Scientific Name: Ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo is the oldest living tree type on the planet — it dates back 90 million years ago. Ginkgo is sometimes referred to as a living fossil because its leaves still look identical to the fossilised leaves that pre-date the evolution of mammals.
Ginkgo is an erect, slow-growing deciduous tree with a conical habit and can grow up to 35 meters. It bears soft green, unusual fan shaped leathery, yet soft to the touch, leaves. Male and female flowers are found on separate trees and will only fruit when planted near each other – if it is a warm summer.
The male flowers are born on thick, yellow pendulous catkins 8cm long. Female flowers are round, solitary and on long stalks followed by fleshy, plum-like fruit with the unpleasant smell of rancid butter when ripe.
Ginkgo is hardy, needs fertile, well-drained soil, full sun and dies back if pruned. It makes a beautiful garden specimen, and is planted in abundance in some of the streets of Pretoria.
Ginkgo Biloba is native to China but is grown all over the world for its beauty and for its leaves, which have excellent herbal properties.
Harvesting and parts used
Pick the fresh leaves as they turn from green to yellow in autumn and dry them for use in infusions, powders and tinctures. The kernels from the ripe fruit (seed) are cooked for use in decoctions.
Inside the ripe fruit is an edible 'white nut' that can be roasted and used for a snack/garnish and canned/dried for use in soups, stir fries and stews.
Ginkgo Biloba seed has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine but Western research done since 1960, concentrates more on the properties in the leaves.
Use of leaf:
We know that Ginkgo Biloba is a bitter sweet astringent herb, that the leaves help irregular heart beat and that it is an antioxidant, antispasmodic and an excellent:
Circulation stimulant and tonic :
It maintains good blood flow to the brain and thus the central nervous system - thus helping cerebral insufficiency in the elderly, Alzheimers or senile dementia, and Raynaud’s disease. Ginkgo Biloba can be taken as a preventative and that is the reason why Ginkgo Biloba is the best selling herbal medicine in France and Germany where it is taken daily by people from middle age and onwards — to improve their cerebral circulation and memory, and to reduce the possibility of a stroke.
Ginkgo Biloba effectively reduces inflammation. It is especially useful in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis — where nerve tissue is damaged by inflammation. It can be used for arthritis, and muscular inflammation.
It aids the control of allergic inflammatory responses.
Use of Seed:
Ginkgo Biloba seed has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial effects, helping urinary incontinence.
It is an Anti-asthmatic:
It dilates the bronchial tubes and blood vessels and helps reduce thick phlegm in the lungs.
Ginkgo Biloba capsules can be purchased from most chemists or health stores, and can also be taken as a tea if you have the dried loose herb.
I would like to recommend the following method of the herbal tea infusion as written by Margie Frayne in her book Help yourself to Health – A guide for home health using healing herbs and good nutrition, 2005:
4 Ginkgo Biloba leaves to 1 cup boiling water
Place the herb in a container with a lid. Pour the boiling (just of the boil) water over the herb. Cover and stand for 5-15 minutes. Strain. Add sugar or honey if necessary. Use as a drink, taking 1 cup daily hot or cold (per advice of the doctor or herbalist).
Make enough for one day only. Do not stand overnight to use the next day.
This method of making an infusion can be used to make a tea from the aerial parts of the herb (leaf; flower; stem) or a mixture of these, but not when using the roots of the herb