Botanical Name: Ginkgo biloba
Common Name: Maidenhair Tree
The name Ginkgo comes from the Chinese “Sankyo” meaning hill apricot or silver fruit, referring to the resemblance of the Ginkgo seeds to apricots. Biloba means two-lobed, to describe the shape of the leaf. Cultivated Ginkgo trees survived in Far Eastern temple gardens where Chinese monks grew/grow Ginkgo biloba as a sacred tree and are credited with preventing its extinction. Ginkgo symbolizes longevity and stamina.
Ginkgo biloba is one of the most commonly used herbal medicines in the world, and for good reason. The long and safe history of its use and the overwhelming amount of research studies backing its many effective uses has put it right towards the top of the supplement industry.
Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest living species of plants known to man. It has existed relatively unchanged for over 200 million years and some individual trees are believed to be over 1500 years old! This also makes it one of the longest living organism on the planet!
It has been used in China as an herbal medicine for the last 2,000 years, as first written about in the Chinese Materia Medica Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing. However, unlike modern times in the Western world where we use the leaf, the seeds were exclusively used, often as a topical antimicrobial or for other skin issues such as rosacea.
Modern research studies have provided overwhelming evidence for the use of ginkgo’s leaves for a variety of benefits, including: improving cognitive decline, blood flow (useful in claudication), memory, Alzheimer’s, LDL cholesterol and more.
Description of Ginkgo Plant/Habitat:
Ginkgo is an ancient deciduous tree. The leaves are simple, shaped like an open fan, with veins radiating from the stem. It is dioecious, meaning that the male and female reproductive parts are on separate trees. Some trees are males, some are females. Neither the seeds nor cones are edible, and the seeds produce a strong odor. A single tree can live up to 1,500 years old and grow to a height of 120 feet.
The Ginkgo leaf is used internally, and the seed/cone is used externally.
Key Active Components:
Flavone glycosides, sterols, terpene lactones (bilobalide, ginkolides), tannins
- Active constituents include flavonoid glycosides and terpenoids which are attributed with nootropic (cognitive enhancing) activity
- Ginkgo has been shown to decrease degranulation of mast cells
- Inhibits platelet aggregation, platelet adhesion and competes with platelet activating factor (a chemical mediator of inflammation and allergy) for binding.
- Shown to increase blood circulation and oxygenation to the Hippocampus
Summary of Ginkgo Actions:
Primary actions: cognitive enhancing, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, cardiovascular tonic, nootropic, anti-platelet activating factor, neuroprotective
- Ginkgo is best known for its ability to stimulate blood flow through the smaller blood vessels, which in turn increases circulation to all vital organs including the heart and brain.
- It is used to treat many disorders of cerebral function that may be caused by inflammation or decreased cerebral blood flow.
- This includes tinnitus, memory loss, mild cognitive impairment, headaches, dizziness, anxiety, depression, fatigue, peripheral vascular disease including intermittent claudication, decreased vision due to impaired retinal blood flow, macular degeneration, and effects of high altitude or hypoxia.
- Ginkgo may delay mental deterioration in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and slow senile dementia.
- Its antioxidant activity in the brain and central nervous system may help prevent age-related declines in brain function. The brain and central nervous system are particularly susceptible to free radical attack. Free radical damage in the brain is widely accepted as being a contributing factor in many disorders associated with aging, including Alzheimer’s disease.
- It can also reduce the size of thrombus and reduce the damage to cardiac muscle caused by MI.
- It has been shown to reduce cerebral edema and normalize brain glucose utilization and ATP production post ischemic event.
- Ginkgo is a circulatory stimulant, increasing perfusion by relaxing blood vessel endothelium while maintaining tone. It can enhance muscular function of the cardiovascular system.
- It is used to treat impotence in males who have difficulty attaining and maintaining erection.
- Ginkgo is used to treat migraines due to its ability to stabilize serotonin levels and platelets in the brain.
- Reduces inflammation in treatment of asthma.
TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine):
- Traditionally the part used is the seed. It is used externally and sometimes internally to relieve cough and wheezing, dispel phlegm (treats dyspnea, wheezing, asthma, chronic cough and loss of voice characterized by lung qi deficiency) and restrain the leakage of fluids from the lower jiao.
- Cognitive decline
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Blood flow related issues such as claudication and glaucoma
- LDL reduction
- Some patients may be sensitive to ingestion of the leaf and experience headache, dizziness and GI discomfort.
- May enhance effect of anti-coagulant medication.
Preparation and Dosage:
Tincture (1:5): 3 – 5 mL three times per day
Fluid Extract (1:1): 1 – 3 mL per day in divided doses
Standardized Extract (50:1): 120 mg Ginkgo flavone glycosides and 10 mg terpenoids per day. Tablets or capsules standardized to contain 24% flavone glycosides and 6% terpenoids.
Tea: 4 grams of dried leaves in 8 ounces of water steeped for 15 minutes. Repeated steeping extracts more active components.
Ginkgo should be dosed for 6 weeks before re-evaluation.
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Zhao, Y., Fan, G., Yin, P., Sun, S., Li, N., & Hong, X. et al. (2019). Resequencing 545 ginkgo genomes across the world reveals the evolutionary history of the living fossil. Nature Communications, 10(1). doi:10.1038/s41467-019-12133-5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6744486/
Chassagne, F., Huang, X., Lyles, J., & Quave, C. (2019). Validation of a 16th Century Traditional Chinese Medicine Use of Ginkgo biloba as a Topical Antimicrobial. Frontiers In Microbiology, 10. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2019.00775 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6478001/
More on Morphology of the Ginkgoales. (2020). Ucmp.berkeley.edu. Retrieved 29 May 2020, from https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/seedplants/ginkgoales/ginkgomm.html
Fang, X., Dong, Y., Xie, Y., Wang, L., Wang, J., & Liu, Y. et al. (2019). Effects of β-glucosidase and α-rhamnosidase on the Contents of Flavonoids, Ginkgolides, and Aroma Components in Ginkgo Tea Drink. Molecules, 24(10), 2009. doi:10.3390/molecules24102009 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6572456/