Ginkgo (Bai Gou, Bai Gou Ye)
Botanical Name: Ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo is one of the best examples of a living fossil. The plant originated over 270 million years ago and has been cultivated in China since at least 2600 BC. Ginkgo is famous for helping with conditions that result in poor memory or conditions of dementia due to poor blood circulation.
Below is an overview of Ginkgo, combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Ginkgo.
Western Name: Ginkgo
Also Known As: Fossil Tree, Maidenhair Tree
Key Western Actions & Medicinal Uses: Improves blood circulation to the brain, Antidepressant, Anti-stress.
Pin Yin: Bai Gou (Nuts/Seeds), Bai Gou Ye (Leaves)
Also Known As: Ginkgo Nut, White Fruit, Silver Fruit, Silver Apricot
Meridians: Bai Gou – Kidney, Lung. Bai Gou Ye – Lung.
Key TCM Actions & Medicinal Uses: Bai Gou (ginkgo nuts/seeds) – Expels Phlegm/Stops Wheezing: cough with copious mucous. Eliminates Dampness/Stops Discharges: vaginal discharge and turbid urine (caused by both damp heat and deficiency). Stabilizes the Lower Burner: urinary frequency, incontinence, and spermatorrhea. Stimulates Jing: aphrodisiac. Bai Gou Ye (ginkgo leaves) – Calms the Lungs: wheezing, pain from coughing. Moves Blood: hypertension, coronary artery disease, angina pectoris.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Leaves, Seeds
Flavors/Temps: Bai Gou – Sweet, Bitter, Astringent, Neutral, Slightly Toxic. Bai Gou Ye – Sweet, Bitter, Astringent, Neutral.
Caution: Ginkgo can interact with many prescription drugs, especially anticoagulants such as aspirin, warfarin or coumadin, so be sure to check with your doctor before taking it. Be careful of using in excess; should not be used long-term or in large doses.
History/Folklore: Ginkgo is one of the longest-living trees in the world, with some trees said to be living up to over 2,000 years old. The Chinese have prescribed ginkgo for asthma and bronchitis since 2600 BC. The ginkgo of today matches fossil records dating back 270 million years and it is native to China, where the tree is now largely cultivated. The first records of Europeans encountering the tree date from 1690, in Japanese temple gardens. Its status in Buddhism and Confucianism led to the tree being planted in many other parts of Korea, Japan and China.
Studies show that ginkgo seems to work by improving blood circulation, hence its ability to improve brain, eye and leg circulation. There is, as yet, no evidence that ginkgo treats high blood pressure, post-stroke recovery or altitude sickness.
The seeds contain substances that appear to be antibacterial and anti-fungal, though they also contain toxins that could cause seizures or loss of consciousness; more study is needed to confirm actual benefits and how to minimize toxic side effects.
The plant is so tenacious that a few trees living in Hiroshima, Japan, not only survived the dropping of the atom bomb at the end of WWII, but quickly regained their health and continue to grow there to this day.
Ginkgo nuts are used in rice soups, called conges, in Japan and China, and are very popular for weddings and the celebrating of Chinese New Year as part of dish called Buddha’s delight.
It is the chemical sarcotesta, in the outer, fleshy coating of the seeds, that can cause rashes or allergic reactions in some people, so wearing gloves while preparing the seeds is recommended.
Ginkgo leaf extract is used in cosmetics.
Good quality is white, full and round. The fleshy coating of the seed has a putrid smell, similar to rancid butter. The inner seeds or nuts have a fishy taste.
Phenolic acids, Proanthocyanidins, Flavonoid glycosides (such as Quercetin, Kaempferol, Myricetin), Terpene trilactones, Bioflavones unique to ginkgo only, and Polyprenols.
Remedy for Overuse
The remedy for overuse of ginkgo is 60 grams of boiled licorice (Gan Cao).
Roasted Ginkgo Seeds
Roasted ginkgo seeds that have had the pulp removed are considered a delicacy in China and Japan. (Remember: The whole seed is unsafe to eat.)
Prized Fall Foliage
Ginkgos are prized for their fall foliage, which is a deep, saffron yellow.
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