|Ginkgo Tree - Ginkgo biloba|
Family: Ginkgoaceae. Common names are
fossil tree, maidenhair tree, Japanese silver
apricot, baiguo, bai guo ye, kew tree, yinhsing.
This ancient tree lineage is ~150 million years old.
|Ginkgo is derived from the Japanese word ginkyo, meaning "silver apricot," referring to the fruit, which is eaten in Japan. Biloba translates as "two-lobed", referring to the split-in-the-middle character of its fan-shaped leaf blades. Once thought to be extinct, Ginkgo was rediscovered in China in the mid-1700s and is now dispersed throughout the world. |
Culinary use: The nut-like seeds are a traditional Chinese food. Called yín xìng ("silver almond") or bái gu ("white fruit"), Ginkgo nuts are used in congee (rice porridge), and are often served at special occasions such as weddings and the Chinese New Year. The nuts are believed to have health benefits; some consider them an aphrodisiac. Japanese cooks add ginkgo seeds to dishes such as chawanmushi, and cooked seeds are often eaten along with other dishes. The seeds are available canned, sold as "White Nuts", and can be found in many Asian food stores in the West.
During summer the leaves are a deep green, turning to brilliant yellow in the fall. Gingko trees are among the most urban-tolerant. They suffer few diseases, have very few insect pests, and are usually deep-rooted and resistant to wind & snow damage. Ginkgo is usually associated with a Mediterranean climate; it is perhaps noteworthy that these trees now flourish in what used to be an extremely harsh climate: northern Illinois and the suburbs of Chicago.
Medical and Herbal uses
The extract of the Ginkgo leaves contains flavonoid glycosides and terpenoids (ginkgolides, bilobalides) and has been used pharmaceutically. It has many alleged nootropic* properties, and is mainly used as memory enhancer and anti-vertigo agent. However, studies differ about its efficacy.
Out of the many conflicting research results, there seem to be basically three effects of Ginkgo extract on the human body: it improves blood flow (including microcirculation in small capillaries) to most tissues and organs; it protects against oxidative cell damage from free radicals (antioxidant); and it blocks many of the effects of PAF (platelet aggregation, blood clotting) that have been related to the development of a number of cardiovascular, renal, respiratory and CNS (Central Nervous System) disorders. Ginkgo can be used for intermittent claudication.
A 2004 conference paper summarizes how various trials indicate that Ginkgo shows promise in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, although further study is needed. Ginkgo is commonly added to energy drinks, but the amount is typically so low it does not produce a noticeable effect, except perhaps via a placebo effect from Ginkgo being listed on the label.
Ginkgo leaves are unique among seed plants, being fan-shaped with veins radiating out into the leaves blade, splitting into the familiar "river delta" form, but never forming a network as in other veined leaves. Two veins enter the leaf blade at the base and fork repeatedly in two; this is known as dichotomous venation.
Ginkgo trees are dioecious; there are both male and female trees. These are male ginkgo catkins in early spring.
Ginkgo biloba is apparently an effective remedy for antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction. A government study that shows a positive effect of Ginkgo biloba extract on all four phases of the human sexual response cycle.
*Nootropics are low toxicity "smart drugs" that supposedly boost brain activity and memory without affecting the nervous system.
A few pharmaceuticals are called smart drugs for their alleged ability to enhance the brain's function. Some smart drugs aren't a drug at all, they’re nutrients. A more accurate description of chemicals that can boost brain performance is Nootropics (from the Greek, meaning 'acting on the mind').
Nootropic is a term coined by one Dr. Giurgea to describe the first substance found to have beneficial effects in the treatment of memory loss, age related memory decline and lack of concentration. That substance was Piracetam (branded Nootropil).
1. USDA, NRCS The PLANTS Database http://plants.usda.gov National Plant Data Center
2. USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Germplasm Resources Information Network
3. Porcher Michel H. et al. 1995 - 2020, Sorting Ginkgo Names
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