Ancient ginko a real survivor

Last week I found myself exploring streets graced with gingko trees (Gingko biloba). Their fan-shaped leaves rustled in a welcome breeze that for a moment offered respite from thick humidity of New York City.

Last week I found myself exploring streets graced with gingko trees (Gingko biloba). Their fan-shaped leaves rustled in a welcome breeze that for a moment offered respite from thick humidity of New York City.

Alongside the flourishing gingko trees, maples drooped exhausted, overwhelmed by the traffic, people and noise. I was reminded of the other street where the gingko trees reach above the chaos of city streets.

Gingko trees line Toronto’s Dundas Street, leading the way to Toronto’s downtown China Town.

Ginkgo is the oldest living species of tree on earth. Two hundred and seventy million years ago, ancestors of the gingko tree found North America fertile ground and grew in abundance.

The last gingko tree native to North America grew seven million years ago. At that time, some event caused them to become extinct from this land.

The gingkos, which now offer shade on busy North American city streets, have ancestors that ancestors came from temple gardens in Japan. In the 17th century, botanist gathered seeds from the venerated Japanese trees, and brought them to North America.

Today, city landscapers love the gingko. It thrives in the polluted air of constant traffic jams, perfect for Dundas Street and New York City.

Ginkgo’s special ability to grow where other trees expire is reflected in its medicinal qualities.

Gingko is high in flavonoids. Flavonoids, through their anti-oxidant effect, reduce the impact air pollution has on the body. Anti-oxidants scavenge free radicals produced by breathing car fumes, cigarette smoke, and industrial air pollution.

Free radicals wreak havoc on healthy cells and are credited with premature aging, cancer, heart and respiratory disease. It is not surprising that in the China, gingko is considered a plant for long life.

Today, gingko is triumphed as a herb to remember in the forgetfulness of old age.

Several months ago, a recent clinical study suggested gingko is ineffectiveness in reducing memory loss associated with age. Unfortunately, the whole story was not told. At the end of the six year study, only 60 per cent of participants were taking the gingko with regularity. There was not statistical analysis of the difference between those with good compliance and those who had poor compliance.

Mark Blumenthal, founder of the American Botanical Council, a respected organization dedicated to compiling and publishing research into herbal medicine, response to the clinical study was, “Ginkgo’s benefits must be viewed in the context of the entirety of the published clinical data. There is a significant body of scientific and clinical evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of ginkgo extract for both cognitive function and improved circulation.”

He went on to site a number studies which demonstrated ginkgo’s ability to reduce the early symptoms associated with age related memory loss including Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally it is noted, that gingko is no more or less effective than the Aricept, a commonly used pharmaceutical drug in the treatment of the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The benefit gingko confers over the pharmaceutical is fewer side effects.

Herbalists do not only offer gingko to those seeking an improved memory. Gingko is used to ease a condition called tinnitus. Tinnitus is a constant ringing in the ears. (Note: in this case, the ringing is not caused by mechanical damage to the ear, such as too much really loud AC DC).

It is also given to relieve dizziness. These conditions are all associated with nerve damage, or at the very least, nerve disturbance, in the brain. Studies suggest gingko increase oxygen levels in the brain. This in turn protects and nourishes the brain’s intricate web of nerves.

For this reason, Gingko is given immediately following a stroke, to stop any further damage to the brain.

It is interesting to note, that gingko is frequently part of a formula to relieve asthma. It opens air passages, helping one catch their breath. It is also offered to ease anxiety and depression. Both these conditions are associated with shallow breathing.

As the gingko trees, growing along the congested city streets transform pollution into life sustaining air, gingko as medicine helps the body absorbed life giving air.

One final gingko fact: a gingko tree, 1.1 kilometre from where the nuclear bomb fell on Hiroshima, a gingko tree grew in a temple court yard. Shortly after the bombing, the ancient gingko bloomed without deformity. The temple was destroyed. The tree stills stands.

Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more info., visit Arneson can be reached at

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