There are literally hundreds of natural substances used by professional Chinese Medicine herbal practitioners like myself. Unlike most “herbs”, you might have actually heard about and seen Goji berry, available now in the health food stores. It has a long history of use, and its also known to us as Matrimony Vine. In Mandarin Chinese its known as: “Gou Qi Zi” which translates roughly to thorny stalk seed. This herb is kind of a fad now, western people have recently have found out how good it can for you.
Longevity and Goji Berry
One of China’s greatest herbalists, Shih-Chen Li, published an herbal Materia Medica in 1578 where he points out that people in the village of Nan-Qiu were consistent in the habit of eating goji berry, and that a very high percentage of them lived a long life. The famous Tang Dynasty (618-907) Chinese poet Yu-Xi Liu wrote a poem praising the wonders of the berry, and even going so far as to claim that even the water from a well near the plant can help you live a long life!
Beauty and Goji Berry
Often associated with beauty as well, another famous Chinese writer reported that he knew a beautiful woman from a rich family who always made it a point to drink tea made from the berry, and eat the seeds every day which was why she looked 20 years younger than her age. So not only is the berry good for you, but there are stories about the whole plant being medicinal.
Another story talks of how a scholar spotted some beautiful ﬂowers on the plant and out of curiosity began to dig out the roots. He found to his amazement that the roots of the Goji berry were shaped like two dogs bound together. (The doctrine of signatures is a big deal in Traditional Healing practices. ) After eating the roots for a few days, he felt very light in his body, as if he could ﬂy away!
Goji Berries in Chinese Medicine
There is a strong tradition of Chinese folk medicine, as well as the professional practice. Clearly there is no lack of “folk-tales”around Goji – not to say that they’re false.
For professional Chinese Medicine practitioners, we look to Goji berry for the following therapeutic actions:
- It is the herb of choice for treating many visual problems, often combined with chrysanthemum flower.
- Tonifies what we call Kidney and Liver Yin. To explain what this concept is would take a long time. Instead I’ll give you a list of possible consequence of depleted Kidney/Liver yin in humans: dizziness, blurry vision, infertility, soreness and weak lower back or knees, premature grey hair, diabetes, night sweats, bad eyes (dryness, or tearing easily in wind, blurriness, …).
- Tonifies Lung Yin. What could happen when Lung yin is low? Symptoms such as dry cough, coughs with blood (hemoptysis), fevers in the afternoon… Lung yin is also known to be very necessary in spiritual endeavors, and is easily damaged in smokers.
There are quite a few studies that have been done with Goji Berries in modern times. Some classic ones show very positive results in the treatment of male infertility and chronic atrophic gastritis. With Chinese Medicine diagnosis and examination, if we see what we call Lung, Liver, and/or Kidney Yin deficiencies, we know that Gou Qi Zi can be useful.
Another crucial piece of the picture that the traditional knowledge on the subject gives us is that Goji berries are less cloying and hard to digest than other tonic herbs. But, we still know to be careful with the dosage in people with less than optimal digestion. We also do not prescribe this herb when someone has a cold or flu, or anything in the class of what we call ‘external conditions.’ Furthermore, it stimulates contraction of the uterus, so if you’re pregnant, you should only be taking it if a qualified practitioner has evaluated you and recommends it.
A classic combination is tea made from both goji berries and chrysanthemum flowers. This is a great combo for blurred vision, red or dry eyes.
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