Parts used medicinally: Leaves
Ginkgo is often referred to as a living fossil. Why? Because its present form is unchanged from fossils of it found in rock from the Jurasic and Cretaceus periods. In Japan the Ginkgo trees even survived Hiroshima’s atomic bomb. Thus it became a symbol of longevity and vitality and believed to imbue humans with similar superpowers, ancient trees can be seen planted throughout courtyards of temples in China, Japan and Korea. Today it is a popular choice of tree in city parks, arboreta and gardens as they are long-lived, resistant to disease, insects, fungi, viruses, pollution and even nuclear radiation.
Ginkgo was first used as a medicine in 10th century China and was then adopted in Europe in the 1960s by Germany where it is now widely cultivated as medicine making up 1% of total pharmaceutical prescription sales there. Today there is a significant amount of research into it at all levels, particularly for neurological and vascular conditions.
Studies have shown it improves endurance, attention, mood, fatigue and depression and these actions are thought to be due to its protective action against oxidative stress and ability to increase blood flow and tissue oxygenation in the brain.
Ginkgo is unique in the plant kingdom as it is the only genus in its family, the Ginkgoacae family. It is a deciduous tree from central China and grows up to 98 foot tall. The leaves are bi-lobed, hence the Latin name Ginkgo biloba. The female plant produces fruits that have a particularly unpleasant smell, however this is considered the most nutritious and medicinal part of the plant in China. The leaves are the medicinal part used in Western Herbal Medicine and are gathered from mid-summer to just prior to them turning yellow in mid-autumn, as this is when the main active constituents are highest.
Ginkgo has been approved for use by Germany Commission E in the treatment of dementia, impaired memory, altered concentration and mood, dizziness, tinnitus and headaches. Also for use in peripheral arterial occlusive disease and vertigo.
Ginkgo has two primary actions in the body:
- It increases blood flow. This indicates Ginkgo for use in various cardiovascular system conditions; high blood pressure, varicose veins, angina, recovery from heart surgery, type 2 diabetes, arteritis, Raynaud’s, generalised cold hands and feet, oedema, visual acuity and haemorrhoids.
- Reduces oxidative stress which causes neuronal loss and dysfunction. Thus Ginkgo is protective against neurological conditions, slowing the progression of the more severe forms of dementia, improving quality of life for patients and improving cognitive, behavioural and psychological symptoms. It has also been shown to be helpful in the treatment of a variety of other conditions of the nervous system; schizophrenia, generalised anxiety disorder, multiple sclerosis, Meniere’s disease, depression, sleep, glaucoma, macular degeneration, hearing loss, tinnitus, vertigo, neuropathy and ADHD.
Source: Fisher, C (2018) Materia Medica Of Western Herbs. Aeon Books.
Ways to Use Ginkgo at Home?
- It is most commonly taken as tincture or tablets for treatment of poor circulation, varicose veins and memory loss (12 week treatment is required to see improvements).
- Infuse 2-3g of ginkgo leaves in boiling water and drink as a tea as an alternative cognitive stimulant to coffee.
Contraindicated in pregnancy and with use of anticoagulants, antidepressants and anticonvulsants.
Best avoided before or during surgery as it can increase risk of bleeding.
Did You Know?
What outlived the dinosaurs, has a life expectancy of a thousand years and can survive a nuclear blast? ...Ginkgo did!
If you are pregnant/breastfeeding or on drug medication, be sure to consult with a professional before trying these remedies.