Chinese medicine has been making use of the fruit and its leaves for thousands of years. It is consumed fresh or in dried raisin form as well as in infusions and lotions. It is believed it can protect the liver, boost the immune system, extend life expectancy, improve circulation, strengthen eyesight, improve sexual and reproductive health, besides additional features.
At the Desert Agri-research Center in Ramat Hanegev, there is a constant search for new crops that are suited to the extreme climatic conditions of the Negev and even provide an advantage for farmers in the region. The search has led to testing new varieties of tomatoes and peppers, or using unique growing methods in formation of the plant or in its irrigation. Occasionally, a new plant comes into our hands, which is not yet recognized as a crop in Israel and the role of R&D is to examine its potential. This is how Ramat Hanegev came to attempt to acclimate the Goji berry plant, a perennial shrub of the Solanaceae (shade-plant) family also called wolfberry, a native of the deserts of China and Mongolia. The fruit is red, about the size of a blueberry and yields clusters from spring to autumn.
In the United States and Western Europe people have discovered the wonders of Goji berry, and it has become part of a healthy diet since the 2000’s. Scientific studies indicate the presence of 11 essential minerals and 22 trace elements, including zinc, selenium, calcium and iron (in large amounts), carotenoids, vitamins B, C, E and others, and fatty acids. Western nutritionists believe that Goji berries even strengthen the immune system, improve energy levels, reduce fatigue and weakness and moderate appetite, thereby contributing to overall well-being.
At this time, the very first yield of this fruit is being harvested at the Ramat Hanegev Desert Agri-research Center. Researchers are now focusing their efforts on developing growing and harvesting methods, and on extending the shelf life of fresh produce. The goal is to attain high-quality fresh fruit that can be marketed as a specialty crop for export and health-food stores. (Today in the Israel you can buy imported Gojis in health-food stores in dried raisin form only, and in small packages, at a high cost of NIS120 or more per kilogram).
Our R & D researchers hope that within a year, cultivation of Goji berries as another Ramat Hanegev agricultural product will be feasible.