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Wolfberries: exceptional nutrition in a small package.

Years ago I started hunting deer on a friend s ranch in what we here in Utah call the West Desert. If you think your electric bill is high you should try pumping water to irrigate alfalfa in the West Desert. How about $3,000-$4,000 a month! It was in this unique setting that I discovered a large patch of a berry new to me. It looked like the deadly nightshade that grows along the streams in Cache Valley, but was different in two very distinct ways: crushed leaves did not stink, and the berries covered entire stems. Both types had red berries and blue flowers. My friends on the ranch said the original plants came from seeds planted by Chinese railroad workers when the first east-west railroad was constructed. The historic Golden Spike Monument is about 60 miles east of the ranch.

The next fall after first discovering the berries I went back for another deer and some red berries. This time I was armed with some information. Wolfberry, goji, or Lycium barbarium did indeed come from China. Wolfberry is in the same family Solaneacea, as is deadly nightshade, bell and hot peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, and petunias. The berries that fall were hard to come by as the birds had beat me to them. There were enough remaining for a few pounds of fruit. They did not taste like the dried fruit I had purchased during the winter--they had a slightly bitter taste. I later found that drying did make them taste more raisin-like.

There is very little information on culturing wolfberries, but tons of propaganda on the merits of various drinks, supplements, and other health food related products. Touted as "the ultimate superfood" in Young's Ningxia Wolfberry, and analyzed in detail in Wolfberry, Nature's Bounty of Nutrition and Health by Gross, Zhang, and Zhang, one has access to lots of facts. These books document the berries' merits and outline an interesting nutrient profile. Fruit, leaves, roots, bark and seeds have been used by the Chinese for centuries. I will leave for the reader to research potential health benefits. My response to the information was, "If they are so good why not try to grow them"?


Three ounces (100 grams) of dried wolfberries compared to 100 grams of blueberries, spinach, flaxseed, and papaya, revealed some reasons to consider growing and using this unique plant. A 100 gram serving (a small handful), provides half of a day's needs for carbohydrates in the form of natural sugars and polysachrides along with dietary fiber, with only flax seed having higher fiber. Fat in wolfberry seeds is largely heart healthy omegas and alpha linolenic acid in amounts exceeded only by flax seed. Wolfberry fruit is also a good source of protein, providing a near complete source of all essential amino acids in one serving. Similar data exists for minerals, trace minerals, vitamins, monosachrides, and carotinoids. Wolfberries are self-pollinating and do not require bees!

Meanwhile, back on the ranch the next summer I beat out the birds and collected gallons of berries. All were frozen and ended up in smoothies. Three summers ago I dug about 30 root fragments and brought them home with the year's berry picking. Planted in my garden, all grew. My thought was, "No more paying $16 a pound for dried berries." I was right.

Last year the berries started ripening in June and continued until after frost in October. They have thrived and survived -30[degrees]F temperatures without harm. Vines on this row are now 10 to 15 feet long and are tied to wires on an arbor similar to a grape arbor. Fruits start in the spring near the ground and spread upward as the summer progresses. As the fronds of fruit ripen handfuls of berries can be picked at one time. That first row of plants yielded over 50 pounds of berries this summer.

Two years ago I also started many plants from seed and none of the seeds planted in the garden grew. My soil is heavy on clay and has a pH of 7.8. These were seeds from dried "Ningxia" berries I had purchased from a local health food store. Seeds planted in March in the greenhouse nearly all germinated. By fall they were six to eight inches tall. They lost their leaves as the weather got cold and started to grow again in March. I planted them outside in May and by fall some were three feet tall and had some fruit. They looked and tasted the same as my West Desert plants.

Seeds are obtained by soaking the dried fruit in water over night and in the morning squishing the berries with your fingers. The pulp floats and the seeds sink. Place the seeds on a paper towel and when dry store in a cool place or plant. I used regular potting soil to start my plants. Each berry will provide a dozen or more seeds. I found no commercial source for seeds, but the dried fruit from any health food store should work. Once established it appears that there is an endless source of new plants as they send out runners and cuttings are easily rooted. I till up the shoots that appear between rows, but those I have dug up and given away all have grown.

My plants are about two feet apart in the rows, with rows five feet apart. The trellis consists of steel fence posts every 10 feet with end posts braced at a 45 degree angle. Heavy wire strands are located one, three, and five feet from the ground. Vines are tied on the first two wires as they grow and they are draped over the top wire when long enough. Vines that grow at right angles to the trellis are trimmed off. I will prune some heavily this fall and leave others uncut to see what difference this makes in fruiting.

Drying the fruit is a pain. The berries become very sticky as they dry. They even stick to Teflon sheets and take three days to dry in my Excalibur dehydrator. Blanching speeds the drying, but not the stickiness. However, if you are going to eat them by the handful, or in cereal, or cookies, I suggest drying. It improves the taste and is very raisin-like. Most of this year's crop were washed and put in small freezer bags to be added to smoothies. Rather than thaw the entire bag you can shake out what you need for each smoothie. Two of my favorite recipes follow:

1/2 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons whey protein powder
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup orange juice or more apple juice
1 cup frozen wolfberries
1 cup frozen blueberries, apricots or peaches
6-8 goat milk ice cubes
1 tablespoon xylotol or other sweetener  of your choice

Place 1/2 cup apple juice in Vita Mix
or other similar strong blender. Add
whey and cocoa. Blend under low
power to dissolve powders. Add additional
juice and all frozen ingredients
plus sweetener and blend under
high power until smooth. Don't eat
the entire batch yourself.

Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup shortening (I prefer bacon drippings)
1 tablespoon whey protein
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla
5 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup dried wolfberries or half wolfberry,
half raisin if you are buying your wolf berries
2 cups flour (I use whole wheat)
2 teaspoons baking powder

Blend the shortening and the
sugar, vanilla, and eggs. Mix in all the
other ingredients mixing first with
a large spoon and then with your
hands. It forms a nice sticky mess.
Shape into 3-inch round, 1/2 inch thick
disks. Place on greased cookie sheets.
Makes about three dozen. Bake at
350[degrees]F for about 10 minutes. They will
come out soft, but will harden as they
cool on racks.


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Author:Daugs, Donald
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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