The Ginkgo tree is known for its very characteristic fan-shaped leaves and distinctly unattractive scent. With leaf fossils dating back 270 million years, the Ginkgo tree is the oldest tree species. A single tree can live upwards of 1,000 years and grow to 120 feet in height. According to botanist Peter Crane, the Ginkgo is considered a “living fossil” as the seed attachment to fossil is practically unchanged from modern versions of the plant.
The uniqueness of this plant does not stop there, though. The Ginkgo plant is one of only five living seed plants and is the only one of its species. Compared to flowering plants, with over 350,000 species, Ginkgo is vastly different with no known relatives and truly one-of-a-kind.
With a lineage that dates back to the prehistoric era, it's surprising to learn that Gingko has only been cultivated the last 1,000 years. The Ginkgo tree originated in China, where the nuts (primarily) and roots are used not only as a food source but in Chinese medicine. The tree is now widely planted and cultivated around the world from Seoul to Manhattan (where it can be found abundantly as a street tree).
The first Westerner to record (and possibly encounter) the Gingko was Engelbert Kaempfer, an employee of the Dutch East India Company, in 1692. Upon his return from the southern Japanese trading station, he documented his experience and was the first to use the word - Ginkgo - in Western literature. It would be nearly 75 years before the plant made its way to the West as well.
When looking to use Ginkgo in alternative medicine, you will find differing forms across the globe. The seeds are most widely used in China for medicinal purposes, whereas Ginkgo biloba found health stores in America comes in an extract from the leaves - a Western phenomenon.
Ginkgo has more than 40 known components, with two in particular that have medicinal properties: flavonoids and terpenoids. These constituents specialize in protecting the nerves, blood vessels, heart muscle, and retina from damage.
Flavonoids are plant-based antioxidants that are responsible not only for giving plants their vivid color, but also attribute to the potent anti-inflammatory properties. They are proven to be beneficial to the immune system and may even prevent cancer and neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases.
Terpenoids, on the other hand, are known for dilating blood vessels and reducing the stickiness of platelets, thereby improving blood flow.
These constituents make the use of Ginkgo Biloba extremely beneficial for a myriad of ailments. Let’s now discuss how Ginkgo can benefit you.
Prevent and Treat Dementia and Alzheimer’s Symptoms
The previous assumption was that improved blood flow to the brain was responsible for why Ginkgo Biloba was helpful in treating symptoms associated with dementia. Recent studies are now suggesting the herb works by protecting nerve cells that are typically damaged with Alzheimer's patients.
Currently, there is no known cure for Alzheimer's, but Ginkgo’s herbal use can delay the onset of these diseases and alleviate symptoms by improving cognitive function, social behavior, and even diminish feelings of depression.
Improve Intermittent Claudication
Intermittent claudication is irregular intervals of cramping pain in the legs (induced usually by exercise) that is caused by arterial obstruction. With a known terpenoid component, Ginkgo Biloba is a vasoactive agent and can improve blood flow to the legs by dilating blood vessels and reducing sticky platelets.
A meta-analysis of eight randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind studies concluded an increase in pain-free walking distance, favoring the use of Gingko Biloba.
Treatment of Eye Ailments
Research in neuroprotection represents an avenue therapy of frustrating diseases that prove unresponsive even to optimal treatments, one, in particular, being glaucoma. Due to the particular interest, the field of research is expanding rapidly.
Glaucoma is a disease of the eye where the anterior chamber drains fluid poorly. This puts progressive pressure on the optic nerve, leads to the loss of retinal ganglion cells, and can result in permanent vision loss. In fact, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness. Early detection is crucial, but what’s even scarier is there are no symptoms of the disease and is diagnosed as early as age 40.
A 2012 study stated, “Ginkgo has been proven to act at the mitochondrial level, by stabilizing the inner membrane and increasing the membrane potential, restoring the respiratory chain and increasing ATP-production.” What’s interesting, is that the effectiveness was heightened with aged individuals.
In addition, Ginkgo has potent anti-inflammatory properties and has the capability to reduce the activation of inflammatory response cells. Inflammation is now known to be the leading cause of all diseases and ailments, so naturally neurodegenerative diseases would have a certain inflammatory component. When cells become inflamed they produce degradative molecules and the antioxidant component of Gingko Biloba can reduce upregulation and control inflammatory responses.
Methods of Preparation
As stated previously, Ginkgo seeds are most widely used in China, but Western studies are prevalent in the use of Ginkgo leaves in the form of a tincture.
To make your own tincture, mix 150g of dried Ginkgo leaves with 500ml vodka. Store in a dark space for one month, making sure to shake the substance at least once daily. After the 30-day mark, the leaves can be drained and pressed of any remaining liquid and then stored in a glass container.
Ginkgo can also be obtained beneficially as a tea. To brew, use 1 tsp of loose dried leaves with 8 ounces of water at 200 degrees and let steep for 3-5 minutes. To brew cold, add 1 tsp to 8 ounces of water and steep in the fridge for 12-24 hours. Add honey and lemon for taste or enjoy the raw goodness.
Disclaimer: Ginkgo leaf extract is recognized as generally safe, with no excess side effects reported. It has been known to cause some minor side effects and interactions with certain drugs cannot be ruled out. As a general precaution, check with your physician before using and discontinue two weeks prior to any elective surgery.