July 20, 2009


Gooseberries are derived mostly from two species: the European gooseberry (Ribes grossularia), native to the Caucasus Mountains and North Africa; and the American gooseberry (R. hirtellum), native to northeastern and north-central United States and adjacent parts of Canada. So-called European cultivars are pure species, but virtually all so-call American cultivars also have European genes.

Common Names: Gooseberry (English), Stachelbeere (German), Groseille a Maquereaux (French), Uva Spina (Italian), Stekbes (Flemish).

Species: American Gooseberry (Ribes hirtellum), European Gooseberry (R. grossularia).

Related Species: Currant (Ribes rubrum, R. petraeum, R. sativum), Black Currant (R. nigrum, R. ussuriense), Buffalo Currant (R. aureum).

Adaptation: Gooseberries grow best in summer humid, cool regions with great winter chilling. In California they are fairly productive in the coolest parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, the outer Coast Ranges and coastal northern California. They are probably not worth trying in southern California. except at high elevations. With proper attention gooseberries can be grown in containers.


Growth Habit: Gooseberries are deciduous shrubs, fast growing under optimum conditions to 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide. The plant is suitable for training as a standard. American types have weeping stems that will root wherever they touch the ground and can be invasive. Annual growth is in a single flush in spring. The roots are superficial, fine and easily damaged by frequent cultivation.

Foliage: The buds perk up early in the spring, dotting the stems with green when most other plants are still tawny. The leaves are alternate, single, deeply lobed, and glossy dark green (European types), or pale to gray-green and sometimes finely pubescent (American types). The stems are thin, becoming woody, with a large thorn at each axil. American gooseberry stems are densely bristly, with one or more additional thorns at each axil. Leaf size and number are reduced under heat or light stress, and are easily burned by intense sunlight. Plants that have been subject to drought may make a new growth flush after deep irrigation. If the roots are lost, regrowth will wait until the following spring.

Flowers: The inconspicuous flowers, green with pink flushed petals, open in early spring. They are borne laterally on one-year old wood and on short spurs of older wood. The flowers are self-fertile and pollinated by wind and insects, including bees. Each flower bud opens to yield from one to four flowers, depending on cultivar.

Fruit: The fruit, borne singly or in pairs at the axils, is a berry with many minute seeds at the center. A gooseberry may be green, white (gray-green), yellow, or shades of red from pink to purple to almost black. Fruits of the European gooseberry may be very large, like a small plum, but are usually 1 inch long, less in width. American gooseberry fruits are smaller (to 1/2 inch), perfectly round, all becoming pink to wine-red at maturity. Skin color is most intense in full sunlight. Berries generally drop when overripe. The fruit has a flavor all its own, the best dessert cultivars as luscious as the best apple, strawberry or grape.


Location: Gooseberries like morning sun, afternoon part-shade and buoyant air circulation. They are most productive in full sunlight but the leaves sunburn easily under California conditions. They can be grown in the high shade of fruit trees such as persimmon or on the north side of buildings. American gooseberry are much more sun tolerant. Plants collapse quickly when soil or air temperature exceeds 85° F.

Soil: Gooseberry plants are less finicky about soil acidity than most other small fruits, and tolerate a wide range of soils, except those that are waterlogged. Where summers are hot, bushes will grow better and produce better fruit in heavier soils, which retain more moisture and stay cooler. A thick mulch of some organic material also helps keep the soil cool. Sandy soils are less suitable for gooseberries because they dry out too fast.

Irrigation: With their fibrous, shallow roots gooseberries are ideal for drip system. Keep the plants watered all season, since they will not regenerate buds or leaves lost from drought stress. Plants stressed for water are susceptible to mildew.

Fertilization: Gooseberries have a high requirement for potassium and a moderate need for nitrogen, although excessive amounts of nitrogen promote disease, especially mildew. Between four and eight ounces of actual nitrogen per square yard strikes a good balance between growth and disease tolerance. The symptom of potassium deficiency is scorching of leaf margins. Deficiency can be avoided with an annual dressing of half an ounce of potassium per square yard. Gooseberry plants also have a fairly high requirement for magnesium, so if the soil is very acidic and needs lime, use dolomitic limestone, which supplies magnesium as well as calcium.

Pruning: A gooseberry bush is usually grown on a permanent short "leg" of about six inches, from which the bush is continually renewed with new shoots arising at or near ground level. Allow stems to grow for 4-5 years, then selectively remove oldest stems to make room for new shoots. Snap off any branches that form along or below the six-inch leg. Thorns make harvest tedious, so pruning is done to open up the bush and make picking easier. The plants may be grown as standards or cordons, but this requires a lot of care and the fruit often sunburns.

Propagation: The ease with which gooseberries propagate from cuttings depends on the cultivar. Generally, American cultivars are easier to root than are European cultivars. Take hardwood cutting in early fall, even before all the leaves have dropped. The presence of a few leaves actually enhances rooting. Make the cuttings about a foot long, but do not include tip growth, dip the base in hormone and pot in ordinary soil. Keep in part shade for the first year. Tip layering is a surer method of propagation, though a single bush furnishes far fewer layers than cuttings. If intended for training as standards or cordons, strip all buds off, cutting below the soil line. Seeds require moist stratification, just above freezing, for three to four months. The plants commence bearing in 5 years from seed and 2 years from cuttings.

Pests and Diseases: Aphids commonly attack young leaves, distorting them. Spider mites are common in summer; spray immediately after harvest and thereafter on a regular schedule. The clear-winged borer lays its eggs on stems in April. The larvae hatch and bore into the central pith down to soil line and emerge to pupate in the fall. An infestation is usually detected only after the stem wilts and dies. Borers will spread and generally causes loss of whole planting without quick control. Cut out affected stems, search for others and spray. The gooseberry sawfly is present in the Pacific Northwest but has not yet been detected in California. Its small green worms will hollow out the berries, leaving an empty husk.

Ribes species are host for White Pine blister rust, which causes few problems for gooseberry, but is lethal for 5-needle pines, including California natives such as Western Pine (Pinus monticola) and Sugar Pine (P. lambertiana). Gooseberries are banned in counties where these pines are grown for lumber. Botrytis and Anthracnose can cause rot of leaves and loss of young growth, particularly stems lying on the ground or splashed during irrigation. Gooseberry mildew is a common problem, affecting both European and American types. It is worst in coastal fog, on drought-stressed plants, or where irrigation is by overhead sprinkling. Keep plants turgid, never stressed for water between irrigations. Benomyl spray before flowering and after harvest should control it. Roots are susceptible to both Oak Root fungus (Armillaria mellea) and Phytophthora.

Harvest: Average yield from one gooseberry bush is between eight and ten pounds of fruit. Gooseberries used for culinary purposes such as tarts, etc. are usually picked underripe. A classic gooseberry concoction is a fool, made by folding cream into the stewed fruit. For dessert purposes, however, the fruit must be fully ripe.


The European gooseberry is the classic gooseberry of cookery and and desserts. The American gooseberry is smaller, adapted to more demanding cultural conditions and more productive, but without much character and generally inferior for all purposes. As the European can be grown in all Californian conditions suited for the gooseberry culture, the American is not recommended. Market demand for American gooseberries is static, while appreciation for the true European berry is growing. Experimentation with European types is limited under California conditions, and many cultivars have been introduced in recent years. Only those with proven production are described. Growers in unsuitable climates, looking for a substitute for gooseberry, should consider the Jostaberry or Buffalo Currant (Ribes aureum). See CRFG Fruit Facts: Currants.


Origin USDA, Glenn Dale, MD, 1932. Ribes missouriense X R. grossularia. Bush very tall, fountain shaped, generally rooting at tips. Prolific production of very small, dark red to purple berries. Tolerates bright sun, was bred for growers at extreme southern limit of gooseberry culture.

Oregon Champion
Hybrid from cross of Crown Bob with Houghton. Origin O. Dickinson, Salem, 1876. Bush tall, weeping but rarely rooting at tips. Stems bristly, spiny. Begins growth very early. Somewhat tolerant of Armillaria. Prolific, fruits small, acid, hard and green when commercially harvested, becoming bland, sweet, greenish yellow upon maturity. Most common of gooseberry cultivars; another cv. 'Mountain' is often sold for it by unscrupulous nurserymen. 'Mountain' is more vigorous, sprawling, fruit brick to deep red.


Origin Britain. Bush spreading, tending to few branches. Few thorns. Rather prolific. Fruits yellow, rather elongated, becoming brown where sunburned, rather bland. Used for cooking in Europe; quality is higher in USA.

Early Sulphur
Syn. Yellow Rough. Origin Britain. Bush slow growing, susceptible to Armillaria. Slow to come into bearing. Fruits somewhat pear-shaped, deep yellow, smallish, with few bristles. Flavor very good.
Hinnonmakis Yellow
Hybrid from Finland, somewhat resistant to mildew. Fruit ripens midseason with a smooth, yellow skin. Fruit size is variable, excellent flavor.

Bush short, rather skimpy. Quite productive of outstandingly large, yellow fruits of fair flavor. Berries resist sunburn. Grown for size.

Whinham's Industry
Origin Britain. Bush slow growing. Fair production of round yellow berries, with many innocuous violet-red bristles, giving an overall red color to fruit. Flavor good.

Origin Britain. Bush very dense, requires thinning to permit harvest. Somewhat tolerant of Armillaria. Fruits scattered throughout bush, medium, round to oval, pale green to white when ripe. Good flavor. (crfg.org)

The Health Benefits of Wolfberries

For a berry with such an intimidating name, the wolfberry certainly has a lot going for it. Wolfberry comes from the Mandarin name Gou qi zi ("goo-chee-zee"), a red berry from the Solanaceae nightshade family that includes tomato, eggplant, chili pepper, and potato.

In popular English, gou qi zi (literally 'wolf'+ 'energy'+ 'berry') has become "goji." For at least 2000 years, the wolfberry has grown wild in China and been used in common recipes and traditional Chinese medicine. Eighteenth century Chinese farmers nicknamed gou qi zi "wolfberry" when they saw wolves feasting among the berry-laden vines during late summer at prime harvest time. Smart mammals!

The Chinese revere the wolfberry as a national treasure regarded as among the most nutrient-dense of the nation's plants. This premise has stimulated scientific investigation about its potential health benefits and systematic cultivation, commercialization, and now increasing export to first-world countries mainly in Europe and the US.

A significant source of macronutrients

The wolfberry contains significant amounts of our body's daily macronutrient needs, including carbohydrates, proteins, fat and dietary fiber. The content of a wolfberry consists of 68% carbohydrates, 12% proteins, and 10% each of fiber and fat, giving a total caloric value of 370 per 100-gram serving.

Soybean, another ancient Chinese plant often touted as one of the world's most complete foods, is comparable across macronutrients. Although wolfberries and soybeans are similar in macronutrient content, wolfberries provide a significantly higher source of calories as energy from carbohydrates (soybeans = 173 calories). Blueberries, by contrast, do not have as much macronutrient or caloric value.

The wolfberry seeds are equally beneficial, and contain polyunsaturated fats like linoleic (omega-6) and linolenic (omega-3) acids.

The wolfberry's big story on micronutrients

Wolfberry's diverse and high concentration of micronutrients has earned it accolades as an exceptional health food. At least 11 essential minerals, 22 trace minerals, 7 vitamins and 18 amino acids define its extraordinary micronutrient richness, with examples below:

1. Calcium: The primary constituent of teeth and bones, calcium also has a diverse role in soft tissues where it is involved in cardiac, neuromuscular, enzymatic, hormonal, and transport mechanisms across cell membranes. Wolfberries and soybeans contain 112 mg and 102 mg of calcium per 100 grams serving, respectively, providing about 8-10% of our required daily intake.

2. Potassium: An essential electrolyte and enzyme cofactor, dietary potassium can lower high blood pressure. By giving us about 24% our daily needs, (1132 mg/100 grams), wolfberries are an excellent source of potassium, providing more than twice the amount than soybeans.

3. Iron: An oxygen carrier in hemoglobin, iron also is a cofactor for enzymes involved in numerous metabolic reactions. When intake is deficient, low iron levels cause iron deficiency anemia, a condition that affects millions of children worldwide. Wolfberry’s exceptional iron content is twice that provided by soybeans, often regarded as the best plant source of iron.

4. Zinc: Essential for making proteins, DNA and the functions of more than 100 enzymes, zinc is involved in critical cell activities such as membrane transport, repair and growth, especially in infants. The zinc found in wolfberries (2 mg/100 grams) has a high content (double the amount of soybeans), that meet 20% of our daily requirements.

5. Selenium: Sometimes called the "antioxidant mineral", selenium is often included in supplements. Selenium has unusually high concentration in wolfberries (50 micrograms/100 grams), almost enough for our daily dietary intake, and much more than blueberries and soybeans, which contain 8 micrograms or less per 100 grams.

6. Riboflavin (vitamin B2): An essential vitamin supporting energy metabolism, riboflavin is needed for synthesizing other vitamins and enzymes. A daily wolfberry serving (1.3 micrograms) provides the complete daily requirement for our bodies, whereas soybeans and blueberries contain only trace levels of this important mineral.

7. Vitamin C: A universal antioxidant vitamin protecting other antioxidant molecules from free radical damage, the vitamin C content in wolfberries (20 mg/100 grams) is comparable to an equal weighting of fresh oranges, blueberries or soybeans.


Wolfberries contain dozens of phytochemicals whose health-enhancing properties are under scientific study. Three phytochemicals of particular interest include:

Beta-carotene: A carotenoid pigment in orange-red foods like wolfberries, pumpkins, carrots and salmon, beta-carotene is important for synthesis of vitamin A, a fat-soluble nutrient and antioxidant essential for normal growth, vision, cell structure, bones and teeth and healthy skin. Wolfberry’s beta-carotene content per unit weight (7 mg/100 grams) is among the highest for edible plants.

Zeaxanthin: Wolfberries are an extraordinary source for this carotenoid that plays an important role as a retinal pigment filter and antioxidant. Wolfberries contain 162 mg/100 grams.

Polysaccharides: Long-chain sugar molecules characteristic of many herbal medicines like mushrooms and roots, polysaccharides are a signature constituent of wolfberries, making up 31% of pulp weight in premium quality wolfberries. Polysaccharides are a primary source of fermentable fiber in our body's intestinal system. During colonic metabolism, fermentable or "soluble fibers" yield short-chain fatty acids which are known to:

1. Improve the health of the colon epithelial lining
2. Enhance mineral uptake
3. Stabilize blood glucose levels
4. Lower pH and reduce colon cancer risk
5. Stimulate immune functions

Polysaccharides are also known to help in antioxidant activity and defending against threatening oxidants.

Functional Food and Beverage Applications

Wolfberries, which are prized for their color and nut-like taste, are cultivated for a variety of food and beverage applications within China. In addition, an increasing amount is also used for export as dried berries, juice and powders of pulp. Not surprising, a major effort is underway in Ningxia, China to process wolfberries for "functional" wine.

Despite no "hard" evidence from clinical research, the myths of wolfberry's traditional health benefits endure, including positive effects related to:

* Longevity
* Aphrodisia
* Analgesia
* Antiviral conditions
* Immune-stimulating properties
* Muscular strength
* Energy
* Vision health

In laboratory and preliminary human research to date, wolfberries have shown potential benefits against:

* Cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases
* Some forms of cancer
* Diabetes
* Premature aging
* Memory deficits
* Vision degeneration
* Lung disorders
* Other diseases of oxidative stress


Although not adequately demonstrated yet in published research, a synergy of antioxidant carotenoids (primarily beta-carotene and zeaxanthin) with polysaccharides suggest that wolfberries are an exceptionally rich antioxidant food source.

Micronutrient density, combined with key health phytochemicals like carotenoids and polysaccharides, give wolfberries their remarkable nutritional qualities. All things considered, it's no wonder this berry is vying for honors as the most nutritious plant food on Earth.

Expand your health horizons; try wolfberries!

About The Author:
Dr. Paul Gross is a scientist and expert on cardiovascular and brain physiology. A published researcher, Gross recently completed a book on the Chinese wolfberry and has begun another on antioxidant berries. Gross is founder of Berry Health Inc, a developer of nutritional, berry-based supplements. (health.learninginfo.org)

What are Goji Berries?

Goji berries grow on an evergreen shrub found in temperate and subtropical regions in China, Mongolia and in the Himalayas in Tibet. They are in the nightshade (Solonaceae) family.

Other Names: Lycium barbarum, wolfberry, gou qi zi, Fructus lycii

Goji berries are usually found dried. They are shriveled red berries that look like red raisins.

Why do people use goji berries?
Goji berries have been used for 6,000 years by herbalists in China, Tibet and India to:

* protect the liver
* help eyesight
* improve sexual function and fertility
* strengthen the legs
* boost immune function
* improve circulation
* promote longevity

Goji berries are rich in antioxidants, particularly carotenoids such as beta-carotene and zeaxanthin. One of zeaxanthin's key roles is to protect the retina of the eye by absorbing blue light and acting as an antioxidant. In fact, increased intake of foods containing zeathanthin may decrease the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in people over the age of 65.

In recent years, goji juice has become popular as a health beverage. Companies marketing goji juice often mention the unsupported claim that a man named Li Qing Yuen consumed goji berries daily and lived to be 252 years old. Marketers also list extensive health benefits of goji juice, even though there are few published clinical trials in humans.

What research has been done on goji berries?
Goji has only been tested on humans in two published studies. A Chinese study published in the Chinese Journal of Oncology in 1994 found that 79 people with cancer responded better to treatment when goji was added to their regimen.

There have been several test tube studies that show that goji berry contains antioxidants and that goji extracts may prevent the growth of cancer cells, reduce blood glucose, and lower cholesterol levels. However, that doesn't necessary mean that goji will have the same benefits when taken as a juice or tea.

Although goji berries like the ones used in traditional Chinese medicine aren't very expensive, goji juice is very pricey. Considering that a 32-ounce bottle of goji juice (about an 18-day supply) can run as high as $50 USD, the evidence isn't compelling enough at this time to justify the cost of goji juice.

Also, we don't know the side effects of regular goji consumption, or whether it will interfere with treatments or medications.

What do goji berries taste like?
Goji berries have a mild tangy taste that is slightly sweet and sour. They have a similar shape and chewy texture as raisins.

Common forms
In traditional Chinese medicine, goji berries are eaten raw, brewed into a tea, added to Chinese soups, or made into liquid extracts.

Goji juice is also available, usually in 32-ounce bottles.

Goji berries have appeared in snack foods in North America. For example, the health food store Trader Joe's sells a goji berry trail mix.

Possible drug interactions
Goji berries may interact with anticoagulant drugs (commonly called "blood-thinners"), such as warfarin (Coumadin®). There was one case report published in the journal Annals of Pharmacotherapy of a 61-year old woman who had an increased risk of bleeding, indicated by an elevated international normalized ratio (INR). She had been drinking 3-4 cups daily of goji berry tea. Her blood work returned to normal after discontinuing the goji berry tea.
Where to find goji berries
Whole goji berries are available at Chinese herbal shops.

Goji juice can be found in some health food stores, online stores, and through network marketers.


Cheng CY et al. "Fasting plasma zeaxanthin response to Fructus barbarum L. (wolfberry; Kei Tze) in a food-based human supplementation trial." British Journal of Nutrition. 93.1 (2005):123-30.

Lam AY et al. "Possible interaction between warfarin and Lycium barbarum L." Annals of Pharmacotherapy. 35.10 (2001):1199-201.

Wu H et al. "Effect of Lycium barbarum polysaccharide on the improvement of antioxidant ability and DNA damage in NIDDM rats." Yakugaku Zasshi. 126.5 (2006):365-71. (altmedicine.about.com)

July 5, 2009

Fig Fruits

Ficus carica. Fig is soft sweet fruit, full of small seeds and often eaten dried.Fresh figs are delicious and often jam and chutney is made from them.The skin of figs is very thin and ripe figs can't be kept or transported very well. As figs have to be picked when ripe you only can eat them fresh in the country of origin. In the warm countries the figs are dried for export and storage. Family: Moraceae

Tree / shrub
The fig tree/shrub grows upto 9m x 7m.

Short histotory
Figs are originally from small Asia and are one of the first fruits cultivated ever. The Greek mention them and around 60 A.C. and Plato promoted the fig as being the nutrition for athletes. A story is known of the Greek government that had forbidden all export of figs once to assure themselves a good outcome at The Olympic Games. The Greek knew about twenty nine fig sorts. Officially figs were imported to Europe around 1600. Today there are more than 600 different fig types.

Figs taste best consumed "warm" from the tree. They are dried often because they can't be stored.

Types and family
There are over 600 fig cultivars.

Other peculiar characteristics
  • A lot of fig plant races are used decoratively, like the rubberplant and the ficus benjamina.
  • Dried figs contain a lot of sugar, about 60%. It is thought that that was the reason why Plato advised Greek athletes to eat many figs.
  • The white juice that drips out of the fruit if the the stalk has been broken off is called latex. It was supposed to represent the universal energy and was used as a remedy against infertility and to incite the breast feeding process.
  • Each fig cultivar has different shaped leafs.
  • Dried figs consist for about 60% of sugar, contain a lot of vitamins and it is said that humans could live on figs alone. It is a very healthy fruit and you can consume as much of them as you like.

Healing Properties
  • Figs have anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, emollient, restorative, aphrodisiac and laxative properties. Being high in potassium, magnesium and low in sodium, figs are used to control issues like diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
  • The fruit contains pectin, which helps lowers blood cholesterol levels as well. Moreover, it can prevent colon cancer, breast cancer and certain inflammations. As figs are rich in fiber, they are often included in weight-loss programs, too.
  • Consuming an infusion prepared from fresh fig leaves improves circulation. The latex of this plant is useful in healing skin sores and warts. Plus,Fig benefits in improving bone health.
  • Regular consumption of this fruit helps improve memory and relieve sleeping disorders. Besides, fig leaves, in particular, have anti-diabetes and regulate insulin levels. It helps lower triglycerides. Figs are also useful when dealing with chicken pox, especially in the early stages.
  • Benefits of fig can also be derived from its nutrients. The reason is that figs are rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants. Plus, they contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.