Goji berries have been grown in the Himalayas for thousands of years and picked and dried for food by the native populations. They are now grown commercially in China for export as dried fruit. As the plants are now being offered for sale in the UK, it is appropriate to look a little closer at their cultivation. As I have not grown them myself, nor found anyone who has grown them, what follows is “hearsay”.
According to Wikipedia, it turns out rather surprisingly that Goji berries have a long history of being grown in the UK, having been introduced by Archibald Campbell, the third Duke of Argyll at his estate in Middlesex, in the 1730’s, where it was known as the Duke of Argyll’s tea tree. It is used for hedging, particularly in coastal districts, and can be found growing wild at several locations in Suffolk, where the birds eat the berries.
Goji plants are deciduous woody perennial plants growing some 2 to 3 m high. They are claimed by the supplier, to be fully hardy and self-pollinating in the UK. It is recommended that they should be grown in well-drained soil in a sunny position. They flower from June and the berries form from August. It is claimed that each plant will produce up to 1 Kg of fruit in their second year. This is about the same amount of fruit that you could get from a small blueberry bush. By their 5th year they should produce a worthwhile crop.
Apparently, when the plants are in their first year, they require protection from frost, but in subsequent years they are frost hardy.
The Fruit berries are some 1 to 2 cm long coloured bright orange red, with many tiny yellow seeds inside.
Pests and diseases. Apart from requiring to net the Goji berry bush against the birds, I have not heard of any problems.
Uses for the fruit. It is suggested they could be used fresh on cereals, brewed for a fruit tea, or added to juices or smoothies. They can also be used instead of grapes to make wine.
The taste of the dried berries, is slightly sweet. You can buy the dried berries quite cheaply at health food stores to see if you like the taste. If the dried berries are a bright orange colour, it is likely that they have been treated with sulphites. If they have been dried naturally, they are likely to be a dark brown colour and slightly “gooey”.