Desert Goji – Easy to Forage

You can easily forage these wild goji berries across the West. The scientific name is Lycium – same as the imported goji berries from Asia.  Desert goji?  I grew up with them called “wolfberry.” Also I was told not to eat them. Sadly I was missing out on a real treat! And a healthy one too.

Many Species of Goji

Goji, goji berry, or wolfberry is the name applied to the fruit of two Asian plants, Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense. Occasionally the name is given as Fructus lycii. Same common name is used to other species in the genus – and is found around the globe, from China to Chile, Southern USA to South Africa.    There are about 100 species, most living in dry areas – including rocky hillsides in Italy (European goji).

Goji often bloom and fruit at the same time. Even a light rain with stimulate flowering. Photo of Lycium fichii in Baja, courtesy of W. Anderson.

Tasty Desert Goji

Desert goji berries have a mild tangy taste that is slightly sweet and sour at the same time. The whole, dried berries have the chewy texture of raisins – but with a flavor like a mild form of the candy SweetTart.    Excellent to forage or carry as a trail snack!

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As a child I was told that Lycium were poisonous and not to eat them.    This was a logical deduction on that adults part because Lycium is in the deadly nightshade family, Solanaceae.  But the family also includes tomato, potato, eggplant, tomatillo, chili peppers, and the drugs belladonna and tobacco. I have since come to find out that the goji berries were traditionally used by Western tribes for food.

In New Mexico, Texas, and eastern Mexico you may find Lycium berlandieri. Photo courtesy W. Anderson.

Healthy Goji

There are seven clinically proven health benefits of the commercial goji fruits. Since the desert goji are sister species, we can say that the same benefits apply (this has been done with other sister species).  Some of the healthy compounds include vitamin A and zeaxanthin (good for vision), carotenoids (vision, reduce inflammation), vitamins A and C (help build immunity and fight free radicals), beta-carotene (promotes healthy skin), specific polysaccharides that help balance insulin, and different group of polysaccharides promote liver health, including preventing the progression of alcohol-induced fatty liver disease.

Lycium parishii in California. Photo courtesy L. St. John.

Now we come to a synergistic health benefit – meaning many things combined in the goji but there is no known compound to point to. This synerggy appears to help you feel better.  In a 2016 study on using goji for 2 weeks “Significant differences were found in the group taking goji [versus a placebo] in increased ratings for energy level, athletic performance, quality of sleep, ease of awakening, ability to focus on activities, mental acuity, calmness, and feelings of health, contentment, and happiness.”

Fremont’s goji in the Desert Botanical Garden.

Want more Healthy Herbs? Father Kino’s Herbs – Few Copies Left!

soule-kino-southwestThe last few copies of this out-of-print, award winning Southwestern book are now for sale. Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today   The review says:

“Award-winning garden writer Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule has pulled together a fascinating book on the life of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino and some of the plants that he brought to Southern Arizona and northwestern Sonora, and area called the Pimeria Alta.”

A steal at only $20!  This link is to our sales site. The profits from the sale go to the local Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.  We hope you will help support this great Southwest non-profit!

If you live in Tucson, consider purchasing your copy locally at Antigone Books, or Rillito Nursery (call first because they keep running out).

Forage Desert Goji

Not going to bore you with a list of the species since there are close to 100!  But where ever you are, California into Texas, and Sonora into Utah, Nevada, and even Colorado – there are species of goji that Native peoples ate for food. Learn to recognize and enjoy this healthy fruit.

Learn to recognize the shrub and berries. Even in the harshest desert conditions. Lycium andersonii by J. Pawek.

Forage Sustainably

We advocate foraging and harvesting sustainably.  We do forage extensively but honestly, it is a tad hard in this dry year. Dr. Jacqueline Soule did write about growing desert goji on her site – GardeningWithSoule. I am sharing what she said because if you feel like giving back when you forage, you can eat the fruit and plant the seeds.
In her post she says, “Lycium seed grow well when processed through a birds digestive system and deposited under a perch along with a nice packet of “fertilizer” (meaning bird poop).  I told you that to tell you this – some seeds grow better if they are NOT inside their fruit, and desert goji is one such.    You will need to take them out of their fruit. Note that these seeds are deposited under a perch.    Lycium start best in part shade – or at least noon-time shade in summer.”  Maybe give them a sip from your canteen to help them get started.

Thanks for reading.

The Savor Team

Cover image Lycium torreyi in Texas by W. Anderson.

Legal Note

© Article copyright Savor the Southwest // Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. You must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.


The authors of this website have researched the edibility of the materials we discuss, however, humans vary in their ability to tolerate different foods, drinks, and herbs. Individuals consuming flowers, plants, animals or derivatives mentioned in this blog do so entirely at their own risk. The authors on this site cannot be held responsible for any adverse reaction. In case of doubt please consult your medical practitioner.

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