Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
Ginkgo biloba, usually just called ginkgo but otherwise the maidenhair tree, is a living fossil dating back 270 million years. It is a large tree which can attain a height of 30 meters (almost 100′), and as it’s also dioecious (has male and female flowers on separate plants), it’s not something you can grow in your own garden if you need the seeds for medicinal use – unless you happen to own a large estate or perhaps if several neighbors also grow one, and are lucky (or possibly unlucky) enough to get a female.
The ginkgo tree is revered as a symbol of the sacred life force in China.
Another problem with ginkgo is that many people find the smell of the fruit offensive (descriptions of the smell range from rotten eggs to vomit), so male trees are often preferred. Obviously, if everyone grows males, there won’t be any fruit at all.
All is not lost, however, as many remedies are based on the leaves, rather than the seed.
Ginkgo is not related to the maidenhair fern, or indeed any other living plant.
Ginkgo used to grow in many more areas than it does now. Fossil leaves dating back to the Jurassic have been found in England, for example. Ginkgo trees were the only trees which survived the atom bombing of Hiroshima. Nowadays, though, ginkgo is only found growing wild in two places, both of which are in China.
It’s quite surprising that its habitat has been reduced so much, because it is an incredibly tolerant tree, accepting any soil, moist or dry, and not being noticeably put out by drought, atmospheric pollution, sea winds and temperatures as low as -35ºC. It won’t grow in full shade, but few trees will, if any. Harvest leaves in late summer or early fall before they change color and dry for later use.
Ginkgo is readily available as a remedy from health stores and also from Chinese herbalists where it is called Bai Guo.
Parts used are leaves, fruit pulp oil maceration, raw seeds and cooked seeds.
The leaves are the part mostly studied and used in the West. Ginkgo leaf stimulates the circulation even in peripheral arteries and fine capillaries, which helps to reduce lethargy and give a feeling of well-being. They contain ginkgolides which inhibit allergic responses and are used to treat eg. asthma. They can be used to help ameliorate intermittent claudication. They are also used to treat glaucoma and help preserve vision in adult macular degeneration (ARMD/AMD). They have been shown to improve function in MS patients. Ginkgo also protects against free radicals and reduces the effect of platelet-activating factor (which affects blood clotting). A study in 2008 found that it is of no more value in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease than placebo, and another study has found the same with regard to tinnitus, but a dosage of at least 240mg/day may support memory function.
To make an oil maceration of the fruit, pulp them and cover with oil, shaking every day for 100 days. The pulp can then be used to treat respiratory problems including asthma, bronchitis and TB.
The cooked seed can be used to treat tickly coughs, asthma, phlegmy coughs and urinary incontinence, as a sedative and to improve sperm production.
Raw seed is used to treat cancer and also addiction to alcohol. See note above about toxicity.
I offer ginkgo capsules and tincture in my online shop.
To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.