Matrimony Vine
Lycium barbarum L.
Family: Solanaceae, Nightshade
Genus: Lycium
Synonyms: Lycium halimifolium
Other names: matrimonyvine, Chinese wolfberry
Nomenclature: barbarum = foreign
Nativity / Invasiveness: introduced plant
Edible plant
Medicinal plant

General: hairless shrub with long, weak, generally sparsely thorny, arched or climbing branches, 1-6 m tall, often forming large, tangled clumps.

Leaves: alternate or in bundles of up to 3, short-stalked, entire, dull, elliptic to lanceolate, ovate, or oblanceolate, up to 7 cm long and 3.5 cm wide on vigorous young shoots, or only 1.5 cm long and 3 mm wide on older ones, the tips blunt or rounded.

Flowers: about 1-3 from leaf axils, on stalks 0.7-2 cm long. Calyx bell-shaped to tubular, ruptured by the growing fruit, the 3 to 6 lobes short, triangular. Corolla lavender or purplish, 9-14 mm long, with 5-6 broad, spreading lobes shorter than, or about equaling, the tube. Anthers opening lengthwise, much shorter than the slender filaments. June-September.

Fruits: berries, fleshy, ellipsoid or ovoid, 1-2 cm long, red. Seeds 10 to 20, somewhat compressed, with strongly curved embryo.


Disturbed areas, mostly in w., s.c. and n.e. parts of MT. Native of Asia and s.e. Europe, commonly cultivated in the U.S., and occasionally escaping.
Edible Uses

The fruit of matrimony vine is edible raw or cooked. It is a berry about 2 cm in diameter, and has a mild sweet liquorice flavor. Only the fully ripe fruits should be eaten, unripe berries could be poisonous. Young shoots are edible cooked. Used mainly as a flavoring, they can also be lightly cooked for 3 - 4 minutes and used as a vegetable, the flavor is somewhat cress-like but has also been described as peppermint-like. The leaves wilt rapidly once they have been harvested. Some caution is advised, since the plant belongs to a family that often contains toxins. The leaves are a tea substitute.

Medicinal Uses

A sweet tonic decoction made from the fruits is used to lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. It acts mainly on the liver and kidneys. The fruit is taken internally in the treatment of high blood pressure, diabetes, poor eyesight, vertigo, lumbago, impotence and menopausal complaints. The fruit is harvested when fully ripe and is dried for later use. The root bark is a bitter, cooling, antibacterial herb that controls coughs and lowers fevers, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. It is taken internally in the treatment of chronic fevers, internal hemorrhages, nosebleeds, tuberculosis, coughs, asthma etc. It is applied externally to treat genital itching. The bark is harvested in the winter and dried for later use.
The plant has a long history of medicinal use, both as a general, energy restoring tonic and also to cure a wide range of ailments from skin rashes and eyesight problems to diabetes. A tonic tea is made from the leaves.
The fruit of many members of this genus is a very rich source of vitamins and minerals, especially in vitamins A, C and E, flavanoids and other bio-active compounds. It is also a fairly good source of essential fatty acids, which is fairly unusual for a fruit. It is being investigated as a food that is capable of reducing the incidence of cancer and also as a means of halting or reversing the growth of cancers.

Other Uses

The plant can be grown as an informal hedge, succeeding in maritime exposure. It has an extensive root system and can be planted to stabilize sandy banks.

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