Goji Berries: a Traditonal Chinese Herb in Kamloops, BC
Goji Berries in Chinese Alternative Medicine
Goji berries, or wolf berries, Lycium Barbarum, are a valued plant in traditional Chinese medicine for their high levels of antioxidants, protein, vitamins, enzymes and minerals. Native to the steppe regions of north-central China, they are grown commercially in the provinces of Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, Gaunsu, Shaanxi, Shansi, and Hebei, and in the autonomous regions of Ningxia Hui and Xingjiang Uyghur.
Because of their medical and nutritional properties, they have been valued by the Chinese for thousands of years, and recently have become popular as a health food in Europe and North America, where they are sold as dried berries or juice, at a high price.
The berries ripen in late summer on woody shrubs that reach about 2 metres tall. The bushes are hardy in zones 3 to 7, thrive in temperatures between -26 and 38 Celsius, and are drought tolerant once established. They thrive in the wild in the semi-desert and dry steppes of central Asia, and transplant easily into gardens of North America with similar conditions.
Goji Berries Benefits
Goji berries have been used for thousands of years by herbalists and Chinese pharmacists in China, Tibet and India to protect the liver, strengthen kidney function, boost immunity, strengthen the bones and joints, and improve eyesight. They are especially rich in carotenoids such as beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, which protects the retina of the eye and may decrease the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a significant cause of blindness in elderly people. Recent research suggests that their anti-oxidant properties may help fight cancer.
Goji berries are used fresh, frozen and dried. They are added to soup, eaten with porridge, and made into tea, often mixed with chrysanthemum flowers. They are crisp and juicy, of a texture similar to blueberries, with a bland, slightly tart or bitter flavour.
Goji berries are native to Mongolia, Tibet, and north-west provinces of China.
Goji Berries in Kamloops
Goji berries have naturalized in Kamloops, BC in the areas near the Chinese Cemetery, and downhill from there along the old Nicola Wagon Road, which was the original road into town during the influx of migrants seeking gold in the Cariboo Gold Rush in 1862. In this zone 5 climate, the dry grasslands and semi-desert hills of the Thompson River are similar to the to the regions where the plant originates.
On the quiet hillside above the Guerin Creek Ravine, the Goji berries shade the graves of unnamed Chinese migrant workers, ranch hands, gold miners, railway workers and entrepreneurs who came to this part of British Columbia to seek their fortune in the 19th century. Perhaps the first berry bushes sprouted from goji berries buried in the pockets, in the guts, or with the personal effects of the occupants of the graves, in their small bundles of medicine that were packed by mothers and wives in the native provinces of China as the men left, hoping more than believing they would ever come home again. Most of the ones in this graveyard never did. Of the 250 graves, most are marked by simple unnamed wooden stakes in even rows, facing down the hillside over the North Thompson River Valley to the distant view of the Monashee Mountains.
As the berries rooted, thrived and bore fruit, the seeds rolled downhill, spread with birds, washed downstream in the creek, or were picked and carried back to the camps of the Chinese workers at the west end of town. Today the slopes of the creek and the downhill side of the Nicola Wagon Road are lined with bright orange berries maturing out of tiny, purple trumpet-shaped flowers with yellow stamens.
Today the Goji berries have naturalized in Kamloops near the sites of 19C Chinese settlement in the area.
After the California Gold Rush in 1849, gold was discovered along the Fraser River Valley at Yale in 1858 and in Barkerville in 1862.
Once gold was discovered in California in 1949, people flocked from around the world to seek the end of their rainbow. San Francisco boomed, and at a time when the Taiping Rebellion 1850-1865 in China waged civil war that left 20 million people dead, many young Chinese peasant men migrated to North America, called "Jin San," translated as "Gold Mountain." Leaving poverty, famine and war behind them, they dreamed of a brighter future. Later, gold was found at Yale, in the Fraser Valley in 1858, and again at Barkerville in 1862. Tent camps grew up overnight near the sites of gold findings, and some of these became regional centres and established towns, like Kamloops.
Chinese Railway Workers
The first four provinces of Canada--Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia-- confederated in 1867, with an agreement that a railroad would be built to allow easier communication and movement of goods. Over the next 15 years, when the prairie provinces joined Confederation, and British Columbia in 1871, it became important to expand the railroad across the country from sea to sea. This national railroad would join the regions together despite huge natural barriers that tended to direct trade channels north and south, toward the United States, rather than east to west across the muskeg of northern Ontario, the extreme climate of the prairies, and the rugged Rocky Mountains along the British Columbia-Alberta border.
To build the railroad, between 1881 and 1885, thousands of Chinese workers arrived in Canada to work on the line between Port Moody and Savona. They were called coolies, a transliteration of the Chinese characters for "ku li" meaning "bitter hard." They were paid $1 to $1.50 a day, about half the rate the European workers were paid, to do hard, dangerous labour, blasting rock, carrying rail ties, building bridges in the fast, icy rivers of the Thompson and Fraser. At the end of the month, those who were still alive received only a few dollars after they were docked for food and lodging, leaving them little they could ever send home to their families in China. Many died in rock explosions and tunnel collapses, were washed away and drowned in the fast rivers, or died of starvation or exposure in the Canadian winters. No one knew their names. Their families were never told, nor compensated. Some were buried in Chinese graveyards in villages along the railroad, segregated even in death from the white communities.
Chinese Exclusion Act 1882
When the American Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, it imposed a ten-year moratorium on Chinese immigrants to the U.S. This meant that new labour could not enter the country, and if they left, they could not return. Although this Act expired in 1892, it was extended in the form of the Geary Act, and made permanent in 1902. As a result, Chinese immigration to North America at the end of the 19th Century concentrated on Canada, where from 1881 to 1885, 17,000 Chinese workers entered to join the railway crews.
The Chinese immigrants faced prejudice and bitterness in Canada, where they had few opportunities to work except as ranch hands, miners, or rail way labour. Immigration was virtually stopped after the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1885, for in this year the Canadian government imposed a head tax of $50 on every Chinese immigrant. Later this was raised to $100 in 1900, and to $500 in 1903, which amounted to about two years' pay. Then in 1923, Canada passed its own Chinese Exclusion Act, which stopped Chinese immigration completely for the next 25 years.
Fleeing famine and war in their home country, these early Chinese immigrants faced bitterness in Gold Mountain, and some lie now in unnamed graves in Kamloops Chinese Cemetery, where Goji berries, prickly pear and silver sage brush line the hillside.
The Kamloops Chinese community maintains the graves today. Every spring in early April, on the festival of Ching Ming, or Grave Sweeping Day, the families come to the cemetery and perform the burial rites to remember and honour the ancestors. They burn incense, burn ghost money, or special joss paper believed to help the spirits of the dead buy what they need in the other world, and share food and drink with the dead. They mow the lawns, and picnic with each other and the ancestors.
Over the last century, in many parts of Canada the Chinese community has become affluent, educated, articulate, and politically influential. For decades the Chinese community in Canada lobbied the federal government to apologize for the head tax and exclusion. Finally, in 2006, they received a formal apology from the government of Canada, along with symbolic redress payments amounting to a total of $20,000. A portion of this fund was paid to living Chinese head tax payers, and to living spouses of deceased head tax payers. Of the 80,000 Chinese immigrants who had paid, 30 were alive in 2006, along with several hundred widows.