Growing your own berries has become a trend over the last couple of years for many reasons: berries are expensive to buy from the shop, growing them is easy, and plants are becoming more readily available from nurseries. Goji berries (Lycium barbarum), a health-boosting superfood, fall into this category and can be grown successfully in our climate.
Grow goji berries in well-composted soil in a sunny position. Plants need to be spaced 1m apart for an informal hedge or screen. Prune back in late winter to get a good crop of berries in late summer. Goji berries can also be grown in containers, but this may limit the size they reach.
Water twice weekly and, because they are heavy feeders, mulch monthly with a layer of compost and feed with an organic fertiliser every second month to stimulate growth and flowering in spring.
Using goji berries
Goji berries are part of the nightshade family of plants, which includes potatoes, tomatoes and eggplants, so people with a nightshade allergy might suffer adverse reactions if they eat them. The Chinese have been using dried goji berries for health reasons for centuries, but few scientific studies have been done to see what benefits they actually provide. They taste quite bitter with a slight sweetness, and you will either love them or hate them. They are used extensively dried in health dishes like muesli and granola bars, or steeped in hot water to make a tea.
Goji berry plants can produce an abundance of fruit so it’s best to dry them in the sun, in the oven or using a dehydrator so that they can be properly stored for up to a year. Fresh berries may have a metallic aftertaste, but they can also make a great jam with a little sugar added to counteract the bitter taste.
Quick growing tips
- The goji berry plant is a rambler and needs to be staked for the first two years.
- Don’t use a peat-based potting mix! Plants prefer an alkaline soil, so it is safer to use plain topsoil with a little added perlite.
- Plants are self-pollinating, so you can have just one in the garden.
- Water young plants regularly. Established plants are drought hardy.
- Only harvest fully ripe fruit as only then is it edible.
- They are quick growers but go dormant in winter. Plants in warm areas might grow all year round.
Goji berry balls
These simple date balls are packed with goodness, and free of added sugar. You can mix and match different seeds and nuts to find your favourite flavour combination.
- 20g dried goji berries
- 100g raw cashews
- 30g pumpkin seeds
- 250g pitted dates, chopped
- 50g melted butter
- 20g desiccated coconut for coating
Place the nuts and seeds in a food processor and chop together. The mix should be quite fine, but still have a bit of texture. Add the dates and process the mixture until well combined. Stir in the melted butter. Make spoonfuls into balls and roll in the coconut. The recipe makes around 15 balls.