Berry Interesting

Healthful goji berries are often imported, but the plants can thrive in metro Detroit
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The quest for powerful antioxidants has us produce-hopping, embracing the next-best colorful panacea from pomegranates to acai to goji berries.

Usually, the potent botanicals are more exotic than your garden-variety tomatoes and cukes. Goji berries, of the genus Lycium, are widely used in Tibetan and ayurvedic medicine. The chewy red fruit doesn’t come cheap; they can cost about $30 a pound to import from China. That price tag got Michael Peters wondering whether goji could thrive here in metro Detroit.

Peters, co-owner of Imagine Do Productions, which operates IndiEdibles.com, bought a bunch of goji seeds and planted them in northern Michigan at a yoga retreat three years ago. Within eight months, the tallest of the 250 plants were 6 feet tall.

“It’s a high-value product and no one is selling a pure juice,” Peters says. “It’s a great opportunity.”

Goji plants like lots of water and direct sun and can reach a height of 20 feet. They can be used for landscaping alone, trained to grow like brambles, or used as hedges. The plant’s small green leaves are edible, with a tangy flavor, and the bark, Peters says, has antibacterial properties and can be used when distilled with alcohol.

“[Goji has] a dynamic utility,” he says. “Everything on the plant can be used.”

No definitive studies back up the claims of those who swear by the goji’s healing powers. But limited published research indicates that it’s loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants, especially carotenoids, such as beta carotene and zeaxanthin (which may protect against age-related macular degeneration).

Peters says that he and his partners plan to eventually turn the berries into a sellable juice and liquor. Meanwhile, IndiEdibles, which promotes urban farming, is hoping to encourage other locals to try their hand at sowing gojis. Seeds can be bought online at gojiberry.com, or bushes can be pre-ordered on Peters’ Web site that will be ready in the fall. IndiEdibles.com offers how-to videos for novice growers. He’s hoping the idea catches on and fuels his larger mission of encouraging Michigan residents to develop their own cottage industries as a hedge against the tough economy. “They’re being shipped from China. Why?” Peters asks. “We can grow them right here.”

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