Friday, November 14, 2014

Maidenhair Tree Ginkgo biloba Medicinal Uses

By Liliana Usvat
Blog 259-365 recognizes Ginkgo biloba as "the oldest living tree on the planet that's been used safely for over 3000 years. " The paleontologists and evolutionists are also much interested in the Ginkgo although, as already stated, no wild localities are known where the trees grow, it has been discovered by its fossil remains to have been once widely scattered over the face of the globe. 

Buddhist monks cultivated the tree from about 1100 AD for its many good qualities." Plant collectors from the West eventually were sold on Ginkgo biloba trees and brought specimens home.

It is uncertain whether the maidenhair tree still persists in the wild and at present there are no conservation projects in place. 

Cultivated trees are found throughout the world, however, and a multi-million dollar industry has cashed in on the leaves' medicinal propertie

Maidenhair Tree

  • Known as a 'living fossil', the Ginkgo biloba is one of the world's oldest living tree species: it was around 350 million years ago!
  • The word ginkgo comes from the Chinese yinxingmeaning 'silver apricot'. It was named the maidenhair tree in England because the leaves look similar to the native maidenhair fern.
  • The fruit smells of rancid butter during the ripening process.
  • Native to Xitianmu Mountain in Zhejiang, China. Scattered in broadleaved forests up to 1,100m altitude.
  • The maidenhair tree is listed as ‘endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Medicinal Uses
  • Ginkgos are grown as hedges in China to supply the leaves for western herbal medicine. The leaves contain ginkgolides, which are used to improve blood circulation to the brain and to relieve Alzheimer’s, tinnitus and Reynaud's Syndrome. It is usually Europe’s number one selling herbal medication.
  • Ginkgo has been studied as a possible treatment for dementia and Alzheimer's disease
  • Seeds and leaves treat diseases such as Asthma and Tuberculosis
  • The ancient Chinese people believed that roasted seeds could help prevent drunkenness. Even today, roastedGinkgo seeds can be found at many Chinese and Japanese wedding celebrations in order to prevent people from getting too drunk.
  • Today, we use Ginkgo biloba extract (GBE) for two main reasons: to increase blood circulation and 
  • to rid the body of free radicals, which can improve bodily functions greatly. Free radicals have been found to be part of the cause in most cancers. 
  • Ginkgo biloba can also benefit people who have Glaucoma, 
  • Tinnitus, 
  • Cerebral Insufficiency, 
  • Macular Degeneration, 
  • Male Impotence, 
The seeds (baigo) are most used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the leaves in western medicine. 
In Japan the seeds are called ginnan. The Japanese way of using Ginkgo as a medicine originates from the Chinese tradition.

The seeds' medicinal use is mentioned in the 'Great Herbal' Pen Tsao Kang Mu compiled by  Li Shih-chen (1578) which in still in use in TCM.  

Dr. C.A. Stuart and Dr. F. Porter Smith translated and researched this herbal and used it as a working base for their publication of 'Chinese Medicinal Herbs' (1911).  
In their work they write: "The seeds are supposed to benefit asthma, coughs, irritability of the bladder, blenorrhoa and uterine fluxes. 

Eaten raw they destroy cancer and are counter-vinous. Cooked they are said to be peptic and anthelmintic, and are similarly used by the Japanese to promote digestion.  In some cases they appear to cause peculiar symptoms of intoxication."

They also mention the use of the wood for seals used as charms by quacks in the treatment of disease.

Kaempfer mentions the seeds as an aid for digestion and bladder. Thunberg writes in Flora Japonica (1784) that the seeds are eaten raw or roasted in Japan and in 1819 Franz von Jaquin notes in 'Ueber den Ginkgo' the use as a digestive aid.

The earliest record of the use of the leaves as a medicine is said to be mentioned in the Chinese Materia Medica Shen Nung Pen Tsao Ching (which should originate from about 2800 BC or from the Han dynasty [206BC-220AD]) as an aid for blood circulation and the lungs. This record cannot be confirmed however  because the original of this work has never been found. 

Dian Nan Ben Cao (Lan Mao) (1436) mentions the use of the leaves for skin treatment, head sores and freckles. They are also used for chilblains and as a wound plaster. 

The internal use is first mentioned in the Ben Cao Pin Hui Jing Yao (1505) by Liu Wen-Tai as used against diarrhea. 

Deciduous tree up to 40m tall. Bark grey, furrowed, corky. Leaves characteristically fan-shaped, up to 12cm across, divided into two lobes, bright yellow in autumn, spirally arranged along long shoots. Each tree has either male or female flowers (dioecious): male flowers catkin-like, hanging down (pendulous) and yellow, up to 8cm long; female flowers smaller and on pedicels up to 4cm long. Fruits maturing following autumn, drupe-like, light yellow decaying to purplish-black. Pollinated by wind.

Fragrant, inconspicuous, dioecious. Flowers will not appear until trees are older than 20 years (Dirr) or 40 years (Jacobson).

Thrives in moist, well-drained soil, but tolerates poor, compacted soil, as well as heat, drought, salt spray, and air pollution.

It is well worth planting a ginkgo for the next generation. While slow to grow when young, with advancing age the ginkgo becomes a striking tree with interesting winter form and even more interesting foliage.

This species has merits that are well known. Virtually pest-free and incredibly tolerant of urban conditions, there are Ginkgo specimens that are centuries old living in cities around the world.
"The Maidenhair tree is sacred according to the Buddhist religion and has been cultivated for many centuries in China and Japan, especially in the grounds of temples" (Cafferty).

One could even argue that Ginkgo is a species native to Ontario, as fossil records show that this tree was indeed indigenous here millions of years ago.

For all the virtues of Ginkgo, some will avoid it due to the messy and stinky fruits. Washing off the smelly outer flesh reveals a delicious nut prized by many in Asia. Fruitless, male cultivars are available in numerous shapes and sizes.

Ginkgo has a fairly slow growth rate, but this shouldn't be reason to avoid planting them. Patience when growing this species is more than rewarded in the long-term. Unfortunately, too many landscape plans call for fast-growing trees that are structurally weak and short lived. Ginkgo is a tree that should be considered a sound investment that can be planted with confidence for the long term.

  • by seed, collect in fall (cold stratification is benefical)
  • can also be done by softwood or semihardwood cuttings, collect in early summer
  • cultivars are propagated mainly by grafting

Extreme examples of the ginkgo's tenacity may be seen in Hiroshima, Japan, where six trees growing between 1–2 km from the 1945 atom bomb explosion were among the few living things in the area to survive the blast. Although almost all other plants (and animals) in the area were destroyed, the ginkgos, though charred, survived and were soon healthy again. The trees are alive to this day.

The Ginkgo nuts are mentioned in Japanese textbooks from 1492 and later for use at tea ceremonies as sweets and dessert. In the Edo-period (1600-1867) common people began to eat them as vegetable and ingredients for pickles.

 In the 18th century the nuts (called ginnan) became used as a side dish when drinking sake. Today they are used (grilled or boiled) in chawan-mushi (a pot-steamed egg dish) or in nabe-ryori (Japanese fondue). The grilled nuts are still often eaten in Japan when drinking sake.