On March 19, 2019, the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) released a monograph containing quality control standards and a therapeutic compendium (as one document) for lycium (Lycium barbarum, L. chinense, Solanaceae) berry, also known as goji berry.1 In ancient China, lycium was among the most preferred botanicals to promote health and longevity. Now, the fruit is a global “superfood,” and modern research is supporting its benefits. (Lycium was also the subject of an extensive herb profile in HerbalGram issue 113.2)
AHP monographs establish identification, purity, and quality standards for botanical raw materials and preparations. The therapeutic compendia provide a comprehensive review of pharmacological and safety data, including information on medical indications and supporting evidence from clinical, animal, and in vitro studies; modern and traditional uses; pharmacokinetics; pharmacodynamics; and guidance for structure and function claims. The compendia also cover dosages, interactions, side effects, contraindications, toxicology, and more. This information can be used by various individuals in the herbal community, from consumers and health practitioners to industry members like quality control personnel, purchasing agents, and dietary supplement manufacturers.
The lycium monograph and therapeutic compendium was a collaboration among AHP; Ruyu Yao, PhD, of the Institute of Medicinal Plant Development — Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in Beijing; Thomas Avery Garran of the National Center for Chinese Materia Medica Resources and Daodi Herbs in Beijing; among others. In all, 13 authors from around the world contributed to the monograph and therapeutic compendium, and 32 experts from academia, industry, and medical practice reviewed it before publication. Work on the monograph began in 2016.
The genus Lycium belongs to the nightshade family and includes about 80 species, a number of which have historical and modern medicinal uses. Of these, the fruits of L. barbarum and L. chinense predominate in the international market. They have similar morphological, organoleptic, chemical, and pharmacological characteristics, and, along with several other Lycium species, have been used interchangeably in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), traditional Japanese Kampo medicine, and traditional Korean medicine.
Both L. barbarum and L. chinense are deciduous shrubs native to China. Their oval red fruits (berries) are tangy but sweet, harvested when ripe and then dried or squeezed for juice. In TCM, the fruits feature prominently in tonic formulas, especially those intended to nourish the blood, liver, and kidneys, and to benefit the eyes. The root bark also is used in TCM practice. The plant is sometimes called “wolfberry,” which corresponds to the Chinese pinyin name gou qi zi, as the character for gou means “dog” or “wolf” and the character for zi means “small fruit.” This is also the source of the name “goji.”
Both preclinical and clinical research suggests lycium fruit may have anti-aging, antitumor, cytoprotective, immunomodulatory, and neuroprotective effects. It also may have benefits for fatigue/endurance, general wellbeing, glaucoma, glucose control in diabetes, and metabolism/energy expenditure. Recently, the juice of lycium fruit has become popular as an antioxidant-rich tonifier.
According to Roy Upton, RH (AHG), DipAyu, president of AHP and editor of the monograph, in the past few years, lycium fruit has transitioned from relative obscurity in the United States to being integrated into commercial cereals, bulk food products, candies, and juice products. “Its growth and popularity have been exponential, but many people are still unaware of the myriad of benefits associated with its consumption,” Upton wrote, adding that this made it logical to prioritize the creation of the monograph (email, April 18, 2019).
The AHP claims that this is the first comprehensive, English-language review of the traditional and scientific literature on lycium fruit, in conjunction with the establishment of testing standards for the fruit. The monograph is also significant, according to Upton, because it helps dispel some myths that one Lycium species is consistently superior to another. “Several species of Lycium have been used interchangeably, and, from a scientific perspective, no consistent points of superiority of one over another could be determined,” he wrote.
Yao, whose PhD thesis was used to develop the monograph, noted that the fruit has been used as both food and medicine for more than 2,000 years in Asia. It is also “a nutraceutical that developed from local to global,” Yao wrote (email, April 23, 2019). Although lycium’s identification, usage, and quality control are recorded in several pharmacopeias, according to Yao, there is still room to educate more people, especially in the West, about different aspects of the plant. Yao thinks the AHP monograph is an important reference for both consumers and researchers, and he hopes “more people will enjoy healthy lives with goji.”
American Botanical Council (ABC) Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal said: “The AHP goji berry monograph is a seminal, highly useful, and authoritative document that will be of immense value to members of the international medicinal plant community for many years to come. AHP has set a standard for the range and depth of information in its monographs that is not equaled by any other publication.”
The lycium monograph is the 39th monograph published by AHP since 1998. It is available for purchase through AHP’s website.1 Bringing this monograph to the industry and the botanical community at large was made possible through the generous financial support of Herb Pharm, Mountain Rose Herbs, Nature’s Way, Ningxia Qixiang Biological Foodstuff, NOW Foods, Nuherbs, Planetary Herbals, Traditional Medicinals, Vitality Works, and WishGarden Herbs.
- AHP Monographs—Lycium (Goji) Fruit. American Herbal Pharmacopoeia website. Available at: herbal-ahp.org/online-ordering-lycium-goji-fruit/. Accessed July 10, 2019.
- Engels G, Brinckmann J. Lycium (Goji Berry). HerbalGram. 2017;113:8-18. Available at: http://herbalgram.org/resources/herbalgram/issues/113/table-of-contents/hg113-herbprofile/. Accessed July 10, 2019.