Ginkgo biloba: Origin, characteristics and medicinal properties Ginkgo Biloba: Herkunft und medizinischen Eigenschaften Ginkgo biloba: Origen, Características y Propiedades Medicinales

Ginkgo biloba: Origin, characteristics and medicinal properties



Ginkgo biloba: Origin, characteristics and medicinal properties

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is a single tree in the world. Used for centuries in traditional Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian medicine. The plant may be oldest living seed and is, therefore, seen by some as one of the wonders of the world. So, the only living member of a breed of vegetation that was once great and dominant player in the world, the ginkgo is, among all the thousands of plant species that exist today, a very precious and tenuous link between this and the remote past.

Botanical classification

Kingdom: Plantae - Plants
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta - Vascular plants Spermatophyta
Superkigdom: spermatophytes Division/ Ginkgophyta edge – Ginkgofitos
Class: Ginkgoopsida
Order: Ginkgoales
Family: Ginkgoaceae (Chinese / Japanese)
Genus: Ginkgo L.
Species: Ginkgo biloba L.

Synonyms: Salisburia adiantifolia. The English botanist Smith (1797) proposed this name to honor Richard A. Salisbury, other botanical. However, there should be renamed the classification of Ginkgo biloba by Carl von Linné, and who remained as a synonym.
Pterophyllus salisburiensis, Nelson 1866.


Ginkgo: from the Chinese (later also Japanese) Ginkyo means "silver apricot" (gin = silver, kyo = apricot). It is thought that this term comes from a latinized version of the Chinese ideogram Yin Hsing (Xing). Opinions differ on why Engelbert Kaempf as spelling Ginkgo and not Ginkyo: Changing the g and the (probably a clerical error), is a printing error, the pronunciation should now be slightly different.

Biloba: biloba; biscay from Latin "bis" means double lobes, means wolf. The blade is shaped like a fan with a cut in half, so biloba.

Also it is often called Tree of Hair of Venus, the coat tree, Ginkgo tree or only Ginkgo.

A living fossil

The Ginkgo tree is the only living representative of the order of Ginkgoales, a group consisting of gymnosperms Ginkgoaceae family, consisting of approximately 18 members, with their oldest leaf fossils dated 270 million years ago back in the Permian period, so in the era of the dinosaurs (Jurassic 213 million years ago) already existed. Fossil leaves and vegetative organs show that at that time there were at least two species. During the Middle Jurassic, there was a large increase in species (5 or 6), with a maximum range (at least 11 species) during the Cretaceous period (144 million years ago), in areas now known as Asia, Europe and North America. It was common and was spread over time.

Due to geological cataclysms, was just one species (Ginkgo adiantoides) in the tertiary (65 million years ago). The extinction of dinosaurs and large reptiles as important dispersers of large seeds may also have influenced this decline, which is matched with the records of fossils.
About 7 million years ago, Ginkgo disappeared from the fossil record in North America. Disappeared from Europe 2.5 million years ago. There are two extinct genera: Ginkgoites and Baier.

Fossil discoveries show that Ginkgo prevailed under moderately hot and humid climates since the Mesozoic era.

Scientists had believed it extinct, but in 1691 the German Engelbert discovered Ginkgo in Japan. The ginkgos survived in China and they were mainly in monasteries in the mountains and in the gardens of palaces and temples, where Buddhist monks cultivated the tree from about 1100 AD by its many good qualities. From there it spread (seed) to Japan (around 1192 AD with some relation with Buddhism) and Korea.

Ginkgo seeds were brought to Europe from Japan in early 1700 and late in that century to America. Many of the early trees grown in Europe seems that they were males. The first recorded female tree was found in 1814 near Geneva, which was grafted in a male tree in the Botanical Garden of Montpellier, which grew the first perfect seed. Now the tree grows in many countries around the world as an ornamental tree.

The Chinese Ginkgo biloba survived essentially unchanged. Since the Jurassic until now there was a reduction of single stems of the ovum and a decrease in the number of ova. The size of the eggs increased. The bodies of ovulation can find their origin in the Jurassic: Ginkgo yimaensis (170 million years ago). The leaves and reproductive organs of fossilized Lower Cretaceous period (new species found in the Yixian geological formation, 121 million years old, in NE China) show that their morphology has changed little so far.

It may be the oldest living plant seeds, therefore, seen by some as one of the wonders of the world. Thus, the only living member of a breed of vegetation that was once great and dominant player in the world, the Ginkgo is among the dozens of plant species that exist today, a very precious and tenuous link between this and the remote past. Individual trees can live over 3000 years.

We are not sure if Ginkgo is still wild in China. Due to warm weather in the southeastern part, the ginkgo grows naturally in two small areas in the mountainous border between the provinces of Zhejiang and Anhwei (Tian Mu Shan), in central China's Hubei Province and western China in the provinces of Guizhou and Sichuan. They could also be a descendant (seed spread by animals) from trees grown in the gardens of the temples.

In the older Chinese literature, Ginkgo is not mentioned, but in the eleventh century (Sung Dynasty) appeared in the literature as a plant native to eastern China. In a poem by Ou-Yang Xiu is written: "The Ginkgo grows south of the Yangtze River, the name coincides with its essence. Because nuts have been used as a tribute, is considered beautiful in the capital." In a notebook, it notes of the Sung dynasty (Shi Hua Chung Kuei) states: "In the capital (Kaifeng) no longer had originally Chio (Ginkgo). Since the prince Li Wen-ho (1st half of the eleventh century) came from the south and transplanted to his residence, he became famous. Since then it spread and increased gradually, and the fruits of the south are no longer considered precious." Since then, the Ginkgo is depicted in paintings and appeared in Chinese poetry. Ou-Yang, "The first 3 or 4 Ginkgo seeds were presented to the emperor as a source of gold. After a few years the trees were more successful. The owner has the nuts as a gift of pearls." Many famous poets praised its' fruits', and sometimes also the leaves. Especially poets Ou-Yang Xiu and Mei Yao-Ch'en, who had official positions in the capital Kaifeng, exchanged words about the Ginkgo. The seed is often compared by poets of Sung with hickory nut, a fruit that was popular in the north.

Ginkgo may have been known by the Chinese before the Northern Sung dynasty, but it was very rare and was not cultivated. According to the Encyclopedia of Contemporary China, Ginkgo edible nuts were a food source for at least the Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD). The seeds were not mentioned in the herbarium to the Yuan dynasty (1280-1368) in the ' Edible Herbarium ' (Pen Ts'ao Shih Wu) from Tung-wan and the work of 1350, Wu Jui-'Herbarium Use Journal '(Jih Pen Ts'ao Jung). In Pen Tsao Kang Mu (1578) mentions that the nuts are consumed at the wedding (still stained red husk), are used at parties and are a good substitute for the seeds of lotus (Stuart / Smith Porter).

After the Sung and Yuan dynasties, Ginkgo appears to be widely grown throughout China. There seems to be no association with religious institutions, it has always been customary for Buddhist monks as well as the venerable Taoist preserve the species in areas of the temple. Very old trees are often preserved and revered for their age and not by class.

Ginkgo is mentioned also in the works botany Tu Shih Chih Wu Ming Kao 1848.
Ginkgo nuts are mentioned in texts from 1492 onwards as the Japanese used in tea ceremonies and as a sweetener for dessert. In the Edo period (1600-1867) ordinary people began to eat as a vegetable and ingredients for pickles. In the eighteenth century nuts (called Ginna) were used as a side dish when drinking sake. Today they are used (baked or boiled) at Chaw-mushi (a dish of steamed egg cooked in pot) and nabe-ryori (japanese fondue). The roasted nuts are still often meals in Japan, when you drink sake.

Medicinal History

Seeds (Baigo) are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine, the leaves, in Western medicine. In Japan, seeds are called Ginna. The way Japanese use of ginkgo as a medicine originates from the Chinese tradition.

The medicinal use of seeds is mentioned in the 'Great Herbarium' Pen Tsao Kang Mu compiled by Li Shih-chen (1578), still in use in this TCM by Dr. C.A. Stuart and Dr. F. Porter Smith who translated and researched this herbarium work and used it as basis for issuance of 'Chinese Medicinal Herbs "(1911).

Kaempf mentioned seeds as an aid to digestion and bladder. Thunberg writes Flora Japonica (1784) that the seeds are eaten raw or roasted in Japan and in 1819, Franz von Jaquin highlights' Ueber den Ginkgo 'use as a digestive aid.

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

Dian Nan Ben Cao (Lan Mao) (1436) mentions the use of leaves for the treatment of skin wounds in the head and freckles. They are also used to reduce ointments for wounds. The first use is mentioned in the Ben Cao Pin Hui Jing Yao (1505), by Liu Wen-Tai, as used against diarrhea. In 1932 the Japanese Furukawa isolated ginkgolides for the first time, whose chemical structure was further investigated by Nakanishi in 1966.

In the late 50s Western medicine began to study its medicinal uses.
Dr. Willmar Schwabe Company produced the first extract of the leaves in 1965. Dr. Elias J. Corey of Harvard University received the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1990 for, among other achievements, the total synthesis of Ginkgolide B in 1988.

Nowadays Ginkgo is prescribed in Europe and used by many people in the U.S., Canada and other countries for its medical skills. After the 70s, botanists paleontologists, biochemists, theological and cultural historians began to investigate more intensively the Ginkgo.

In traditional Indian medicine, there is a component of an elixir called Soma.

Extract of dried leaves is popular for use as a dietary supplement or herbal medicine (prescribed in Europe) for the brain, legs, eyes, heart and ears. Scientific studies show that extracts can improve good blood circulation and memory, prevent blood clotting, damage by free radicals, and give an improved sense of wellbeing and can be used for many other diseases. The leaves are used also as an infusion for a variety of ailments.

Hiroshima: A bombed Ginkgo 

At the end of World War II, on August 6tht, 1945, an atomic bomb on Hiroshima was launched by the Americans. Plants and trees in the area around the epicenter were examined in September 1945. Ginkgo next to a temple about 1km away from the center of the explosion, said it spring after the explosion, without major deformation (the temple itself was destroyed). The site of the temple at Housenbou was smaller after the war and considered transplanting Ginkgo or tear down to rebuild the temple. It was decided to leave it there and adjust to that temple and the temple is now on the front steps, divided into left and right sides, protecting the Ginkgo in this form of U. Recorded at the "No more Hiroshima" and people's prayers for peace. As Ginkgo trees bombarded with atomic bombs are still alive. Therefore it is considered by many as the 'bearer of hope'.


A Ginkgo tree can reach 30, sometimes 40 meters (100 feet) tall and a wingspan of 9 meters. The trunk can have a width of about 4 meters (13 feet) in diameter (larger in open areas near temples, growing 50 m to 10 m in circumference!) And is straight as a column and sparsely branched. Some trees are very dense along, others are narrow.

The young trees have a central trunk, pyramid-shaped, with asymmetric branching, regular, lateral, and upward growth open. The oldest trees are slow-growing leafy upwards, oval, sometimes with irregular branching and branches and trunk of formidable size. When it has nearly 100 years, the canopy begins to widen. The male tree usually has the form of a column is slender and slightly longer, the female tree has a crown and is wider more luxurious.

Leaves, light green and between 5-15 cm are flat and fan shaped with dichotomous venation, those born in the long shoots typically have grooves or lobes.
This tree is Gymnospermae, meaning that its seeds have no protective shell. The sexes are separated, presenting copies male yellow inflorescences grouped simultaneously cylindrical, very numerous and borne on short shoots. In the female flowers are in groups of 2 or 3, yielding a kind of soft yellowish brown and fleshy texture, turning to grayish green mature.


The Ginkgo tree is a phenomenon, an object of veneration, a sacred tree of the East, a symbol of unity of opposites, seen by some as a symbol of invariability, possessor of a miraculous power, bearer of hope and of the immeasurable past, a symbol of love. Because of all their properties, are associated with longevity.

Artists have long been inspired by the aesthetic of Ginkgo and its leaves, for example, Goethe, Nemerov and Elena Martín Vivaldi was a poem about him and in the period Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) painters, designers, etc., revived.

Since ancient times the tree has been planted in gardens and temples in China, Japan, also close to sacred places and castles, the veneration due to its fire protection, seeds, and beauty. The famous tree of Hiroshima is also near a temple. The Ginkgo old are revered as a god in Japan. To mark the sacred character of a tree tied shimenawa (rice straw rope) around the huge tree trunk. It is believed that this took away the evil spirits.
There are many legends written in Chinese and Japanese relating to the Ginkgo. In Japan, Ginkgo is often used in poems and haiku, then, is called 'ba-ICHO (ne)' means that Ginkgo-pen. The chi chi of old trees are subjects of devout worship of women Shinton, because they are seen as a sign of fertility (chi chi = breasts mother).

It is believed that Ginkgo protects against fire and, therefore, still stands near the temples.
During the great fire following the earthquake in Tokyo in 1923, many ginkgo trees survived while other trees died. A temple was saved due to the many ginkgos that surrounded it. It is believed that the trunk and leaves secrete a sap that acts as a fire retardant. In Tokyo
Ginkgo tree is the symbol of the Tokyo Metropolitan area and can be seen in many places.

Source: The Ginkgo pages

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1 Reviews “Ginkgo biloba: Origin, characteristics and medicinal properties”

on 10/03/2014
Thank for the history of this plant, I have never seen one face to face so I am nor sure of how they look bus reading this, they sound amazing, thanks a lot but it is pretty long, just consider that when posting articles, it kind of bothers me

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