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Gingko Biloba

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Names of Gingko Biloba, past and present

Chinese: yin xing / yinguo / bai guo
Japanese: icho / ginnan / ginkyo
Vietnamese: bach qua
Korean: eunhaeng
English: gingko / maidenhair tree
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Gingko biloba

Gingko Biloba - Background and History

The gingko tree is a relatively ancient and extremely long-lived plant that is said to be a native to the Asiatic part of the world, more specifically in China, where it has been growing since prehistoric times.

Gingko uses
Uses of Gingko Biloba - image to share / repin
background Gingko photo - © emer - Fotolia.com

Termed a living fossil, the gingko plant is now the only one of its kind in the world, with no (as of yet) known living relations and is, in effect, a genus unto itself. Initially a landscape tree much-loved for its wide range and shade-providing capacities as well as its unique aesthetic appeal, gingkos are now chiefly cultivated in both the East and West for its long-standing medicinal properties which can be found chiefly in its leaves.

Characterised by its large size and somewhat uneven yet looming growth pattern, gingkos are veritable landscape trees, as they are highly resistant to wind and snow damage. Thriving in areas that are well-drained and which receive adequate amounts of rainfall, gingkos are best planted in wide, open spaces such as on promenades, sidewalks, and spacious parks. It is highly discernable for its uniquely shaped leaves, which resemble an open fan[1] – something which makes it quite unique among tree species in much the same way that the maple is unique unto itself.

Gingkos were initially cultivated in China for landscaping purposes, although in earlier periods, the plants were chiefly wildcrafted and employed medicinally. Nowadays, gingkos are cultivated for a variety of different reasons, although two of the primary driving forces for its propagation is in its use as a landscaping tree, and in its use as an alternative medicinal supplement.

Gingko Biloba - General herbal Uses



The earliest use of gingko did not always veer towards the medicinal, as these large, long-lived trees were prime candidates for landscaping and other horticultural pursuits, so much so that it was cultivated both in the (literal) large-scale and small-scale either as shade trees or as potted bonsai.

Gingko trees are also known for their pest-resistent wood, making them prime carpentry material for the creation of various articles of light furniture. In feudal Japan and Imperial China, gingko wood was employed for carpentry and general construction, although it itself is not a prime wood (in terms of the 'Western' sense of aesthetics) for such a purpose. [2]

Veering towards the culinary, the seeds of the gingko tree, or, more specifically, the inner gametophytes encased within the seeds are used as a type of foodstuff in several Asiatic countries, more commonly in China, Japan, and Korea. Despite its technically 'edible' nature, this inner 'flesh' can cause allergic reactions in certain individuals which results in seizures or convulsions, especially when consumed in excess. Eaten moderately however, it is traditionally ascribed medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities, and is commonly prepared (in both China and Japan) during the holidays as an accompaniment to sweetmeats or staple dishes. [3]

Perhaps the most popular use of gingko biloba in these modern times is in the employment of its leaves as prime sources for gingko biloba extract, which is typically marketed as a food supplement said to provide the consumer with a number of health benefits. Gingko extracts are derived from a concentrated and standardised dosage of the gingko tree's active compounds which are chiefly derived from its leaves. In earlier times, gingko was often employed medicinally simply by wildcrafting its leaves, and subsequently drying them and creating decoctions or infusions of the leaves either by itself, or in combination with other (often complimentary) herbs.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, gingko leaf tea is typically prescribed for individuals who are suffering from a coldness of the extremities, as well as for persons suffering from lethargy, headaches, insomnia, and general restlessness. Gingko leaves are often brewed into a tisane and drunk as a general enervating tonic. It is traditionally prescribed as a 'scholar's herb', and is taken (usually in combination with ginseng root and oolong tea) as an energising herb that is said to stimulate focus, concentration, and memory retention (a ascription which remains to this day as among the primary uses for gingko biloba extract. [4]

Gingko Biloba
Gingko Biloba
Image source -
Wikipedia - lic. under CC 3.0

Modern applications have standardised the use of gingko, and now employ extracts instead of whole plant matter. Whole leaves, however, are still widely available in traditional Chinese apothecaries, although the bulk of gingko's medicinal usage these days is derived from standardised extracts derived from its leaves. These extracts, which are available in a select range of concentrations, are usually encapsulated or otherwise made into solid tablets and are sold in health food stores as a food supplement. Among its medicinal uses are as follows: food supplements for improving memory, preventing the onset of dementia or Alzheimer's, treating Raynaud's disease, improving blood flow to the extremities, aiding in the proper management of stress, and revitalising the body. Some evidence may also point to gingko's usefulness in treating glaucoma and helping to reverse and / or allay the progression of macular degeneration. [5]

Due to its vast range of applications, gingko biloba extract can be found in varying concentrations as an accompaniment to other food supplements such as those touted to be 'anti-aging' or 'memory enhancing' supplements. The efficiency of these extracts is still widely debated by several medical fields, although proper usage does seem to provide significant improvements in the fields where it claims some therapeutic benefits.

Ginkgo biloba Scientific Studies and Research

Ginkgo biloba, especially its leaves, is extensively studied to date for its being widely used as an herbal medication. A number of controlled clinical studies had furnished clear-cut evidence regarding the effectiveness of Ginkgo biloba as a treatment for some neurologic sequelae associated with Alzheimer's disease, traumatic brain injury, stroke, normal aging, tinnitus, and macular degeneration. These sequelae include impairments in memory, cognitive speed, and activities of daily living; edema; inflammation; and free radical toxicity. Ginkgo biloba is able to influence the electrochemical, physiologic, neurologic, and vascular systems of the body, acting as an agent with antioxidant, neurotransmitter/receptor modulatory, and antiplatelet-activating factor properties. [6]

Ginkgo biloba appears to protect neurons from the injury or degeneration associated with hypoxia, ischemia, seizure activity, and peripheral nerve damage. Researchers from the Golestan University of Medical Sciences, Gorgan, Iran, had determined that pretreatment and treatment injection of G. biloba extract can have a protective effect for astrocytes in all areas of hippocampal formation. [7] Astrocytes are specialized glial cells in the brain and spinal cord that perform several vital functions in the central nervous system; they play an essential role in synaptic transmission and information processing by neural circuit functions. [8]

One of the most well-studied properties of Ginkgo biloba is its putative ability to improve cognition and memory among patients suffering from dementia, especially from Alzheimer's disease. A German multicenter trial involving 410 outpatients with mild to moderate dementia (Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, or mixed form) revealed that the administration of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 at a dose of 240 mg per day is significantly superior to placebo with respect to treatment of patients suffering from dementia and its neuropsychiatric symptoms. [9] This finding is in keeping with the findings of a 24-week randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study involving 50-80-year-old patients with Alzheimer-type dementia (mild to moderate). This trial directly compared the efficacy of Ginkgo biloba special extract as a means to slow down the progression of dementia and that of placebo and donepezil, the long-time drug of choice when it comes to treating mild to moderate symptoms of dementia associated with Alzheimer's disease. The results from this study indicated that both Ginkgo biloba and donepezil have the same clinical efficacy as regards treating the symptoms of dementia of the Alzheimer's disease type. [10]

As mentioned with a point earlier, Ginkgo biloba seems to possess cerebral-enhancing properties, and because of such ability, Ginkgo biloba extract could be a promising treatment of sexual dysfunction disorders. An open trial from the University of California had deemed the extract obtained from the leaves of Chinese ginkgo tree effective in treating antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction. At a dosage of 60 mg daily to 120 mg twice daily (or 209 mg/day), Ginkgo biloba extract favorably influenced the desire, excitement (erection and lubrication), orgasm, and resolution (afterglow) - the four phases of the sexual response cycle - of the study participants, with women being more responsive than men. [11]

Molecular Components and Chemistry

Myricetin and quercetin are among the flavonoid constituents of Ginkgo biloba, two compounds with antioxidant property that might be partially responsible for the beneficial effects of Ginkgo biloba extract on brain neurons. [12] Ginkgo biloba also contains ginkgolide B, a potent plateletactivating factor (PAF) antagonist, [13] as well as other terpene trilactones.

Gingko Biloba - Esoteric Uses

In Asiatic folklore, the gingko tree is considered sacred to Buddhists, which often propagate and cultivate trees in their temples. While very little mythology has been transferred to the Western world with regards to the esoteric function of the gingko tree, its long-lived nature usually features in Japanese folklore. It is believed in earlier times that extremely old gingkos housed kami, the animistic spirits that are inherent in all things in Japanese belief. Some folkloric stories even suggest that very large gingkos are prime 'vessels' for imprisoning wily youkai - demonic entities that take are able to shapeshift between human and animal form. This 'imprisonment' or 'sealing' is typically performed by a Shinto or Buddhist priest, or by a sorcerer or omyouji, via the use of various chants and incantations, accompanied by the application of spells and / or mantras written on pieces of paper and pasted upon the tree at the end of the 'sealing' ritual. Gingko trees are not the only candidates for such ceremonies however, as large rocks, other trees, and even household objects may be used to imprison youkai and their ilk.

Gingko Biloba - Safety Notes

The consumption of gingko biloba in standardised or traditional form is relatively safe although some contraindications do exist. Care should be taken when consuming gingko extracts or tea if one is suffering from heart problems, or if one is under blood-thinning medications since it may result in adverse side-effects such as nausea, dizziness, and, in worst-case scenarios, internal bleeding or uncontrollable bleeding from severe wounds. Pregnant and lactating women should likewise refrain from the use of gingko, or continue to use it under the strict guidance of a healthcare professional or an expert herbalist.

Gingko Biloba - References:

[1,2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gingko_biloba

[3] http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/lifestyle-guide-11/supplement-guide-ginkgo-biloba

[4] http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/ginkgo-biloba

[5] http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ginkgo-biloba/NS_patient-ginkgo

[6] Diamond B. J. et al. (2000). Ginkgo biloba extract: mechanisms and clinical indications. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 81(5): 668-678. Retrieved 30 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10807109

[7] Jahanshahi M., Nikmahzar E., Yadollahi N., & Ramazani K. (2012). Protective effects of Ginkgo biloba extract (EGB 761) on astrocytes of rat hippocampus after exposure with scopolamine. Anatomy and Cell Biology, 45(2): 92-96. doi: 10.5115/acb.2012.45.2.92. Retrieved 30 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22822463

[8] Sofroniew M. V. & Vinters H. V. (2010). Astrocytes: biology and pathology. Acta Neuropathologica, 119(1): 7-35. Retrieved 30 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2799634/?report=classic

[9] Ihl R. et al. (2011). Efficacy and safety of a once-daily formulation of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 in dementia with neuropsychiatric features: a randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 26(11): 1186-1194. doi: 10.1002/gps.2662. Retrieved 30 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21140383

[10] Mazza M., Capuano A., Bria P., & Mazza S. (2006). Ginkgo biloba and donepezil: a comparison in the treatment of Alzheimer's dementia in a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind study. European Journal of Neurology, 13(9): 981-985. Retrieved 30 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16930364

[11] Cohen A. J. & Bartlik B. (1998). Ginkgo biloba for antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 24(2): 139-143. Retrieved 30 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9611693

[12] Oyama Y., Fuchs P., Katayama N., & Noda K. (1994). Myricetin and quercetin, the flavonoid constituents of Ginkgo biloba extract, greatly reduce oxidative metabolism in both resting and Ca2+-loaded brain neurons. Brain Research, 635 (1-2): 125-129. Retrieved 30 May 2013 from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0006899394914311

[13] Smith P. F., Maclennan K., & Darlington C. L. (1996). The neuroprotective properties of the Ginkgo biloba leaf: a review of the possible relationship to platelet-activating factor (PAF). Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 50(3): 131-139. Retrieved 30 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8691847

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt, scientific studies by Dan Ablir. © herbs-info.com 2013

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