Christmasberry, Wolfberry, Goji

by Green Deane

in Antioxidants, Edible Raw, Fruits/Berries, Miscellaneous, Plants, Trees/Shrubs

Christmas, Wolf, Goji, They’re All Berries

It’s called the Christmasberry even though it fruits in April, and while it is one of several “Christmas Berries” this one happens to have a famous relative, the Goji berry of health food fame.

Wolfberries, Goji’s relative, photo by Green Deane

Botanically the Christmasberry is Lycium carolinianum (not to be confused with a couple of edible Crossopetalums also called Christmas Berry.) As for how Lycium carolinianum is pronounced is a bit of debate. Some say LIE-see-um, others lie-SEE-um. As the original word is from the Greek, λύκειον (LEE-kee-on) as in a Greek school we might argue the genus is more properly LEE-see-um.  Carolinianum means central North America and is said kar-row-linn-ee-AY-num.

For most of the year the Christmasberry is an unimpressive shrub that resembles from a distance a rosemary bush. But there are hints of more going on. It’s leaves are plump and the shrub is salt tolerant, preferring coastal or inland areas of high saline content. By April the fruit is quite attractive and a welcomed food for woodland creatures particularly birds. Technically the L. carolinianum here in Florida fruits all year but favor late fall and early winter. However, I have also found them in abundance in mid-spring.

Lycium carolinianum blossom

While the foliage would never give it away as a member of the Solanaceae clan the blossoms and berries can. The blossoms look very similar to other Solanums and the berries have an ornamental pepper look, if not in color then shape. The seeds are a familiar shape as well reminding one of small tomatoes or pepper seeds. Opinions on taste vary, from sweet and tomato-ish to famine food. All the ones I’ve eaten were on the sweet and juicy side but there is a bit of aromatic oil or flavor to them as well, nothing dramatic but definitely there.

While most foraging books ignore the L. carolinianum in their line up of edible Lyciums Dr. Fernando Chiang of the National University of Mexico confirms academically that the fruit is edible. Dr. Chiang is an expert on the genus and was consulted on the species for the publication of Florida Ethnobotany by Dr. Daniel Austin.  Chiang describes the berries of other Lyciums as “often edible.” At least one, L. acnistoides, found in Cuba, is toxic. In some species the berries and the leaves (cooked) are eaten. With some edible, one toxic for certain, and others unreported it is best to identify carefully.

In North America among the edibles species are, besides L. carolinianum,  L. andeersonii, L. fremontii, L. pallidum, and L. torrei. The leaves of the L. halimifolium are cooked and eaten in Eurasia as is the L. chinense. Best know, perhaps, is a Lycium closely related to the L. chinense, and that is the L. barbarum, also called the Goji (GO-gee) berry which oddly is naturalized in England. Also listed as edible Lycium ferocissimum, which is a pest in Australia. Its native L. australe was eaten by he Aboriginals.

Also called the Wolfberry, L. barbarum is know as a powerful antioxidant and credited with giving you energy, in and out of bed, better metabolism, improved immune system response, blood pressure regulation, cardiovascular health and slowing down aging. Animal research suggest it may be effective against cancer, inflammatory diseases, macular degeneration and glaucoma. It is consumed in the form of pills, juice, dried fruit, powder, teas and the seeds eaten.

The Goji berry is about 68% carbs, 12% proteins, 10% each of fiber and fat. A 100-gram serving is about 370 calories.  It has 11 essential dietary minerals and traces of 22 others; 18 amino acids, six essential vitamins, five unsaturated fats, and five carotenoids. Specifically it is high in calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin B2, Beta-carotene, and exceptionally high amounts of vitamin C. It’s also full of antioxidants via its pigment, which I would presume to be lycopene. If your local Lycium lives up to that, it would be quite a dietary addition.

Processed fruits of various species in the genus have also been used to treat diabetes, impotence, and to retard aging. One ingredient, Physalin, is extracted to treat Hepatitis B. Another chemical, Betaine, is taken by weightlifters to bulk up.

As a food Goji berrie (L. barbarum) are usually bought dried like raisins and are cooked before eaten. But the berries are also used to make a tea. Young Goji shoots and leaves are used as a cooked green. The one medical warning associated with Goji berries is they may increase the potency of drugs like Warfarin (making you bleed more easily.) Goji berries also contain atropine in low amounts.

Clearly you cannot assume your local Lycium is as all-around edible as the Goji is. But, identify and investigate.  One would presume many of them would have similar nutritional profiles.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile


Lycium carolinianum: Shrub to six feet, sprawling, spiny, small, succulent leaves. The four-petaled, somewhat tubular, lavender/blue flowers usually singular, red/orange berries, fleshy.


Fruits year around in Florida but favors mid-spring


Salt tolerant, coastal areas or inland salty ground


Ripe berries, fresh or dried, as fruit or tea.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary-Sue September 21, 2015 at 23:34

A weed growing in my yard was recognized by a Chinese lady as being closely related to the Goji, but she could not tell me an English name for it (and I didn’t catch the chinese name). This thing grows LONG shoots — 18 feet and more, usually not with many leaves on them. They do have widely-spaced thorns. I’ve never seen any fruits on it… just these long, long branches with very few side-branches.

Anyway this Chinese lady told me that in China they pick the leaves off this plant and cook them as a soup herb. She described its growth habit accurately and I have no reason to disbelieve this information I just wish it were more complete.

So, does anyone know the name of a plant closely related to Goji, and of which leaves may or may not be edible by everyone? I am concerned about eating foliage of any plant in the solanaceae family.

This weedy Goji-cousin has soft-woody root/runners that snake off in all directions underground. Because they are tangled in with an oak tree’s roots, I will not be able to dig it out altogether.

So what experience does anyone have with this plant? And does anyone know its name (botanical and/or popular)?


Gordon Heroux June 23, 2015 at 00:30


Lycium spp Lycium Fremontii
After spending moths researching the edibility of these berries and even slow sampling of them one or two RIPE berries at a time and having no side effects over many weeks everything changed for me yesterday. Every website out there says they are safe well I decided to try eating 5 fresh ones. There is no mistaking the identity of these bushes or these berries. After I ate 5 I felt euphoric something that did not occur before when eating two or three and realized why they are considered a medicinal plant, I generally felt quite good. Then 12 hours later (the time it takes DEADLY SOLANINE to absorb through your digestive tract) I began feeling impending DOOM and anxiety, vision blurring, difficulty walking, strange delerium, etc. I tried to tough it out thinking hey I only ate 5 berries……. That tune quickly changed when symptoms began getting SCARY and I rushed to the ER. After hours of feeling dizzy and nauseus and outright horrible I was able to go home. DO NOT EAT THESE BERRIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Anyone who has wrote anything on these berries does not have sufficient information regarding their toxicity. THEY ARE NOT SAFE!!!!!!!! These are nightshade family and are toxic!!!!!!!!! I have been the guinea pig for everyone to know that these berries are DANGEROUS!!!!!!! They may be medicinal but any medicinal part is useless when you also receiving DEADLY POISON!!!!!!!! I can absolutely see the proper chemists removing the SOLANINE poison and making some safe product out of this plant species but until then DO NOT EAT THESE BERRRIES!!!!!


Green Deane June 23, 2015 at 12:37

Note you are referring to Lycium Fremontii and most of my article was about L. carolinianum. L.Fremontii is listed as an edible (in published works) but I do not have personal experience with it. I have eaten L. carolinianum with no problem. Thanks for telling us about your experience.


Abe June 9, 2015 at 20:05

At least 6 native varieties of Lycium here in Tucson, AZ. I can attest to their energy qualities, eating 10 gives me a boost while hiking. Most here fruit in spring but some in late summer, others autumn and few at a couple different times. The most nutrient rich fruits in the desert you can live on them alone for a while. They thrive where the soil is really poor. Few even consider this family of plants for edible landscaping.


Mazer November 9, 2014 at 13:00

Here in California, Christmasberry is our local Toyon, once called Hollywood berry, it is why Hollywood (the city) is called that, Toyons graced the hills above the city in great numbers. Those hills are called the Hollywood Hills to this day


Ronel June 22, 2014 at 07:23

Hi Deane
the Lycium ferocissimum that you list as a pest in Australia is native to South Africa where we know it as ‘snake berry’. It’s traditionally been eaten by San tribes centuries ago.


Zach June 24, 2013 at 10:35

Where exactly does the lycium plant grow throughout the Americas? I live in Michigan near Detroit…


Joe July 6, 2013 at 23:48

According to (banned site) the specific variety he’s showing grows down south. The other varieties he mentioned grow out west in deserts. So there’s no native wolfberries to Northern USA, but the Chinese wolfberries (goji berries) do well up north if you plant some yourself.

Anyway, I’m totally fascinated that America has it’s own goji berries. One day someone will get smart and dry these up and start selling them, just as was done with American ginseng/etc. It might even be “stronger” in Chinese medicine properties, the American “gojis.”

Sweet find. Wish we had them up here. Guess I’ll plant some Chinese ones in my yard…


Abe June 9, 2015 at 20:08

Native wolfberries are smaller than goji berries. Very time consuming to pick them as the ones I know are all smaller than peas so would have to be expensive to be profitable. I can show you where they grow.


Jayson December 31, 2011 at 11:38

I learned about this from Green Deane in a class in Aug 2011 at Spruce Creek park, but it was just an unimpressive bush with no fruit. It is now December and there are berries on the bush. I ate a bunch of them and really like them. It tastes like tomato/pepper/sugar mixed together.


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