related popular species, Lycium chinense and Lycium barbarum, It occurs natively in Asia, with abundance in Northwest China. Lycium barbarum is popularly called as Wolfberry or Goji berry.

Lycium barbarum yields numerous varieties of nutritious fruits, including yellow to red berries, such as peppers and tomatoes .The fruits are either used in dried form in form of market herb, or the fresh fruits are squeezed for their juice concentrates.

Characteristic Features & Distribution

Lycium barbarum is a deciduous,woody, perennial plant, growing 1–3 m high in tropical climate with slightly acidic soil pH. It is grown mainly in North China, primarily in the NingxiaHui Autonomous Region. China is the biggest commercial supplier of the therauptic grade wolfberries throughout the world. When ripen, the oblong, yellow - red berries are rigid , must be picked carefully and preserved either by drying them in full sun in open trays or by mechanical dehydration to improve their shelf life and improve perishability

Major Phyto -Constituents

Carotenoids : The color components of Lycium fruit is imparted by a group of carotenoids, which make up only 0.03–0.5% of the dried fruit. The most abundant carotenoid present is Zeaxanthin in the form of Zeaxanthin dipalmitate (also called physalien or physalin), making about one-third part of the total carotenoids. Lycium fruit is considered one of the best natural food sources of Zeaxanthin.

Zeaxanthin is a yellow pigment (an isomer of lutein and a derivative of β-carotene) produced in plants. It contributes to the color of corn, oranges, mangoes, and egg yolks (from dietary carotenoids), When ingested, zeaxanthin accumulates in fatty tissues, especially in the macula, a region of the retina. With having a good supply of this compound, the macula is protected from oxidative degeneration, which can be induced by excessive Sun or any other oxidation reaction.

Physalis is used as a treatment for viral hepatitis, and this effect may be attributed in part to zeaxanthin and also to the steroidal compounds. Physalis is used for curing inflammatory disorders, perhaps aiding treatment of infections; crude of purified extracts of Physalis have increased natural killer cell activity when administered to mice.


Lycium is rich in polysaccharides making around 5-8% of the dried fruits. The functional immune-regulating substance is actually a polysaccharide-peptide mixture; the amino acid chains maintain a critical structure for the polysaccharide.

These Lycium fruit polysaccharides, have several possible benefits, including promoting immune system functions, reducing gastric irritation, and protecting against neurological damage.
These large molecules may be that they appear to the immune system as though they were cell surface components of microorganisms, promoting activation of a response cascade involving interleukins (such as IL-2) that impact immune cells (such as T-cells).

An amino-acid like substance betaine, which is related to the nutrient choline (betaine is an oxidized form of choline and is converted back to choline by the liver when it is ingested). Betaine has a role in improving muscle mass, using several hundred milligrams for a daily dose. Betaine has a role in protecting the livers from the impact of toxic chemicals; other pharmacologic studies have revealed that it is an anticonvulsant, sedative, and vasodilator.

Medicinal Uses

The fruits of Lycium barbarum are featured with following medicinal importance.
  • Rich source of Antioxidants and Nutrients

Goji berries are excellent source of antioxidants that boost immunity and protect the body from high levels of inflammation as it combats damage. They have a high ORAC value along, which indicates their exceptional ability to reduce oxidative stress. It reduces the aging of cells, helps to prevent cell degeneration and prevent malignancy in tumor cells.

· Improve Immune Function and Fight Cancer

Goji berries are similar to other berries as they contain high levels of antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin A. Polysaccharides and glycol conjugate compounds in Goji berries promote unique bioactive immunomodulation, anti-tumor and antioxidant activities in the brain, liver, reproductive organs and digestive tract. It show anti-tumor activities against various types of skin cancer cells by inhibiting tumor growth and inducing apoptosis.

· Promote Healthy Skin

Beta-carotene present in abundance helps in promoting healthy skin and even acts like a natural skin cancer treatment.
It offers significant protection against skin disorders and lipid peroxidation of UV light damage. Two most popular endogenous skin antioxidants are present in Goji berries, heme oxygenase-1 and metallo-thionein, which were found to be involved in the photo immune protection.

· Protect Eye Health

Goji berry reduces macular degeneration. Goji berries are a natural treatment for macular degeneration and beneficial for vision because of their high levels of antioxidants (especially zeaxanthin), which can help stop damage from UV light exposure, free radicals and other forms of oxidative stress. It prevents cataract and glaucoma in eyes.

· Help Stabilize Blood Sugar

In diabetes, goji berries benefits in controlled release of sugar into the bloodstream, which prevents sudden ups and downs in blood glucose levels. It exhibit hypoglycemic effects and insulin-sensitizing activity by increasing glucose responsiveness.

· Detoxify the Liver

Goji berries are believed to detoxify the body and remove harmful pollutants like heavy metals out of the body. It is beneficial for liver and kidney meridians to restore vitality, strength and well-being. It is a great kidney stone natural remedy as well as a good blood cleanser.

· Keep Your Energy and Mood Up

Goji berry juice consumption in diet regularly can help increase energy levels, moods and improve digestive health with increased energy levels and better gastrointestinal function. It reduces chronic and temporary fatigue. It restores energy and strength. It improves Blood Oxygenation and concentration.
  • Boost Fertility

Goji berry increases fertility. It increases sperm count and the vitality of sperm. It reduces risk of female sterility due to premature ovarian failure and improper ovulation. It restores libido value and improves sexual desire. It increases endurance.

Way forward

Seeing the huge medicinal importance of berries of Lycium barbarum, our country should also promote agricultural cultivation of this crop to promote chemical drug free cure of many chronic and systemic diseases.

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2. Cheng CY,, Fasting plasma zeaxanthin response to Fructus barbarum in a food-based human supplementation trial, British Journal of Nutrition 2005; 93(1): 123"130
3. Rosenthal JM,, Dose-ranging study of lutein supplementation in persons aged 60 years or older, Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science 2006; 47(12): 5227"5233
4. Wang Qiang,, Determination of polysaccharide contents in Fructus Lycii, Chinese Traditional and Herbal Drugs 1991; 22(2): 67"68
6. Flint, Harrison Leigh (1997). "Lycium barbarum". Landscape plants for eastern North America: exclusive of Florida and the immediate Gulf Coast. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. p. 326. ISBN 978-0-471-59919-7.

About Author / Additional Info:
I am a Botanist working in the field of Plant Biotechnology .