Ginkgo biloba is one of the most respected herbs used for many reasons around the world. Ginkgo indigenous in China is the oldest plant on the globe, even a living fossil, since it has been in existence in an unchanged form over 250 million years on Earth. The plant is known for its typical leaf form, and its health and healing effects made it famous and recognized among consumers.
Ancient Chinese medicine has been using the leaves and seeds of Ginkgo for over 5,000 years while modern medical science prefers the healing effects of Ginkgo extract. The extract consists of the dried green leaf of the plant and is available as liquid extract, capsule and tablet.
Ginkgo is now the only existing representative of the Ginkgoales plant system, in which several of its relatives were last seen in the perm period 270 million years ago. This means that ginkgo existed on Earth when dinosaurs lived on our planet ( approx. 213 million years ago), and during this period there were several ginkgo species. Fossil findings show that Ginkgo has been found in a damp and moderately warm climate since the Mesozoic era.
Scientists thought Ginkgo for a while to be extinct, but in 1691 Engelbert Kaempfer, German physician and explorer, discovered Ginkgo again during his Japanese and Chinese tours. It turned out that ginkgo had survived in China, especially in churches in the mountains where Buddhist monks had protected this exceptional breed due to its beneficial properties. From there, its seeds were exported to other parts of the world, particularly to America and Europe. Today, Ginkgo grows in many countries mostly as a tree.
The earliest written record of the use of ginkgo leaves as a drug dates back to the Han Dynasty (B.C. 206-220) found in the earliest Chinese botanical volume, Shen Nung Pen Tsao Ching. Its effects on blood circulation and lung health were noted. Oral use was first mentioned by Liu Wen-Tai Ben Cao Pin Hui Jing Yao (1505), titled Ginkgo as a medicine against diarrhea. In 1932, Japanese Furukawa first isolated ginkgolides in the plant, which were later examined for their chemical structures. At the end of the 1950s Western medicine began to study the use of the herb.
Its appearance and lifestyle
Ginkgo is a large, deciduous, dicotyledonous tree, which usually grows up to 20-35 m height, but in China there are some specimens with an extreme height of roughly 50 m. It is an easily adaptable, protected species that is deeply rooted in soil and resistant to pests, diseases and extreme weather conditions by snow and wind. The young trees are tall and slender, rarely branched, and the canopy becomes pyramid-shaped later. Leaves become light yellow in the autumn and fall within a short time. It is one of the longest-lived species, with its longest live specimens of up to 1500-2000 years old.
Some interesting facts about ginkgo biloba
There is an extraordinary example on the resistance of ginkgo in Japan, Hiroshima, where nearly every living creature was destroyed within a vicinity of 1-2 kilometers after the 1945 nuclear explosion. Nonetheless, ginkgo trees in the area charred, but survived in the area of explosion soon. Ginkgoes survived Hiroshima are still rising to the sky these days, the oldest trees were planted in 1740.
What it includes
Ginkgo leaves contain flavonoids (quercetin and kaempferol) and terpenoids (ginkgolides, bilobalide). According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, ginkgo seed is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, sodium, phosphorus, copper and potassium. Consumption of its protein-rich nuts is recommended only in small quantities because it may be toxic in higher doses. The potentially allergic and toxic glinkcholic acid found in the leaf is not included in the leaf extract.
Ginkgo leaves and fruits are used as a therapeutic agent in several areas of the world. Among the benefits, it has positive effects on asthma, bronchitis, cardiovascular diseases, peripheral blood flow, and brain function.
Due to its high antioxidant content, it helps controlling free radicals
The antioxidant content of ginkgo is in the background of many health benefits. It has high flavonoid and terpenoid content, which are known to have strong antioxidant effects, and as we know, antioxidants help neutralizing the harmful effects of free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive particles generated during the metabolic processes of the body, for example when converting the food into energy. At the same time, they are capable of damaging healthy tissues, thus contributing to the acceleration of aging processes and the development of various diseases.
It helps in the treatment of inflammation
Inflammation is a natural reaction of the body in the event of an injury or encounter of foreign substance. During the inflammatory reaction, the various components of the immune system are activated to fight the attack against the body or to heal the damaged area. Some chronic diseases also cause an inflammatory reaction if there is no disease or injury, and unfortunately over time this excessive inflammation can cause permanent damage to the body’s tissues and DNA.
Studies show that the ginkgo extract can reduce inflammation markers in various diseases, for example:
- inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- cancerous diseases
- heart diseases
Although these data are encouraging, further human studies are needed before concrete conclusions on the role of ginkgo in treating these complex diseases.
Its effects on cognitive health
Research found that ginkgo helps protecting against mental decline and enhances brain function. Its effect was particularly positive for mental disorders due to Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or vascular problems caused by cerebral infarction. Many of the benefits of ginkgo biloba in this area are based on the observation that the plant has an anti-inflammatory effect that increases antioxidant activity, reduces oxidative stress and improves circulation – which is an important factor in maintaining cognitive health.
A 2017 clinical trial conducted in seven hospitals in Jiangsu Province in China found that ginkgo biloba extract in combination with aspirin caused a decline in cognitive and neurological functions after acute ischemic stroke. The study included 348 patients, where a control group received 100 mg aspirin per day and the test group in combination with aspirin for 450 mg of ginkgo extract. Studies concluded that the ginkgo-treated group achieved a much higher score on cognitive assessment tests. However, other studies found that cognitive decline does not necessarily apply to healthy elderly adults.
It may reduce anxiety complaints
In a study with 170 generalized anxiety men were treated with 240 mg or 480 mg ginkgo extract or placebo. In the higher ginkgo-treated group, anxiety symptoms decreased by 45% compared with placebo. However, further studies are needed in the area, which reinforce this effect.
It helps to treat erectile dysfunction
Some sources found that ginkgo is capable of treating certain sexual dysfunction such as erectile dysfunction or low libido. Since ginkgo improves the body’s level of nitric oxide, the circulation improves and as a result ginkgo can be useful for sexual problems where there is insufficient blood flow behind the complaints.
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Ingrid Schönfelder – Peter Schönfelder: Gyógynövényhatározó. 2001. ISBN 963 684 124 14