Ginkgos, sometimes known as the maidenhair tree, are some of the oldest surviving species of tree on earth, dating back over 200 million years ago to the Mesozoic Era. They have no other living relatives and are the only species in the Ginkgoaceae family. They are deciduous, their leaves turning from green to a golden yellow in the fall, and can reach up to 130 ft in height. Ginkgos are dioecious, with the pollen cones appearing only on male trees while the ovules and fruit (known for it’s strong, feces like odor) only occur on the female trees. They typically have angular crowns, erratic branches, and deep roots, which protect them from frosts. It has flat, fan shaped leaves with dichotomous veination and two lobes, hence biloba. Single trees are known to live up to 1000 years, and some are thought to be up to 2500 years old. They are insect and disease resistant and can form aerial roots in response to crown damage, attributing to their long life. They grow best in full sun with ample water and well drained soils, preferring disturbance areas. They do no tolerate the shade well.
Gingko is a good herb for the elderly, helping to strengthen blood vessels and circulation which in turns helps protect from diseases associated with aging such as heart disease, stroke, impotence, deafness, blindness, and can help improve the cognitive function of alzheimer’s patients. It contains the potent antioxidants flavone glycosides and terpene lactones, which are thought to reverse and prevent cell damage. It also interferes with platelet activation factor – the body’s response during an asthma attack, organ rejection, blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes. It’s shown in studies to be conclusively effective for conditions such as tinnitus (ringing of the ears), macular degeneration (deterioration of the eyes), vertigo, impotence, and cochlear deafness. It also speeds the body’s metabolism of alcohol, which can help with intoxication.
Throughout Asia, the Gingko is considered sacred, and often planted around Buddhist temples. Traditional Chinese medicine considers gingko an astringent, expectorant, sedative, and antitussive, with it’s primary actions on the lung and kidneys. TCM uses gingko seeds to strengthen the heart and lungs, and to stop coughs, wheezing, leucorrhea, and expel mucus from the lungs. The fruit, macerated and infused in sesame oil for three months, has been successfully used in China to cure tuberculosis. The seeds of the gingko fruit are often roasted and eaten, considered in Japan and china a digestive aid and rumored to prevent drunkenness. In Aryuvedic tradition, the gingko is associated with long life, and is an ingredient in soma, a longevity elixir.
Gingko is not recommended for children under 2 years old. As a tincture, 2-3 ml three times daily, or as a tea, 1 tsp of leaves per cup of water, three times daily. It’s unsure, but gingko might cause problems for individuals with blood-clotting disorder. Otherwise, it’s considered safe for daily use. Ingesting large quantities of the seeds can cause headaches, fevers, and tremors, in which case licorice can be used antidotally.
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