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In a Nutshell – Ginkgo – Ginkgo biloba
by Jill Rosemary Davies
Ginkgo has been used by the Chinese for over 3,000 years as a general tonic. It is most commonly prescribed to promote better mental clarity and recall, particularly in age-related memory loss. It acts by assisting and supporting the brain and circulatory and immune systems and decelerating the ageing process. In recent years it has been documented as successful in aiding problems with vision, hearing, allergies and asthma.
A history of healing
Anatomy of Ginkgo
Energy and Emotion
Growing, Harvesting, and Processing
Preparations for internal use
herbal tea (Infusion)
Preparations for external use
Natural medicine for everyone
How Ginkgo works
The unusual-looking Ginkgo tree is one of the few living links between the modern world and the age of the dinosaur and is the only living representative of the ancient botanical order of Ginkgoales. The Chinese, who have used Ginkgo in medical preparations since 2800 BC, call it the 'Fountain of Youth' herb.
The healing species
Ginkgo's leaves are more often than not double-lobed, but they can have up to four indentations. Three to five of these leaves grow from a thickened stalk sprouting straight out of the tree; these leaves often continue growing after a tree is apparently dead.
Botanical family: Ginkgoaceae
Species: Ginkgo biloba is the species used for healing.
Decorative species: Include G. pendula (weeping), G. macrophylla laciniata, and G. factigiata (columnar).
The Ginkgo tree reaches 6–9 m (20–30 ft) in height in the first two decades of its life and remains slim in shape. After this it broadens out, especially nearer the base, where the trunk can produce an almost billowing skirt effect. Ginkgo trees can live for up to a thousand years and reach 6–9 m (20–30 ft) in width and 24–27 m (80–90 ft) in height. Male trees bear yellow, catkin-shaped male flowers, which hang in clusters of two to five, grow to 4–7 cm (1½–2¾ in) long and have many stamens. Female trees bear tiny, green, female flowers, which are long-stalked and grow in groups of one to three. Fruit only appears on the female trees. This management of different sexual organs on two different trees is called 'dioecious' – translated literally this means 'two houses'. The plum-like fruits ripen to a wonderful yellow-orange colour but emit an unpleasant smell similar to rancid butter or rotten fish. Female Ginkgo trees in Britain and in other similar or colder European climates do not usually produce fruit because the average winter temperature is too low, whereas in warmer climates, such as in California, boulevards of Ginkgo trees in full flower and fruit grow in abundance. A Ginkgo tree is a good choice for a small or large area of land, because it initially remains very slim. After 20 years it will eventually gain width and, at that time, pruning will help to contain its size. In fact Ginkgo is a tree often chosen as a bonsai plant because it readily adapts to vigorous pruning. The unusual-shaped leaves, with their piercing vernal green in the spring, deeper green in the summer and stunning yellow in the autumn are attractive all the year round.
Visually Ginkgo ranks in the top few trees worldwide for its distinctive appearance. Its winter form can vary from angular and upright to weeping and graceful. In the spring its multi-lobed, fan-shaped green leaves burst from both branch and trunk and become golden-yellow in the autumn.
Where to find Ginkgo
Prior to the Ice Age, Ginkgo grew in many parts of the world. Evidence of this can be seen in the petrified stumps, many millions of years old, that still survive in the Ginkgo Forest State Park in Washington, USA. The state of Washington was subtropical when Ginkgo was thriving there, although the tree does appear to be able to adapt to colder conditions when necessary. If the prediction of a rise in global temperature over the next 50 years proves to be true and results in the drying out of many forest and mountain trees, this could be a useful tree to consider cultivating in their place. This would also be of benefit to the areas that would lose many of their existing mountain trees because of drought intolerance, such as the Appalachian Walk that straddles many different states in the US, including Virginia and Maine.
Although Ginkgo largely died out during the Ice Age, it survived in Asia and the Chinese kept it alive because they revered it as a sacred tree. There are paintings of Ginkgo inside many Chinese temples and a thousand years ago the Japanese planted it around their monasteries. Botanists consider that the only really wild Ginkgo trees can be found in forests in the eastern part of China. Many Ginkgo trees have been planted all over the world as hardy shade-protectors, especially in towns, because they are very resilient to any form of pollution and climate change.
According to the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, Ginkgo leaves are commercially available from China, Japan and Korea and from plantations in France and the south-eastern parts of the United States. Other commercial importers buy Ginkgo leaves from Belgium, Holland and Germany.
Ginkgo will grow in almost any type of soil. However, when Ginkgo is commercially grown, a soil rich in humus and nitrogen is preferable. This will mimic the Ginkgo tree's preferred conditions in the wild, where it flourishes in mixed deciduous and evergreen woodlands with deep leaf litter. What is important is the commitment to the 'organic' origins of these trees. Spraying with chemical sprays is wholly unnecessary on Ginkgo because it is so disease-resistant.
A History of Healing
The leaves and nuts of Ginkgo have been safely used as medicine and food for several thousands of years. The wealth of empirical knowledge about this amazing tree is reassuring regarding its safety and efficacy when used in normal daily doses and should encourage us to grow and to use it more frequently. Notably the oldest living species of the tree, Ginkgo was described by Charles Darwin as a 'living fossil', because it has evolved over 200 million years, from the same period of time in fact that the first birds appeared and dinosaurs reached their optimum size. At this time cone-bearing trees were plentiful and pines and conifers remain more closely related to Ginkgo than other deciduous trees.
Ginkgo's use as a medicinal plant began comparatively late in its development, some time after the human race first came into existence two million years ago. The name 'Ginkgo' comes from the Chinese word yinhsing, which describes the tree's fruit and means 'silver apricot'. The 'biloba' part of the name describes the leaves, which frequently have two lobes and a heart-shaped appearance. Sometimes three or four lobes can be found, bringing the tree closer to the ancient Ginkgo species in existence prior to biloba, as evidenced by fossils found in China.
Early humans gained herb knowledge through trial and error and by comparing and translating herbs' visual appearance, odour and smell. Ginkgo was no exception: early records show that its thorns could pierce and drain an abscess and were boiled in drinks to help reduce swellings. They also learned that the Ginkgo fruit caused skin rashes but that the seeds inside were medicinally valuable, as well as the leaves. The history of Ginkgo's use in China is well recorded, with information dating back 5,000 years in many texts including the I Ching (The Book of Changes). The tree has a phenomenal record of resistance to insects, pollution and parasitic invasion. The coating of the nut was found to be microbially resistant, which demonstrates the survival mechanism attributable to the whole plant. Ginkgo's resilience is also evidenced by the fact that Ginkgo trees were found alive after the atomic explosion in Hiroshima, Japan – even damaged trees began to sprout and grow again. Ginkgo leaves were used to relieve and strengthen memory abilities as early as 2800 BC and the nuts were used in the treatment of bronchial disorders and to aid circulation and the digestive process.
Anatomy of Ginkgo
Ginkgo trees are popular in cities but the male tree is usually preferred because it produces larger flowers and does not bear the fruits of the female, which have an unpleasant odour. Ginkgo is also called the 'Maidenhair Tree' because its foliage resembles the fronds of some Maidenhair ferns.
The leaves of Ginkgo are used medicinally. The fan-shaped leaves turn from bright green in the spring to a beautiful yellowish green in the autumn. Underneath, the leaves are slightly paler in colour; both sides are a little oily and shiny. When growing, they are flexible, but on harvesting the leaves become papery and are easier to split. They are about 10 cm (4 in) wide and 7 cm (2¾ in) long with closely spaced veins on each side, which radiate from the base.
Shelf life of leaves
Leaves last for only one year, after which time they should be replaced with newly harvested, vibrant leaves.
The nuts (female seeds) are also used medicinally. They are covered with fleshy fruit and look like greenish-yellow plums. They appear in the autumn, hanging like large yellow cherries in clusters of four or five together. Each cluster has its own stalk branching from a larger, leafy parent stalk. The fruits often smell offensive. Inside each fruit is a nut, which does not smell unpleasant and can be eaten.
Shelf life of nuts
Keep fresh nuts cool and use within 3–5 days; dried nuts last a long time and can still sprout after hundreds of years.
The chemistry of Ginkgo leaves and seeds is the same but the proportions vary slightly. Both the leaves and the seeds contain several groups of high quality flavonoids, which include ginkgetin, bilobetin, quercetin, kaempferol and isorhamnetin. In addition to flavonoids, Ginkgo also contains terpenes, flavoneglycosides (Ginkgo beterosides), anthocyanins, lactones, proanthocyanidins and an organic acid. When these components are combined, they protect and repair the body. Ginkgo's phenomenal survival abilities are due to its unique chemistry, which pharmaceutical companies find difficult to synthesise. Ginkgo root bark is also rich in all the chemical constituents mentioned, but harvesting it from such a slow-growing tree would not be feasible or justifiable and is unnecessary because you can make good use of the leaves and nuts.
Ginkgo in Action
Ginkgo has been used for a wide array of diseases and conditions for thousands of years, particularly in China. One of the herb's main attributes is the ability to increase the flow of blood through ageing blood vessels, particularly in the brain.
How Ginkgo can help
- Helps to improve circulation to the brain, which enhances memory, mental agility, alertness and other brain functions and eases some types of depression.
- As a general circulatory herb, Ginkgo increases the supply of oxygen and heals damage to the heart, veins and capillary system, as well as assisting general health by improving energy levels and by slowing down the ageing process.
- Helpful for the senses, especially the hearing and eyesight.
- Ginkgo also helps the treatment of any balance or vertigo problems, such as Ménières disease.
- As a free radical scavenger, Ginkgo protects cell membranes in the brain and other brain tissues from damage, which helps to keep the body and mind young, alert and healthy.
- Aids the work of neurotransmitters in the brain, which in turn helps memory agility and enhancement. This is useful against dyslexia, memory loss, depression and senility.
- Helps fight disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system, partly by protecting the 'myelin sheath' (that insulates the nerves) against some types of damage or wear and tear (often associated with stress). The function of the nervous system is further helped by well-circulated blood.
- Balances and regulates brain metabolism partly because of the increased flow of blood and the utilisation of oxygen and blood sugar (glucose). As George Halpern puts it in his book Ginkgo: A Practical Guide, 'The brain accounts for only 2 per cent of body weight, but it requires one-fifth of the body’s oxygen and has little or no reserves on which to draw.' A lack of oxygen also adversely affects the heart, lungs and muscles.
How Ginkgo affects the body
- Increases oxygen and glucose levels throughout the body, together with additional blood flow, which makes the body work better and encourages physical and mental improvement. Increased blood flow leads to positive results in the vascular system. For instance, the consistency of the blood is altered favourably, making the blood thinner if it is too thick and sticky. Inappropriately sticky blood, clumping together unnecessarily, causes poor blood flow (platelet aggregation). This can result in painful muscular cramps (premenstrual and otherwise), clots, varicose veins, embolism and thrombosis.
- Helps protect the actual make-up of the red blood cell membranes and capillaries, improving their efficiency.
- Supports the immune system: Ginkgo has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral qualities that are able to deal with a range of disorders and diseases and allergies, including candida infections. Enables the white blood cells to fight a whole range of minor and major infections.
- Helps reduce the immune system's over-reaction that can cause symptoms of allergies, such as asthma and hay fever; and excess inflammation, for example in some types of arthritis, rheumatism, asthma and hepatitis B.
- Protects the brain from memory loss – useful in cases of genetic Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia.
- Helps speed up the rate of information transmission, thus improving short-term memory; useful for students of all ages when studying for examinations and during the exam itself.
- Improves energy levels, helping to sustain liveliness and positive social interaction.
- Can raise levels of cooperation and initiative, increasing courage and qualities of leadership.
- Improves quality of sleep and awareness during waking hours, creating a balanced cycle.
- Can improve eyesight by helping to prevent degenerative factors or repairing damage, such as hardening of the lens and stiffening of the eye muscles.
- Helps hearing and eases ringing in the ears by providing extra oxygen to protect the tiny network of cells and blood vessels in the ears.
- Eases the discomfort of muscular cramps of any description, from premenstrual and birthing cramps to those experienced by athletes or others engaging in a high level of physical activity.
- Can reduce allergic responses. Ginkgo moderates inappropriate immune system reactions such as oversensitivity to 'normal' particles in food or environment, preventing or reducing symptoms such as asthma, hay fever, skin rashes, runny nose and breathing difficulties.
- Anti-inflammatory action can help reduce painful swellings and aches associated with arthritis, rheumatism and premenstrual problems.
- Keeps skin looking young, elastic, healthy and wrinkle-free.
- Positively influences balanced production of hormones: premenstrual women can produce too much aldosterone and not enough progesterone, which leads to water retention and other side effects than can cause symptoms such as backache, headache and swollen breasts. Water retention can cause leakage from blood vessels because of the pressure. With plenty of rest and wholesome food (including a little good quality salt), and a healthy, well-functioning bowel and liver, Ginkgo can help women balance these undesirable symptoms, resulting in a happier and calmer state of mind and less physical congestion.
- Helps men who have difficulty maintaining an erect penis, as well as those with prostate gland or urinary problems.
Case study: circulation
Mrs C. had always had cold extremities and chilblains, and her fingers went 'dead' in the winter. She also had prominent varicose veins that ruptured and bruised if they were knocked even slightly. In later life she developed high blood pressure. At 67 she consulted her doctor and a herbalist about her problems. To her surprise, both practitioners prescribed Ginkgo biloba and gave other suggestions on diet and exercise. Her doctor offered her standardised tablets of Ginkgo; the herbalist suggested a tincture. After only a few weeks of using the tincture her veins were much better. She no longer feared being knocked by a supermarket trolley – normally this would have resulted in severe bleeding and bruising. Overall she felt much warmer, she no longer had 'dead fingers' and she felt more alert and agile in her mind – an unexpected bonus. In addition her blood pressure had improved so much that her doctor could consider reducing her blood pressure medication.
Ginkgo's ability to scavenge free radicals means that it will make a substantial difference to the potential damage smoking may present. It helps smokers whose circulatory system may become less efficient because of oxygen deprivation. Ginkgo can also help to protect against radioactive substances that can be found in many of the fertilisers used in growing tobacco, cumulatively reaching an X-ray's worth of radiation intake each day in some cases for smokers.
Air travel and modern electrical appliances such as computers and microwaves may expose people to harmful radiation, so those people at risk should take Ginkgo. Ginkgo is also capable of reducing toxic environmental oestrogen-mimickers in the blood – free radicals that kill cells by damaging their chromosome make-up. It was this kind of damage that caused some of the birth defects seen in the aftermath of the radiation leak at Chernobyl, in Russia.
Ginkgo energises the whole body and modulates major life requirements. Through its ability to improve blood circulation, it helps to provide us with vital substances such as oxygen, enzymes, sugar and hormones and helps take away undesirable waste products that can cause disease and a quicker ageing process. Once free radical damage is prevented, this in turn protects our organs from potential damage; Ginkgo helps to prevent platelet-activating factors (PAF) from forming as part of allergic reactions. This is a huge help in the treatment of many diseases such as heart disease and asthma.
The French have conducted several studies into how Ginkgo helps to correct poor balance, for example in cases of tinnitus, Ménières disease and extreme vertigo. These studies were carried out at the University of Aix-Marseilles in France. They proved that Ginkgo can help to keep the arteries healthy and blood flow at a premium, thus influencing the semicircular canals in the ears and benefiting balance control. (The ears are responsible for much of our balance.)
When to avoid Ginkgo
Ginkgo leaves and nuts in general pose no threat to the majority of people if given at a normal dose and the nuts are properly prepared due to the toxic nature of the nut casing.
Avoid Ginkgo if you are taking epilepsy medication or anti-coagulant (blood-thinning) medication such as warfarin, heparin or aspirin. Ginkgo is safe to take with most other medications, but consult a doctor or qualified herbalist first.
See 'Natural Medicine for Everyone' near the end of this book for suitability in pregnancy, breastfeeding and for children.
Energy and Emotion
The nut of Ginkgo is bittersweet but also has a slightly astringent taste, with neutral overtones. The leaf has the nut’s bitterness, but to a lesser degree, and the other sweet and astringent flavours in a more subtle form. The leaf has a faint odour that is slightly reminiscent of tobacco.
According to Chinese medicine, the bitter flavour of Ginkgo is good for cooling and toning all the organs and body systems. It is also valuable for overheated conditions, in particular for treating the heart when it is performing badly. A typical example would be a case of high blood pressure, perhaps produced by fatty, cholesterol-rich animal products and resulting in thick and sluggish blood. The flavour of Ginkgo leaves will ease this tendency to thickened blood on all levels. Ginkgo’s bitterness cools and soothes inflammation and clears the arteries of cholesterol and fat deposits. It helps to counteract sluggishness and stagnation, thinning the blood and aiding better flow and viscosity.
Chinese medicine holds that the bitter flavour enters through the heart and small intestine. The Ginkgo plant, according to herbalist Michael Tierra, directly influences the meridians of the kidney and lungs, and the organs themselves. The kidneys have an important role to play in the health of the heart and circulatory system and if they are functioning in a stable fashion, this will help to reduce or prevent any inflammation in the heart. Unbalanced, poorly working kidneys can easily cause excessive fluid retention and this will quickly increase the burden on the heart. This is evidenced by the fact that modern Western medicine frequently prescribes diuretics as part of heart control medication. Another way in which Ginkgo’s bitter flavour can help to reduce water retention is through easing constipation.
The astringent flavour will help to support the whole body: it is a nurturing flavour vital for the overall renewal and recuperation, which is probably why Ginkgo is a popular soup ingredient in China. It is usually mixed with rice, which itself has a neutral flavour and is nutritious and energising.
Energy and the mind
We have many old sayings that connect the mind to the heart, such as 'wearing your heart on your sleeve', 'home is where the heart is' and 'the heart knoweth its own bitterness'. All these phrases refer to the connection between state of mind or feelings and the heart. Others also connect the heart and feelings to the digestion, such as the saying 'the way to a man's heart is through his stomach'. How well the heart and circulatory system and the digestive system function often determines how we feel and act.
In a similar way, the positive elements of Ginkgo on the mind are intertwined with its many benefits within the body. Such positive effects on the body can also have astounding influences on the immune system, the heart and the circulatory system, the brain, the nervous system, the lungs, the kidneys and the ears and eyes. More energy can thus become available, stimulating a spirit of responsibility, courage and interest in social interaction.
The Ginkgo fruiting flower appears only on the female tree and then only after 20 years of growth. This says much about the tree’s survival method, for to flower is to reproduce by bearing seed. By growing for 20 years before seeding, the tree can build up its energy before fruiting.
The healing qualities of the flower are valuable to our polluted, toxic and stressed world. The flower can benefit those who feel dejected, sickly, lacking in energy and polluted, whether emotionally or physically.
To make a flower essence – standard quantity
- Use 350 ml (1½ cups) each of spring water and brandy and 3–4 Ginkgo flowers, carefully chosen and freshly picked.
- Submerge the flowers in a glass bowl containing the spring water.
- Cover with clean white muslin and place in a quiet, sunny spot for at least 3 hours.
- After 3 hours use a twig to lift out the flowers. If the flowers wilt sooner than this, remove them earlier.
- Measure the remaining liquid and add an equal amount of brandy. Pour into dark glass bottles and label carefully.
Adults: 4 drops under the tongue four times daily or every half hour in times of crisis.
Children: Over 12 years, adult dose; 7–12 years, half adult dose; 1–7 years, quarter adult dose.
Plant spirit energies
The spirit of the Ginkgo tree is different from that of a flower essence, which derives mostly from the flowering aspect of the plant. The whole spirit of the Ginkgo tree enables every part of it to share its energy with us. Earthy yet illuminating, this tree’s spirit brings us from some very primitive states of mind to meditative and joyful ones.
The spirit of the Ginkgo tree makes it a phenomenal survivor, flourishing even where other species cannot thrive. Imagine witnessing the resurrection of this tree at the epicentre of the world’s first atomic bomb. Ginkgo has a tenacity of almost otherworldly proportions. With its mystical ability to survive no matter what destruction or changes take place around it, Ginkgo is truly an eco-warrior.
Growing, Harvesting and Processing
Growing Ginkgo trees on your own property or suggesting their use in urban landscaping will help provide a good future for all of us. The trees are slow growers but they are very resistant to bad treatment from humans, animals, environmental pollutants and the weather.
Ginkgo trees need neither support to help them grow nor pesticides because Ginkgo is one of the healthiest, most pest-resistant trees on earth. Organic sources are easy to find because weed control is usually unnecessary. However, collecting Ginkgo leaves or nuts in zones affected by high air pollution is not advised as Ginkgo classically mops these pollutants up, initially storing them in the leaves.
Ginkgo has been grown commercially for a long time and is found in many provinces of China. Organic sources of Ginkgo can also be found in Germany, Belgium and Holland, but mainly in small-scale operations with trees much more recently planted than those used in China. However, European trees carry certification of organic authenticity – an immediate assurance of quality.
For home propagation the seed is best sown in the early spring (March to April), in order to give the plant the longest growing season possible, so that it enters in the winter as a strong, large plant. The seed, usually referred to as a nut, is the shape of a hazelnut, about the size of the top joint of someone’s thumb.
The seeds can be sown in an ordinary mixture of loamy, sandy soil available from garden centres. To assist germination, scrape the slightly raised ‘ridge’ of the nut almost down to the kernel. However, take care not to damage the nut beyond this point. Half-fill some 15 cm (6 in) diameter pots with soil, put a Ginkgo nut into each pot then cover up to 2.5 cm (1 in) below the rim. If the area you live in is very cold, put the pots in a greenhouse or on a windowsill to speed up the germination process. Once the nuts have sprouted and produced their first leaves, re-pot them in a loamy, humus-rich soil. By placing the young plants in a warm position, 25 cm (10 in) or more of growth can be achieved during the first season. Just prior to the first frosts, put the pots in a cold greenhouse or a light, unheated shed. The following spring, remove them from the pots and plant them outside in a warm sunny position with good soil and plenty of drainage where they can continue to grow in a healthy fashion. A mix of male and female plants should result; you need at least one of each to produce fruit later.
Remember that the Ginkgo tree can reach 39 m (130 ft) in height with a lifespan of hundreds of years (trees up to a thousand years old have been recorded).
Leaves are collected by hand and then dealt with in one of two ways, according to the country they are grown in. In China and the United States the leaves and nuts are dried and then shipped to their destination. In Europe, this is also the case but where commercial growing is new and the harvest is very small and precious, fresh tinctures are often made immediately from the leaves in order not to waste any of their potential.
To dry the leaves, they are placed on commercial drying racks made from a wooden frame with nylon gauze stretched across, generally shaded from fierce sunshine and turned twice daily. If sunshine is not available then commercial blow dryers are used in a drying shed or barn.
Medicinal leaves can be picked in the spring, but the optimum gathering time is in the autumn, when the plant's chemistry has reached its peak over the summer. The leaves should be picked when they are still slightly green, just before they turn yellow; in the very yellow leaves, the flavonoid content is past its best and will be only minimally effective. The optimum time varies, but generally falls between August and September – during this time it is very important to watch the trees daily.
Pick the leaves one by one, nipping the little stalk between your thumb and the middle finger to prevent damage to the tree. Once collected, the leaves should be dried thoroughly. One way is to place a few leaves at a time in a paper bag and hang it up in a dry place. Shake the bag frequently to make sure that enough aeration occurs. Alternatively, place the leaves on a cake-rack with a layer of paper towels underneath them and leave the rack in a warm dry, place, shading it from direct sunlight. Replace the paper daily until the leaves dry out. Either method should take only a few days. When you feel the leaves are ready, check for moisture content by placing a leaf or two in a glass jar. Put on the lid and leave the jar in the sunshine or near another heat source. If water droplets appear there is still moisture content and a risk of spoilage, for example, by fungal spores appearing. In this case, continue to dry the leaves by repeating the drying process.
Once the leaves are fully dried, they are packed into burlap bags and sent on to their destination. So much Ginkgo is used worldwide that growers are never short of sales and will always be able to pass on the leaves without delay. In Europe, especially in Holland, Germany and France, certified organic plantations of Ginkgo are still a rare sight and because they grow so slowly, fresh tincturing can be the preferred storage method.
It is important to be choosy about the colour of the leaves you intend to purchase from your herbal supplier. To gain the important chemical constituents that straddle two colour stages, you need to look for a combination of two colours: dark, vibrant green and an autumnal yellow. If you have only one or the other, then you will receive only one set of major constituents. Some leaves contain both colours, deep green and blotches of yellow, which are considered to be an optimum purchase. Never feel reluctant to send mail order herbs back if they do not appear to be right in any way. However, talking to the supplier when ordering can prevent this situation. Of course, buying from a store means you can see and question at the time of purchase. Always ask how old the leaves are and make sure you are buying the most recent crop available.
When dry, put leaves or nuts in dark glass storage jars with a good vacuum seal or screw top. You can also put the leaves in a brown paper bag and then into plastic bags to keep in their vitality. Make sure that you date your herbs so that you will remember to compost the leaves that have remained unused by the following year and replace them with freshly harvested ones.
Preparations for Internal Use
Ginkgo has been taken for thousands of years in the form of teas, foods, wines and tinctures. Nowadays we can still prepare and use Ginkgo in these traditional ways, or we can purchase capsules or tablets, including those prepared as standardised extracts.
Note that Ginkgo should not be taken in the evening or before bed as the increased oxygen and neurotransmitter activity may have a stimulating effect and cause wakefulness. If taking Ginkgo 3 times a day, take it with breakfast, lunch and mid-afternoon.
Ginkgo leaf tincture
Tinctures are an excellent way of quickly receiving the medicinal effects of Ginkgo which are very successfully extracted in alcohol and water. They require no preparation from the recipient if bought commercially and if necessary can be kept for up to 3 years without spoilage. However, home-made tinctures are often best, even when judged against other high quality tinctures, commercial or otherwise. Home-made tinctures have the advantage of all your personal handling and care.
Ginkgo tincture is made by soaking the leaves, which have been pre-chopped, shredded or crumbled by hand, in alcohol and water. If you can obtain any Ginkgo nuts (seeds) then you can use a few but they are rare in countries like Britain, whereas leaves can be found quite easily in Europe and America and are readily available commercially. If using the nuts, then be sure to first peel off the poisonous outer husk of the nuts. Note that a tincture made from the nuts should only be used for a short period of time, whereas leaf tincture can be used long term (see 'Recommended dosage' below).
In Japan, Ginkgo nuts are eaten as a digestive aid and very often after a meal. They are considered to be tasty and nutritious with the advantage that they contain no fat. They are also extremely useful medicinally. In fact Ginkgo nuts were originally consumed far more than the leaves and the increased use of the leaves has only been a relatively recent trend.
Note: Always use utensils that have been cleaned in boiling water – and for good results add one or two drops of lavender, thyme, or tea tree essential oil to the cleaning water.
How to make a tincture – standard quantity
- Use 200 g (7 oz) of dried or 300 g (10½ oz) of fresh leaves or nuts, chopped or shredded, with a total of 1 litre (4 cups) of vodka and water mixture. For the vodka, standard 45 per cent proof is effective, but 70–80 per cent proof is better. Proportions of vodka and water used will depend on the strength of the vodka: if using 45 per cent proof, you will use 80 per cent vodka and 20 per cent water (but only 10 per cent if using fresh herb); if using 70–80 per cent proof, you will use 40–50 per cent vodka and 50–60 per cent water.
- Put the fresh or dried leaves (and nuts if you are using them) into a liquidiser and cover with the vodka (the correct proportion of 1 litre, as above). Liquidise the ingredients – the mixture will be stiff and hard, but persist.
- When smooth, pour the mixture into a large dark glass jar with an airtight lid. Shake well, label the jar carefully, and store in a dark place.
- After 2 days, measure the contents and add the water to make up the rest of the litre of liquid, using the proportions given above. Shake well.
- Leave the mixture for at least 2 weeks, but preferably up to 4 weeks. Shake the jar daily to aid the extraction process.
- At the end of the allotted time, strain the tincture through a jelly bag, preferably overnight, until you have the very last drop. For best results you can use a wine press.
- Pour the liquid into dark jars and label clearly. Store in a cool, dark place. For personal use, decant into a 50 ml (2 fl oz) tincture bottle.
Everyday use: Adults should take 5 ml (1 tsp) of leaf tincture 3 times a day in about 25 ml (1 fl oz) or more of water or fruit juice; if using nut tincture, take 5 ml (1 tsp) once daily. Remember not to take in the evening or before bed.
Long term use: Adults can take the leaf tincture for up to a year or more. Some people may need to take it for the rest of their life and according to records, this is quite safe. Note that the nut tincture should only be used for a short period of time and only for specific bronchial problems. If any undesirable side effects occur, for example headache, then drink liquorice tea as an antidote.
Children: Over 16 years, adult dose. For children under 16, consult a qualified practitioner.
Some practitioners recommend 'standardised extract' capsules or tablets for a short period of time (1 to 2 months) for acute conditions before commencing or returning to Ginkgo tincture, but it is also possible to take 5 ml (1 tsp) of a leaf tincture 5 times daily for 1 to 2 months initially for a stronger effect.
Tinctures and the moon’s phases
Herbalists sometimes time the production of tinctures to coincide with the gravitational waxing and waning of the moon. To do this, start the process when the moon is new, then strain and bottle the tincture at the full moon.
This is the best way to prepare Ginkgo nuts. Fresh or dried nuts may be used but fresh are the best choice. Be sure to remove the poisonous outer husk before decocting the ‘inner’ nuts. Decoctions preserve all the qualities and chemical components of Ginkgo very efficiently. Once made, a decoction can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three days, but is best made fresh each day where possible.
Making a Ginkgo nut decoction is not something that can be done easily, as nuts are not readily available. This is for a variety of reasons, including a cold climate and the fact that female trees (that produce the nuts) are only rarely planted because the odour of their fruits is so foul.
To make a decoction – standard quantity
- Use 20 g (¾ oz) dried or 40 g (1½ oz) fresh nuts to 750 ml (3 cups) cold water. This makes enough for 2 cups (500 ml) after simmering.
- First peel the husk (outer papery covering) from the nuts because it is poisonous and must be discarded. Put the nuts and water in a saucepan (a double boiler is ideal).
- Bring to a boil and then simmer on a very low heat for about 20–30 minutes. During this time the liquid will reduce by about one third.
- Remove the pan from the heat. Let the liquid cool then strain through a sieve into a pitcher, keeping a little aside for your first cup.
- Put the remainder in a cool place or in the refrigerator if storing it for longer than a day.
Adults: Take 250–500 ml (1–2 cups) daily. As per the caution above, avoid taking Ginkgo in the evening or before bed. Note that, like the nut tincture, Ginkgo nut decoction should not be used over a long period of time.
This decoction is unsuitable for children.
Ginkgo herbal tea (infusion)
Ginkgo leaf tea is an ideal way of using the leaves, whereas the healing properties of the nuts are better extracted using a decoction or a tincture. Ginkgo tea is the perfect way to take Ginkgo long term as a preventative health drink. This is because many of Ginkgo’s vital chemical constituents are water-soluble. However, the taste is bitter and astringent, so it will only suit those who either enjoy this taste or are happy to sweeten the tea. Organic honey and maple syrup are two possible choices for this. Stevia herb is an alternative to honey and maple syrup for those wishing to avoid sweeteners. Stevia is an African shrub, 500 times sweeter than sugar: adding a minute pinch to each 1–2 g of Ginkgo leaf will sweeten the tea adequately.
To make an infusion – standard quantity
- Use 2–3 g (1 heaped tsp) of crumbled, dried leaf or 4–6 g (2 tsp) of fresh chopped leaf to 1 cup of boiling water.
- Put the herb in a tea sock and place in a cup or teapot.
- Add the boiling water.
- Let stand for 7–10 minutes.
- Remove the tea sock and add a half teaspoon of organic, cold pressed honey if desired.
Adults: 2 cups (500 ml) in total per day. As per the caution above, avoid taking Ginkgo in the evening or before bed.
Children: Over 12 years, adult dose. For children under 12, consult a qualified herbalist.
Note: Teas can also be made in a special teapot infuser, or in a coffeepot with a plunger.
Case study: radiation
After undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer, Jane consulted a herbalist to remove residual radiation from her body. The herbalist’s suggestion was simple: drink 3 cups (750 ml) of Ginkgo tea daily; also take 5 ml (1 tsp) of Bentonite clay in water or fruit juice, drinking it quickly, alongside a capsule of appropriate bowel herbs to ensure that the clay moves through the body effectively, pulling out the radiation. Jane also took Siberian Ginseng tincture, which is effective for removing and neutralising the effects of radiation. It is difficult to tell what effects all this may have had, since there was no effective way of measuring her levels of radiation before of after. However it is likely that Jane was helped, judging by the positive effects Ginkgo had on Chernobyl survivors whose radiation levels were measured before and after taking Ginkgo.
Case study: memory
Alec Drummer was 59 years old when his wife took him to see a qualified herbal practitioner. She had heard about Ginkgo and wondered if it could help her husband, whose once alert mind had become forgetful and confused. He could not remember many of the good things they had once shared and his usual sharp recall and interest in all around him seemed to diminish daily. A program of general health was instigated, which involved certain foods, cleansers and exercise, and a combination of Ginkgo tincture and tea were prescribed. Exciting and positive results were evident after just two weeks. Alec was delighted and described the sadness that his memory loss had caused him even while it was going on. Alec’s program and high level of Ginkgo continued for three months at the rate of 20 ml (4 tsp) of tincture and 250–500 ml (1–2 cups) of tea daily. This amount was reduced gradually over the next six months until Alec was taking just 5–10 ml (1–2 tsp) tincture and 250 ml (1 cup) tea daily as a maintenance dose.
Capsules can be made by using commercial powdered Ginkgo. Make sure you enquire about the shelf life of the herb you are buying – it should be no more than six to twelve months old. Taste it first: it should have a very noticeable flavour of sweet bitterness, not fierce in either direction, but pleasantly harmonious and earthy. Any neutrality or blandness will mean that it is old and should not be used. Powders do not last as long as whole, chopped, shredded, or crumbled herb because the powder has a larger surface area and is more exposed to oxygen, which encourages deterioration. Capsules seal in the powder and prevent loss, but if you buy them ready-made, make sure they contain as much of the active herb as possible and minimal other ingredients.
To make Ginkgo capsules – standard quantity
- Approx. 500–600 mg of powdered herb fits into an average size capsule.
- Put a little dried, finely powdered Ginkgo leaf in a saucer.
- Open up the capsule ends. Using the ends as a shovel, push them together until they are full. Slide the capsule ends together carefully, keeping as much powder in the capsule as possible. Although they are more expensive, it is better to choose capsules that have casings from vegetable sources in preference to those of animal origin.
Adults: 3 capsules twice daily. As per the caution above, avoid taking Ginkgo in the evening or before bed. If taking Ginkgo twice a day, take with one dose with breakfast and one with lunch or mid-afternoon.
Children: Over 12 years, adult dose. For children under 12, consult a qualified herbalist.
Ginkgo home-made tablets
As for capsules, home-made Ginkgo tablets can be made using commercial powdered Ginkgo.
To make tablets – standard quantity
- Use 400 g of finely powdered Ginkgo to 5 or more drops of bottled water (enough to make a paste of appropriate consistency).
- Mix a little water with the powder and roll into pills of convenient size.
- They should ideally be made up just prior to use, but can be stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to a day.
- You can also use organic maple or barley syrup, or organic honey, instead of water.
Adults: 2–3 tablets twice daily. As per the caution above, avoid taking Ginkgo in the evening or before bed. If taking Ginkgo twice a day, take with one dose with breakfast and one with lunch or mid-afternoon.
Children: Over 12 years, adult dose. For children under 12, consult a qualified herbalist.
Commercial capsules and tablets are available that have been made with standardised extract of Ginkgo; their effectiveness has been backed up in clinical trials. They contain 24 per cent flavoneglycosides and may have one or two other quantified chemical constituents, for example bilobalide and ginkgolides. This way of taking Ginkgo is more akin to the synthetic drugs produced by the pharmaceutical industry, with the difference that a natural source is being used. Many argue that standardised capsules and tablets can be useful for severe brain disorders, including blood clots. However, we can only seek assurance from the thousands of years using non-standardised extracts in China, and the variety of case histories and conditions that were apparent during that time.
Ginkgo has traditionally been made into a soup by the Japanese and Chinese for centuries. It is nutritious according to both old wisdom and new information and has the added benefit of a myriad of specific and general medicinal effects that include acting as a tonic to the kidneys, bladder and genitourinary system; it can also improve hearing and is effective against worms. According to herbalist Dr Christopher Hobbs, modern research has proved that there is antibiotic activity in the cooked and raw nuts. In Britain and other colder parts of the world where the female fruits will not flourish, you will have to buy the dried nuts.
To make Ginkgo soup
- Use 25 g (1 oz) fresh or dried de-husked Ginkgo nuts, 1–1.25 litres (4–5 cups) of distilled or bottled water, 25 g (1 oz) precooked rice or potato, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Chop the Ginkgo nuts into small pieces to release the nutrients and flavour, and then put them into a pan with the distilled or bottled water.
- Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until the nuts are soft.
- Transfer the water and nuts into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. When you have pureed the mixture to the right consistency, transfer it to a bowl.
- Add the precooked rice or potato to the mixture in order to add extra texture.
- For extra flavour before serving: Try seasoning the soup with any or all of the following: turmeric, salt, chillies, black pepper, lemon juice, celery seed, thyme and marjoram.
As per the caution above, it can be better to avoid Ginkgo in the evening or before bed as the increased oxygen and neurotransmitter activity may have a stimulating effect and cause wakefulness. Use the soup for lunch or for an early evening tea rather than later in the evening.
Preparations for External Use
Making your own external herbal preparations is a very satisfying hobby that can help to keep your family and friends healthy. As for internal preparations, the best choice of herb is always that you have grown yourself, and Ginkgo trees are easy to grow. Alternatively you can purchase Ginkgo by mail order from commercial suppliers in various forms if you prefer to use it ready-made.
Ginkgo ointment can be very effective in cases of chilblains, varicose veins, sunburn, over-exposure to radiation and similar situations. Ginkgo inhibits cell damage by resisting attack from free radicals. This enables the skin to keep or produce more layers of collagen and protein fibres and will help to reinstate the skin's flexibility. Ginkgo also activates circulation, which helps to prevent any restriction of blood flow and the damage this may cause. This is partly due to Ginkgo’s ability to 'thin' the blood, which helps even the smallest capillaries to receive oxygen.
To make an ointment – standard quantity
- Use 350 ml (1½ cups) of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, 300 g (10½ oz) dried, crumbled Ginkgo leaves and 50 g (2 oz) beeswax.
- Pour the olive oil onto the dried Ginkgo leaves and mix together.
- Place in a closed container (ovenproof if you are using the oven method) – choose stainless steel, earthenware, un-chipped enamel, or ovenproof glass.
- Put the container into an oven preheated to about 38°C (100°F) for 2 hours, or stand in the sun or other warm spot for a week. During the allotted time, occasionally stir the mixture with a sterilised fork.
- If using the oven method, the mixture can be strained directly after the 2 hours if you need the ointment quickly, or you can also leave it to stand for a week to encourage a greater extraction of the active components.
- On completion of slow cooking or soaking, strain the mixture through a large plastic or stainless steel colander lined with muslin, or use a jelly bag and hang it up to drip overnight.
- When you have strained the mixture, melt 50 g (2 oz) of beeswax over a very low heat in a double boiler or heavy-bottomed pan, then add the herbal olive oil mixture and combine. Do not overheat the herb oil or it will lose its valuable plant chemistry.
- Put a little of the mixture into a glass jar and put it in the refrigerator for 2 minutes to test the consistency when cool. At the right consistency, it should stick to your fingers without being too hard or too runny. If it is too runny, add a little more beeswax; if too hard, a little more oil.
- Pour the mixture into dark glass jars and label carefully.
Note: In a hot climate this recipe may need a little more hardening, so add extra beeswax (or coconut butter). In colder climates, if it remains too hard, re-heat and add more olive oil and you will have a softer consistency.
Apply twice daily to the affected area (or more frequently if the condition is severe); bandage it if you wish, but leave uncovered if possible.
Natural Medicine for Everyone
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Ginkgo has been traditionally used in pregnancy for problems such as high blood pressure, poor circulation, and to support the immune system in a situation where antibiotics are not advised. It has also been used when breastfeeding – traditional Chinese herbalists suggested that Ginkgo acts as a good galactogogue, in other words, a herb that encourages milk flow; and it is also known to help prevent congestion in the milk ducts and mastitis-type problems that can cause breast inflammation. However, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK now gives the following caution on their product information sheet for a licensed Ginkgo supplement (registered as a Traditional Herbal Remedy): 'Safety during pregnancy and lactation has not been established. In the absence of sufficient data, the use during pregnancy and lactation is not recommended.' For this reason, we advise that you consult a qualified herbalist before using Ginkgo if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Pregnant women should not take Ginkgo nuts because there is a possibility that they could be toxic to the growing foetus, especially if some of the outer husk has been left behind. Although there is little recorded evidence that this is the case, it is generally felt that it is better not to ingest them during pregnancy.
Unless children are sick in some way they will not necessarily need Ginkgo. However, it is not bad for them and can certainly be of help with concentration, learning and brain formation. For dyslexic children and adults, it can help neurotransmitter connections in the brain and is recommended for this problem. It is also useful for children with circulatory or immune system problems.
Follow the guidelines given on the 'Preparations for Internal Use' and 'Herbal Combinations' pages regarding suitability of the different Ginkgo preparations for children. For children of ages below those given, consult a qualified herbalist prior to use.
Ginkgo is very beneficial for elderly people. As a 'brain herb' and circulatory herb, it is ideal for states sometimes associated with the ageing process including narrowing and damage to the arteries and other blood vessels, abnormal clotting tendencies of the blood, or leakiness of the tiny blood vessels in the brain tissue. Ginkgo can help because it can increase the supply of oxygen and glucose to the brain and its antioxidant properties prevent the deterioration of cells. All this helps to prevent, resolve or moderate problems besetting the elderly including forgetfulness, confusion, anxiety and depression. The elderly often suffer from poor circulation and lowered immunity and Ginkgo works well on both counts. Failing eyesight and hearing can also be age-related problems and Ginkgo may assist in sharpening these senses.
Avoid Ginkgo if you are taking epilepsy medication or anti-coagulant (blood-thinning) medication such as warfarin, heparin or aspirin. Ginkgo is safe to take with most other medications, but consult a doctor or qualified herbalist first.
Herbal combinations are used to complement the effect of a single herb. However, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have a serious medical condition or are taking prescribed medication, consult your doctor or a qualified herbalist before taking any of these formulas.
As previously mentioned, Ginkgo may need to be avoided in the evening and especially before bed as it can cause wakefulness. However, as the amounts of Ginkgo in the combination formulas can be much lower than in a pure Ginkgo preparation, most can be taken up to early evening without causing this effect. Guidelines are given for each formula. If you find that the formula is still causing wakefulness, take the last dose by mid afternoon instead of in the evening.
Depression and anxiety
These herbs, taken as a tincture, can help balance and alter any chemical insufficiency present.
Formula: Equal parts of Ginkgo leaves, Siberian Ginseng root and St John’s Wort flowers.
Adults: 5 ml (1 tsp) 3 times daily, diluted in fruit juice or water, with the last dose taken in the early evening.
Children: Consult a qualified herbalist.
Ginkgo has chemical components that work as natural 'monoamine oxidase inhibitors', preserving neurotransmitters such as serotonin and noradrenaline in the brain and thereby acting as a natural antidepressant (see page 'How Ginkgo Works' below for more details). Ginkgo also increases the supply of oxygen and glucose to the brain cells, with the overall effect of making a person feel much more positive. St John’s Wort is a well-known natural antidepressant that works by enabling the 'happy' hormone serotonin to remain longer in the brain (where needed). Siberian Ginseng is a wonderful all-round supportive herb; its adrenal-balancing abilities are phenomenal, leading to a sense of peace and well-being.
Allergies occur when the immune system reacts inappropriately to non-harmful substances, with excessive inflammation, mucus production and other debilitating side effects. A variety of factors can cause lowered vitality of the immune system, as well as poor digestive powers and overly acidic conditions in the bloodstream that can contribute to or accompany allergic reactions. The following formula, which should be taken as a tincture, addresses these problems and others, helping to ease allergies such as asthma and hay fever.
Formula: 1 part each of Ginkgo leaf, Meadowsweet root, Milk Thistle seeds, Echinacea root, Siberian Ginseng root, Marshmallow root and ¼ part Cayenne pods.
Adults: 5 ml (1 tsp) 3 to 5 times daily, plus a night dose of 10 ml (2 tsp) if needed, as long as the small amount of Ginkgo does not keep you awake.
Children: Over 16 years, adult dose. For children under 16, consult a qualified herbalist.
Milk Thistle tones, clears and balances the liver. Meadowsweet balances and supports digestion and can help with both over- and underactive digestive processes. Marshmallow and Siberian Ginseng provide general support and nutritive well-being. Ginkgo and Cayenne will support circulation of the other herbs and help with immune system support, oxygen supply and regulating excessive inflammatory reactions. Echinacea is a direct immune system modulator.
For those people prone to winter chilblains, cold hands and feet, and an accompanying dread of winter (or even if only the latter), this formula, taken as a tincture, will make a significant difference. It can also be used as an ideal recovery formula for any illness, as it supports oxygen supply to the tissues, helping to repair and heal the body. (For any serious medical condition, however, a doctor or qualified herbalist should be consulted prior to use.)
Formula: 3 parts Ginkgo leaves, 3 parts Rosemary leaves, 3 parts Hawthorn leaves and berries, 2 parts Prickly Ash bark, 1 part Garlic bulb, ½ part Cayenne pods.
Adults: 5 ml (1 tsp) 4 times daily diluted in fruit juice or water, with the last dose taken in the early evening.
Children: Over 16 years, adult dose. For children under 16, consult a qualified herbalist.
Ginkgo and Rosemary specifically help to support the brain with oxygen. They are also wonderful general circulatory toners, as are Garlic, Cayenne, and Prickly Ash. Hawthorn also acts as a general circulatory herb but with the special attribute that it is able to act as a natural beta blocker, blocking and providing cell receptor transmission in the heart as needed. Garlic and Ginkgo are both able to thin the blood, preventing stickiness and clumping together of cells.
Varicose veins and broken capillaries
The following formula, taken as a tincture, is useful whether problems are due to genetic tendencies, jobs involving a great deal of standing, or the strains of pregnancy. All can be helped and possible surgery prevented. Where surgery has already taken place and veins have been removed, future problems can be abated, and present ones not fully rectified can be vastly improved.
Formula: 4 parts Ginkgo leaves, 3 parts Horse Chestnut nut, ½ part Cayenne pods.
Adults: 5 ml (1 tsp) 3 times daily diluted in 125 ml (½ cup) fruit juice or water, with the last dose taken in the mid or late afternoon.
These herbs will circulate the blood, break up clots, re-elasticate the veins and capillaries, and maintain good circulation where excess water is no longer present.
Note: Horse Chestnut in tincture or decoction can also be painted onto any inflamed leg veins. Alternatively, buy a Horse Chestnut gel, cream or ointment to use topically.
Brain and memory enhancement
The decline or loss of mental function can be eased with this formula. This combination of herbs, taken as a tincture, may be especially useful in cases of dyslexia as well as general memory deterioration.
Formula: 3 parts Ginkgo leaves, 1 part Gotu Kola root, and 1 part Prickly Ash bark.
Adults: 5 ml (1 tsp) 3 times daily, with the last dose taken in the mid or late afternoon.
Children: Over 16 years, adult dose. For children under 16, consult a qualified herbalist.
Ginkgo generally promotes good circulation, but it has a special affinity for the blood vessels in the brain, aiding micro-circulation and therefore providing more oxygen and nutrients to the brain cells. This can help to ease short-term memory problems. Ginkgo also increases the responsiveness of neurotransmitter receptors in the brain, enabling messages and impulses to be transmitted more efficiently. Gotu Kola root can assist Ginkgo by promoting mental calm and clarity. In India, Gotu Kola is revered as a prime tonic for the nervous system. In the West, this herb is often combined with Ginkgo because the Gotu Kola calms, clears, and organises the person who becomes flustered when not remembering things, while Ginkgo supports the brain and memory in a very different way. Prickly Ash bark promotes capillary circulation throughout the body and its effects are felt almost instantly, not least in the brain where it can improve clarity and remove clouded thoughts and uncertainty.
How Ginkgo Works
Ginkgo has a unique chemistry that provides protection like no other living plant. The tree also demonstrates remarkable resilience against radiation, low or no sunlight, drought, frost and smog – it even manages to counteract pollution, which takes an awesome and intelligent combination of known (and as yet unknown) plant constituents.
helpful biochemical components include:
Ginkgolides: Flavonoids shown to counteract and inhibit platelet activating factor (PAF) in the body. This is a substance released by a range of blood cells but can be produced in excess in certain situations, for example in allergic reactions and inflammatory responses. PAF causes the blood to become stickier and stimulates and perpetuates allergic responses and inflammation. It is thought that excessive bacterial build-up could cause a toxic overload that produces this reaction. In the Ginkgo plant, ginkgolides also protect the plant from solar radiation damage as antioxidants (free radical scavengers); they similarly protect humans by defending the skin and liver and other organs and cells. Some of the ginkgolides product Ginkgo's bitter flavour. According to herbalist Professor Christopher Hobbs, ginkgolides could be Ginkgo's most interesting constituents.
Kaempferol: Another flavonoid, thought to be primarily responsible for Ginkgo's antidepressant effect. In a 2000 study published in The Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, kaempferol was identified as a monamine oxidase inhibitor (slowing the breakdown of monoamine neurotransmitters such as serotonin and noradrenaline). It was also found to be neuroprotective. This study established Ginkgo as an antidepressant. It is, however, very likely that several of Ginkgo’s compounds contribute to its natural antidepressant activity.
Other flavonoids: These include proathocyanidins, catechins and condensed tannins, which are noted for their cardiovascular protective effects. Coumarin accounts for Ginkgo's blood-thinning qualities.
An article in the Lancet, Vol. 340, examined numerous studies on intermittent claudication (pain while walking), cerebral insufficiency and a wide collection of vascular impairment symptoms including tinnitus. Dosages ranged between 120 and 160 mg of Ginkgo per day divided into equal doses and taken at mealtimes. Most studies showed that between 30 and 70 per cent of subjects experienced reduced symptoms over a 6–12 week period. No serious side effects were observed and many minor side effects were not statistically significant compared to subjects treated only with a placebo.
Modern research on Ginkgo dates back to the late 1950s when Dr William Schwabe of the Schwabe Company in West Germany created an extract from the leaf. His results led to what is considered to be the 'standard' Ginkgo and is used in today's standardised extract Ginkgo preparations – a concentrated extract of 24 per cent flavoneglycosides and 6 per cent terpenoids.
In 1988 Springer Verlag, a German scientific publishing company, released an English translation of 36 Ginkgo studies collectively entitled Rokan (Ginkgo biloba). Among the variety of topics included was Platelet Activating Factor-A 1987, a study published in the Prostaglandins journal (Vol. 34, No.5) – this stated that in an eight-subject double-blind trial Ginkgo 'significantly inhibited response to the allergens'.
In 1988 the New York Times reported that British researchers had found positive results when using Ginkgolide B for asthma and allergic inflammations, both of which are influenced by PAF (platelet activating factor). French scientist Pierre Braquet provides a synthesis of the information related to PAF and ginkgolides in the journal Drugs of the Future. He states that ginkgolides act in humans as a PAF antagonist.
In 1989 a study published in the Journal of Urology indicated that long-term use of Ginkgo biloba extract may be helpful in the treatment of impotency.
A 1992 Lancet report stated that 'in vitro' studies (studies outside the human body) show that Ginkgo has free radical scavenging properties.
In 1993 Ferrandini, Droy-Lefaix and Christen (editors of Ginkgo biloba Extract (Egb 761) as a Free Radical Scavenger) stated that Ginkgo is an effective antioxidant in the brain and retina, as well as the cardiovascular system.
In 2000 a study published in The Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology (as mentioned above) found that Kaempferol in Ginkgo acts as a natural monoamine oxidase inhibitor, preserving neurotransmitter levels in the brain and thereby acting as a natural antidepressant.
- Helps to prevent the ageing process in every cell of the body.
- Assists the function of body organs that have large amounts of connective tissue, for example, eyes, skin and lungs.
- Keeps all blood vessels strong, flexible and decongested so that they are able to deliver nutrients and remove toxins.
Substances that protect cells from free radical damage.
Vessels that carry blood away from the heart.
Neurotransmitters are molecules released across synapses to other nerves in response to nerve impulse.
The smallest blood vessels in the body, which carry blood in a fine network to all the body’s tissues.
Intermittent cramp-like pain in the legs during mild exercise, due to poor circulation.
An insoluble protein; it is the principal fibrous component of connective tissue in the body.
A behaviour, intellect and memory disorder due to brain disease.
A drug that increases the volume of urine produced by promoting excretion of salts and water from the kidneys.
Abnormal difficulty in reading and spelling, caused by a brain condition.
Compounds found in plants that are responsible for a wide range of actions. They are anti-asthmatic as well as being anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anthelmintic (able to expel worms), anticarcinogenic, antioxidant, and antineoplastic.
Molecules that exist for a brief period before reacting to create a stable molecule. This reaction causes damage to another molecule and so over time they are capable of causing damage within the body.
Herb that increases the secretion of milk in breastfeeding mothers.
This encompasses the reproductive and urinary systems and all their organs.
When the seed has produced a primordial root below and has emerging leaves.
A person suffering from hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).
Capacity and function of the body to fend off foreign bodies such as fungi, viruses, bacteria, and/or disarm and eject them.
A condition where a woman's breast tissue becomes painful and inflamed. It is most common in breastfeeding.
Infection of the inner ear that disturbs hearing and balance. Symptoms include dizziness and/or severe ringing or hissing sounds in the ear.
Female hormone produced in the body, which gradually decreases during menopause.
Ringing, buzzing, or hissing sounds in the ear.
Vessels that carry blood towards the heart.
Giddiness with a definite sensation of movement. This condition arises from disturbances in the ear.