Goji Berry

Goji Berries: 4000 Years of History, 600 Years of Cultivation Sentiment

In the northern regions, where deserts advance and retreat to reveal oases, the well-known product of Zhongning, Ningxia, thrives — goji berries.

The term “goji” has been recorded in oracle bone inscriptions from the Shang Dynasty. Inscriptions on oracle bones discuss divination related to the abundance and scarcity of crops such as “shu” (millet), “ji” (a type of millet), “mai” (wheat), “dao” (rice), and “qi” (goji berries). Renowned expert in oracle bone inscriptions, Luo Zhenyu, explained in Shuowen Jiezi: “Qi, also known as goji berries, grows from the wood radical itself.” Goji berries, revered as the tree of life since ancient times, have been an integral part of Chinese folklore and culture since the Yin-Shang era.

As a moderately priced authentic medicinal herb, the history of harvesting and consuming goji berries dates back four thousand years. From imperial health practices to popular folk remedies, goji berries have left their mark. However, for a long time, goji berries existed primarily in their wild form until over 600 years ago when artificial cultivation began in Zhongning, Ningxia, marking the initiation of goji berries’ history of human cultivation. The unique geographical conditions of Zhongning gave rise to high-quality goji berries, particularly the “Zhongning Goji” grown in Zhongning County, which is renowned as the crown jewel of Ningxia goji berries. Hence, it earned the title “King of Goji Berries.”

Cultivation Legacy: “Red Genes” Flowing in Zhongning’s Blood

“Spring in the goji orchard, flowers fragrant; I enjoy the flowers, feeling relaxed. Holding a flower needle, embroidering cloth; bees draw pictures on goji flowers. Summer arrives, the sun high in the sky; I rest in the shade of the goji orchard. Juicy, red fruits, a few to protect the heart. Autumn comes, goji fruits abound; this year’s harvest is exceptionally good. Brother Qing sincerely comes to help; goji berries spread in the yard. Winter arrives, snowflakes fall; I make a cotton jacket for my brother. Each stitch and thread carries affection; next year, when the fruits are ripe, we’ll marry. The red fruits are our life roots; the future will be rosy. Mandarin ducks play in the water, unwavering love for a lifetime.” This is a folk song that has been sung for centuries in Zhongning County, Ningxia, depicting the intimate connection between the growth of goji berries and the four seasons of life in Zhongning. The cultural significance of Zhongning goji berries has become an inseparable part of the daily lives of its people.

“Flowing in the blood of Zhongning residents is goji juice, goji wine!” expressed Yan Yongxiang, Director of the Zhongning Goji Industry Development Bureau. The cultivation and domestication process of goji berries over the past 600 years is a history of the development of goji berry varieties, cultivation techniques, pest control methods, irrigation techniques, and harvesting and processing techniques. Zhongning goji berries owe their enduring vitality to the dedication of numerous scientific and cultural inheritors who have passed down the “red genes” of Zhongning goji berries, making it an everlasting part of the local culture.

The Only “Authentic Medicinal Herb” Recorded in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia

For thousands of years, goji berries, as an officially recognized “food-medicine combination” in traditional Chinese medicine, have been associated with widespread health benefits. The first official Chinese pharmacopeia, “Shennong Ben Cao Jing” (Shennong’s Classic of Herbal Medicine), recorded goji berries as a superior herb. In the Ming Dynasty, the renowned medical scholar Li Shizhen detailed goji berries in “Ben Cao Gang Mu” (Compendium of Materia Medica), stating, “In spring, goji leaves are picked, known as the ‘heavenly essence herb’; in summer, flowers are harvested, known as the ‘longevity herb’; in autumn, the fruits are collected, known as goji berries; in winter, roots are gathered, known as ‘earth-bone skin.'” Li Shizhen emphasized their role in “nourishing the kidneys, moistening the lungs, promoting essence, and enhancing qi. Prolonged use strengthens tendons and bones, lightens the body, and prevents aging.” Among the various goji berry varieties, Zhongning goji berries, produced in Zhongning County, are the only ones recorded in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia and designated as an “authentic medicinal herb,” earning them the reputation of “the home of Chinese goji berries.”

**Contributing Back: “

Poverty Alleviation Medicinal Fruit” in Zhongning**

Contrary to the common perception of the arid and sandy landscape in Ningxia and the western region, goji berry orchards now adorn the once desolate lands like emerald gems. With the development of the goji berry industry as a dominant and distinctive feature, Zhongning is now sprinkled with vast stretches of goji berry trees. Goji berry-themed towns, demonstration orchard areas, the “Poverty Alleviation for Prosperity and Health” project, goji berry tourism souvenirs, and goji berry museums have emerged in recent years. As the industry undergoes transformation and upgrading, Zhongning goji berries, this “red business card,” continuously reveal new developmental patterns, becoming a local industry that enriches the people, preserves the ecology, supports health, and promotes culture.

In 2019, Zhongning County introduced the “Zhongning Goji Industry Integration and Promotion Plan,” promoting a comprehensive production model of “leading enterprises + cooperatives + farmers.” This model aims to create a modern goji berry industry chain that integrates research and development, cultivation, processing, marketing, culture, and ecology. The shift from extensive management by individual households to intensive and standardized modern production, from a single product of dried goji berries to a complete product range, and from pursuing quantitative growth to seeking high-quality development has further propelled the scientific development of the Zhongning goji berry industry.

Currently, Zhongning County has a goji berry planting area of 128,000 mu (approximately 8,533 hectares), an annual production of 26,000 tons of dried goji berries, a comprehensive output value of 10.26 billion yuan, and products exported to more than 40 countries and regions, including Europe, the United States, and Southeast Asia, with an annual export of over 5,000 tons of goji berries. The goji berry industry employs 100,000 people in the local area, and goji berry picking alone helps increase the income of 60,000 farmers. Many goji berry plantations in the area have adopted the “village-enterprise joint construction” model, creating employment opportunities for impoverished households documented in local records. Training and supporting local farmers, these efforts have achieved the integration of ecology, poverty alleviation, and industry.

The unique geographical conditions of Zhongning, the culmination of centuries of experience, and the wisdom of its people have all contributed to the exceptional quality of Zhongning goji berries. Rigorous testing by authoritative departments reveals that compared to similar products nationwide, Zhongning goji berries have the highest content of trace elements beneficial for longevity, including iron, zinc, lithium, selenium, and germanium. They also have the highest content of the 18 essential amino acids required by the human body, with goji polysaccharides, which regulate the body’s immune system, being significantly higher than other regions. This is a primary reason why Zhongning goji berries are recognized as an “authentic medicinal herb.”

“In one corner, water and soil nourish a community; in one corner, water and soil cultivate agricultural products.” The history bestowed by Zhongning’s water and soil, the form shaped by its geographical environment, the style formed by cultivation experience — the collective action of various factors has created the unique qualities of Zhongning goji berries. Through the efforts of the Zhongning goji berry industry over the past 600 years, Zhongning’s water and soil, its people, and its goji berries have seamlessly merged, and this tiny fruit has become not only a medicinal formula but also a remedy that revitalizes Zhongning, a once impoverished land.

MJY goji berry

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