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That’s because it’s packed with about five times the anti-oxidants found in many foods, has its fair share of fatty acids, vitamins and minerals and contains polysaccharides which are said to fight diabetes, cancer and heart disease among other ailments.
What’s more, their looks deceive. These tiny, sweet berries also pack a punch when it comes to muscle boosting and energy recovery and not only protect the liver but help eyesight and boost the immune function.
Goji extracts are incorporated into cosmetics, tea, coffee, breakfast cereals, health supplements, sports drinks and alcoholic beverages.
However, the Goji Berry plant (lysium barbarum) also known as the Wolfberry, originated on the other side of the equator, in the Himalayan triangle of Tibet, China and Mongolia where it has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal food and to promote longevity.
While still relatively new in New Zealand, thanks to Glucina’s nursery at Matakana a commercial cultivar has been developed and is available through garden centres.
The plant starts producing berries after its second year and is fully productive by year five.
A long-living perennial, this deciduous bush develops a trunk of up to some three metres in height with multiple fruit bearing branches.
It will tolerate variable temperatures (so can be grown in various parts of the country), but also prefers well drained soil and full sun for prolific berry production. Drought tolerant, the foliage can be pruned to shape but remember to take care to protect from pests such as slugs and snails especially in the first 12 months. It the early stages it will also pay to stake these tall, slender plants.
Interestingly, one Pukekohe couple Neville and Judy Green who run gluten-free cooking classes have several thriving Goji bushes and Judy uses the dried berries and the leaves to make Goji tea.
“Initially, I was told Goji plants were difficult to grow in New Zealand so I split open some dried fruit, picked out the miniscule seeds with a tooth pick and planted them in seed trays, then left them in our plastic house to mature,” Judy says.
“I didn’t expect much success but to my amazement every seedling grew. Furthermore, I’ve had my first fruit within two years and expect this just to get better and better over the next three years.”
Being a deciduous bush, the Goji generally losses its leaves around May, but Judy says before they can drop, she strips the leaves away and dries them.
“I then place the dried leaves and dried berries in my infuser teapot and cover with boiling water. The tea is mild, pleasant tasting and, of course, full of goodness. We drink it all the time. I also place some of the tea in the fridge and the next day use it as a base for making Neville and I smoothies for breakfast – just delicious”.
Judy says the fresh berries, despite their tiny size, also make for good eating.
“They can be added to ethnic dishes, and used in jams and preserve just like any other berry. The dried berries are also delicious when added to muesli.”
Check back on Garden-NZ in the coming weeks when we will talk further with Judy and Neville as the Green’s go gluten-free!