Siegfried Gursche, MH
Let's do a test
Let's do a test. If, after reading this article, you remember everything about ginkgo biloba, then you probably have no need for this memory-enhancing supplement. But if you don't recall at least half of all the mentioned maladies, commonly referred to as the discomforts of aging, you have failed the test. And if you experience occasional fits of dizziness and imbalance, caused by a disturbance of equilibrium, or if you hear nasty noises in your ears such as ringing and hissing, you definitely want to take a closer look at this herb.
Actually, ginkgo is not a herb but a tree with a long history. The country of origin is believed to be either Japan, Korea or China, where 300 million years ago this species of tree first grew. From there it spread and later populated the entire Northern Hemisphere.
Ginkgo trees growing in China today are estimated to be 1,200 years old. The leaves are used in traditional Chinese medicine for a number of old-age symptoms related to circulatory disorders in the capillaries, the fine arteries of the brain. Loss of memory is the most common symptom. Eyes and limbs will also be affected when blood flow is obstructed. In Chinese medicine, wounds are healed with compresses made of ginkgo leaves; the same with asthma and angina pectoris. A tea made from ginkgo nuts is prescribed by Chinese doctors to relieve coughs and to strengthen nerves. Western science has not been able to confirm these claims, simply because no clinical studies have been conducted for these conditions.
In contrast, after the Second World War, more than 300 studies in Germany confirmed the ability of ginkgo biloba extract to remove blockages in the capillaries, thereby increasing the blood flow and providing more oxygen to the cells. Ever since, ginkgo biloba has played an important role in western medicine. As is common for pharmaceutical drugs, it is not one single isolated substance that has elevated this botanical medicine to its current plateau of success, but a natural compound of biophenols and a number of phytochemicals ("phyto" means "plant-based") that work synergistically. This is the very reason why extracts, powders and tinctures made from ginkgo biloba cannot be patented. Ginkgo is a natural, biological medicine without side-effects or allergenic reactions and is therefore suitable for self-medication.
However, before you embark on a long-term herbal treatment plan with a ginkgo product, you may want to consult your health professional or a nutritional advisor. These people are experts in natural herbal supplements and can best advise which of the many products available may be best for you. The most common forms of ginkgo are tincture, extract tablets or concentrated herbal capsules. Some manufacturers offer combination formulas.
I grow my own ginkgo tree in my garden. I received a potted plant 16 years ago from a visiting European business partner, a manufacturer of ginkgo medicinal preparations. When I received it, the slow-growing tree was two feet tall. Over the years it has grown to only about 15 feet tall and not thicker than a child's arm. The fall is the best time to harvest, when the leaves turn golden yellow and are rich in bioflavonoids and beta-carotene.
My visitor friend told me that it is quite a difficult process to extract the medicinal ingredients from the leaves. In his factory, it is carefully done over many stages of extraction under strict quality control. "Usually it's easy to prepare a herbal tincture at home," he said. "But not so with ginkgo. It is most effective in a concentrated form as a 1:50 standardized herbal extract of 24 per cent flavonoids and six per cent terpene lactones. The production requires a lot of science and expertise." I was kind of disappointed to hear this, as I had hoped to brew myself a nice herbal tea from the leaves.
In Germany, ginkgo biloba is the most prescribed remedy for age-related memory loss. It is best known for its ability to increase circulation to the brain and to take care of other blood vessel problems. Clinical studies have shown that the herb has a positive effect on vision, as it increases the blood flow to the retina and prevents or improves macular degeneration. Because it increases blood flow, it is also the most prescribed medicine for Alzheimer's patients. Ginkgo seems to be beneficial in all types of dementia, increasing alertness and memory.
In one study with patients suffering from age-related hearing loss, vertigo (dizziness) and tinnitus (ringing in the ears), it was noted that most patients experienced significant improvement of symptoms within 20 days, even in severe cases. In another study of migraine headache sufferers, significant improvement or complete remission was seen in 80 percent of cases.
Now, it's not necessarily the elderly that only benefit from ginkgo biloba. Children with learning disabilities and people with weak nerves have found great help with this herb.
So, how are you doing with your test? Do you still remember what ginkgo biloba can do?
Using Herbs Properly
Herbs are generally taken to prevent or treat specific conditions, usually only as long as the ailment or condition persists, for instance with colds, fever or digestion problems. Vitamins or minerals as food supplements are recommended to be taken on a daily basis. Some herbs can be taken that way as well. Ginkgo biloba is just such a herb appropriate for daily use. It has no side-effects and does not interfere with other herbs or prescription drugs. There are no known allergic reactions, and periodic breaks, as sometimes recommended for other herbs, aren't necessary. Nevertheless, pregnant women should always consult their health professional before taking any medicinal herb.
Ginkgo: Tree of Hope and Love
When the atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, Japan, everything was devastated for miles around. Only the ginkgo tree survived and was the first to grow new leaves surrounded by ruins and rubble. Thus it became the symbol of hope.
The ginkgo tree flourishes in moderate climates. In large cities it is the tree of choice for street planting, as it survives pollution and automobile exhaust. It is resistant to disease and insect infestation.
Germany's most famous poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, immortalized the ginkgo leaf in one of his poems as a symbol of love.