Q. I keep hearing about goji berries; what are they good for?

A. Westerners are just learning about goji berries (sometimes called wolfberries), but they are far from new. Traditional Chinese Medicine has relied on them for thousands of years for antiaging purposes, to improve eyesight, and to protect the kidneys and liver.

A member of the nightshade family (which includes eggplant, potato, tomato, and tobacco), the goji berry plant is native to Southwest Asia; it produces small, bright red berries with a sweet-and-sour taste.

At your natural products store, you'll most likely find goji berries as an ingredient in large bottles of "functional" juices. You can also eat the berries plain (fresh or dried), brew them into tea, or take them in tincture form.

These berries are a rich source of many nutrients, including vitamin C, carotenoids (including zeaxanthin and lycopene, which are free radical scavengers that help boost immunity), B vitamins, trace minerals, and amino acids. They are safe and healthy to consume.

Several recent studies show that goji berries confer antioxidant protection on the body, and also have antiaging, cancer-fighting, and immune-boosting properties (International Journal of Molecular Medicine, 2006, vol. 17, no. 6). Other research on goji berries indicates a potential role in alleviating insulin resistance in diabetics and reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration (Yakugaku Zasshi, 2005, vol. 125, no. 12; British Journal of Nutrition, 2005, vol. 93, no. 1).

This Q&A was written by Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, a health journalist based in the Pacific Northwest, where she and her family enjoy hiking and cycling.