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Lycium chinense - Mill.

Common Name Chinese Boxthorn, Chinese desert-thorn
Family Solanaceae
USDA hardiness 5-9
Known Hazards Some caution should be exercised with this species, particularly with regard to its edible leaves, since it belongs to a family that often contains toxins. However, use of the leaves is well documented and fairly widespread in some areas.
Habitats Thickets and river banks in lowland C. and S. Japan[58].
Range E. Asia - China, Japan. Naturalized in Britain, especially by the sea.
Edibility Rating    (4 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Full sun
Lycium chinense Chinese Boxthorn, Chinese desert-thorn

Lycium chinense Chinese Boxthorn, Chinese desert-thorn


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Lycium chinense is one of two species of boxthorn (also Lycium barbarum) from which the goji berry or wolfberry are harvested. Chinese boxthorn is a major Chinese tonic herb with a history of almost 2,000 years of medicinal use. The fruit is cooked in soups or dried for later use. Sweet with an aniseed-like flavour.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of shrub
Lycium chinense is a deciduous Shrub growing to 2.5 m (8ft) by 2 m (6ft) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 6. It is in flower from June to August. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Bees.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Hedge;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Leaves  Seed  Shoots
Edible Uses: Coffee  Tea

Fruit - raw, cooked in soups etc or dried for later use[174, 178, 183]. Sweet with an aniseed-like flavour[183]. The fruit is an oblong berry about 15mm long by 8mm wid[266]. Only the fully ripe fruits should be eaten[K]. Leaves and young shoots - raw or cooked[61, 174, 178]. A peppermint-like flavour, the leaves are used in salads or used as a potherb[183]. Rich in vitamin A., the leaves also contain about 3.9% protein, 2.25% carbohydrate, 0.7% fat, 1.4% ash[179]. The roasted seed is a coffee substitute[183]. The dried leaves are a tea substitute[183].

References   More on Edible Uses

Figures in grams (g) or miligrams (mg) per 100g of food.
Leaves (Dry weight)
  • 279 Calories per 100g
  • Water : 0%
  • Protein: 39.4g; Fat: 5.8g; Carbohydrate: 38.5g; Fibre: 12.5g; Ash: 16.3g;
  • Minerals - Calcium: 1423mg; Phosphorus: 414mg; Iron: 51.9mg; Magnesium: 0mg; Sodium: 1836mg; Potassium: 4981mg; Zinc: 0mg;
  • Vitamins - A: 43mg; Thiamine (B1): 0.77mg; Riboflavin (B2): 2.98mg; Niacin: 7.69mg; B6: 0mg; C: 77mg;
  • Reference: [ 218]
  • Notes:

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Antibacterial  Antipyretic  Cancer  Haemostatic  Hepatic  Hypoglycaemic  Infertility  Kidney  
Ophthalmic  Tonic  Vasodilator

Chinese boxthorn is a major Chinese tonic herb with a history of almost 2,000 years of medicinal use[254]. Both the berries and the root are used and traditionally the plant is believed to promote long life[254]. The fruit is one of the most popular tonics used in Chinese herbal medicine[176, 218]. A decoction is used to clear the vision, strengthen the kidneys, restore semen and nourish the liver[147]. The fruit protects the liver from damage caused by exposure to toxins[254]. It is also used in the treatment of diabetes mellitus, vertigo, nocturnal emissions and aching back and legs[176]. The fruit of many members of this genus is a very rich source of vitamins and minerals, especially in vitamins A, C and E, flavanoids and other bio-active compounds. It is also a fairly good source of essential fatty acids, which is fairly unusual for a fruit. It is being investigated as a food that is capable of reducing the incidence of cancer and also as a means of halting or reversing the growth of cancers[214]. The seed is used as a haemostat for the control of bleeding, with a special action on the kidneys and sex organs[218]. The root bark is antibacterial, antipyretic, hepatic, hypoglycaemic and vasodilator[176]. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls involuntary bodily functions such as digestive secretions[254]. The root is used in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis and pneumonia in small children[147], chronic febrile disease, night sweats, cough and asthma, tuberculosis, hypertension and diabetes mellitus[176]. The root can be harvested at any time of the year but traditionally it is harvested in the spring and can be dried for later use[254]. The root bark contains betaine. This can increase the rate of growth of farm animals and increase the weight and amount of eggs, it is used in the treatment of achlorhydria, atherosclerosis and hepatic diseases[176]. Haemostatic[174].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Hedge  Hedge  Soil stabilization

Can be grown as an informal hedge, succeeding in maritime exposure[200]. Plants have an extensive root system and can be planted to stabilize banks[200].

Special Uses

Hedge  Hedge

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

An easily grown plant, it does not require a rich soil, flowering and fruiting better in a well-drained soil of moderate quality[1, 11, 200]. Succeeds in impoverished soils[200]. Requires a sunny position[200]. Tolerates maritime exposure[200]. A very hardy plant, tolerating temperatures down to about -23°c[200]. This species is widely cultivated for its edible young shoots in China. There is much confusion between this species and the closely related L. barbarum. Most, if not all, of the plants being grown as L. chinense in Britain are in fact L.barbarum[11, 50, 200].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed - sow early spring in a greenhouse. Germination is usually good and fairly quick. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant out in late spring or early summer. Pinch out the shoot tips of the young plants in order to encourage bushy growth[78]. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 5 - 10cm with a heel if possible, July/August in individual pots in a frame. Good percentage[78]. Cuttings of mature wood of the current season's growth, autumn to late winter in a cold frame. High percentage[78, 200]. Division of suckers in late winter. Very easy, the suckers can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. Layering.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Chinese wolfberry, Chu chi, Daun koki, Gau gei choi, Gouqi, Gugijanamu, Holly Willow, Kaokichai, Kaukichai, Kaukichoy, Kei-chi, Kou-chi, Kou-kay-choi, Kuko, Matrimony vine,

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Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Asia, Australia, Canada, China*, France, Hawaii, Indochina, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Mediterranean, Nepal, North America, Pacific, Pakistan, Portugal, SE Asia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, USA, Vietnam,

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Berberis lycium Shrub3.0 5-9 MLMHSNDM331
Lycium afrum Shrub2.0 8-11  LMHNDM123
Lycium andersoniiWolfberry, Water jacketShrub0.0 0-0  LMHNDM122
Lycium arabicum Shrub0.0 -  LMHNM122
Lycium australe Shrub1.0 -  LMHNDM122
Lycium barbarumGoji, Box Thorn, Matrimony vineShrub2.5 6-9 MLMHSNM433
Lycium berlandieriBerlandier's wolfberryShrub0.0 0-0  LMHNDM122
Lycium carolinianumChristmas Berry, Carolina desert-thornShrub1.5 7-10  LMHNM323
Lycium europaeumEuropean tea-tree, Box thorn,Shrub4.0 8-11  LMHNM323
Lycium fremontiiDesert Thorn, Fremont's desert-thornShrub3.0 0-0  LMHNDM122
Lycium pallidumPale Wolfberry, Pale desert-thorn, Rabbit thornShrub1.8 5-9  LMHNDM323
Lycium ruthenicum Shrub2.0 5-9  LMHNDM323
Lycium schweinfurthii Shrub2.0 -  LMHNDM222
Lycium torreyiSquawthorn, Torrey wolfberryShrub3.0 0-0  LMHNDM222

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References


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Readers comment

deb   Sun Sep 14 17:32:25 2003

you list lycium, I am looking to buy a lycium tibetica or tibetan gojiberry shrub. Do you know where I may find either one. Thanks

Ruth Cartwright   Wed Jul 9 2008

Please do you know if this plant is poisonous to horses? I have it growing in a hedgerow in my field! Thank you in advance for your reply Regards Ruth

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