Lycium barbarum L.
Synonym: L. halimifolium
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.
Flowering time: June-September.
Fruits: berries, fleshy, ellipsoid or ovoid, 1-2 cm long,
red. Seeds 10 to 20, somewhat compressed, with strongly
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 and Medicinal plant, see below.
(click on image for full size)
(click on images for full size)
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.
As a food, dried wolfberries are traditionally cooked before consumption. Dried wolfberries are often
added to rice congee, as well as used in Chinese tonic soups, in combination with chicken or pork, vegetables,
and other herbs such as wild yam and licorice root. The berries are also boiled as an herbal tea, often
along with chrysanthemum flowers and/or red jujubes, and packaged teas are also available. Various wines
containing wolfberries are also produced, including some that are a blend of grape wine and wolfberries.
At least one Chinese company also produces wolfberry beer, and New Belgium Brewery makes an ale with wolfberries
used as flavoring. Since the early 21st century, an instant coffee product containing wolfberry extract
has been produced in China.
Young wolfberry shoots and leaves are also grown commercially as a leaf vegetable. In the West, dried
wolfberries are also eaten hand-to-mouth as a snack, in the manner of raisins or other dried fruit. Their
taste has an accent of tomato and is similar to that of dates, dried cranberries or raisins, though drier,
more tart, less sweet and with an herbal scent. Dried wolfberries are also used frequently in raw food
Wolfberries have long played important roles in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) where they are believed
to enhance immune system function, improve eyesight, protect the liver, boost sperm production and improve
circulation, among other effects. In TCM terms, wolfberries are sweet in taste and neutral in nature.
They act on the liver, lungs, and kidneys and enrich yin. They can be eaten raw, consumed as juice or
wine, brewed into an herbal tea or prepared as a tincture. The berries are also used in traditional Korean
medicine, traditional Japanese medicine and traditional Tibetan medicine. Wolfberry
leaves may be used to make tea and Lycium root bark for TCM treatment of inflammatory and some types of
Wolfberry fruits also contain zeaxanthin, an
important dietary carotenoid selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea where it is thought to
provide antioxidant and protective light-filtering roles. A human supplementation trial showed that daily
intake of wolfberries increased plasma levels of zeaxanthin. Several published studies, mostly from China,
have also reported possible medicinal benefits of Lycium barbarum, especially due to its antioxidant properties,
including potential benefits against cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, vision-related diseases
(such as age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma), having neuroprotective properties or as an anticancer
and immunomodulatory agent.
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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