Description of Ginkgo Biloba
The ginkgo tree is one of the oldest tree species on Earth, and has been called a living fossil. There is fossil evidence of species from the Permian epoch, 270 million years ago, that are similar to ginkgo species living today. The ginkgo tree frequently reaches more than 100 feet in height. Its tough bark protects it from insects and disease, and individual ginkgo trees often live for more than 1,000 years. Some of the common names of ginkgo are maidenhair tree, fossil tree, Japanese silver apricot, and kew tree. Its Chinese name is bai guo.
Therapeutic Properties and Health Benefits of Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo improves blood flow in capillaries, arteries and veins. It acts as a vasodilator and decreases blood viscosity by causing platelets to become less sticky. It enhances blood circulation in the brain, and it is used to treat numerous conditions that are aided by increased cerebral blood flow including vertigo, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), headache, anxiety, depressed mood, tiredness, absentmindedness and memory loss.
Some research indicates that ginkgo may be useful for treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, providing benefits for improved cognitive function, memory, social behavior and daily living, and decreased depression.
Ginkgo is also helpful for conditions involving blood flow elsewhere in the body, including the arms, legs and eyes. It has been used to treat Reynaud’s syndrome, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, macular degeneration and sexual dysfunction. It is also used for intermittent claudication, a condition causing pain or cramping in the legs when walking due to impaired blood flow.
In addition to its use to enhance circulation, ginkgo contains flavonoids, which are phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties. These compounds make ginkgo useful for treating respiratory conditions such as asthma and allergies. Its antioxidant activity also protects the nerves, heart and eyes from damage caused by free radicals.
There is some evidence that ginkgo helps to improve cognitive function and other symptoms in people with multiple sclerosis, but further testing is necessary.
The medicinal properties of ginko biloba are found in the leaves, and it is generally taken as a standardized leaf extract, although the seeds are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Cautions and Contraindications
Since ginkgo has blood thinning properties, it should be avoided by those with bleeding disorders or who are taking blood thinning medication such as coumadin. It should also be avoided by those with epilepsy or other conditions that cause seizures. It may affect blood sugar levels, and those with diabetes should use it only under the advice of a health care provider.
This information is for educational purposes only. If you have a serious health concern, see your health care provider.
Duke, James A. The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook. St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2000.