Ginkgo Biloba: Ancient Tree with Modern Benefits

gingko biloba


Ginkgo biloba, often referred simply as ginkgo, has remained virtually unchanged for over 200 million years. Hailed as a “living fossil,” it is the only surviving member of a group of ancient plants that once populated the Earth. Beyond its antiquity, Ginkgo biloba has gained attention for its wide range of potential health benefits.

History and Origin

The ginkgo tree is native to China, where it has been revered for millennia for its medicinal properties and as a symbol of longevity and vitality. Many ancient temples in China are graced with ginkgo trees, some of which are believed to be over 1,000 years old.

Physical Characteristics

Ginkgo trees can grow up to 130 feet tall. They are deciduous, shedding their fan-shaped leaves every fall. The leaves, ranging from bright green to golden yellow, are unique with their bifurcated (split in two) design. The female trees produce fruit-like seeds which emit an unpleasant odor, leading many urban planners to plant male trees in city environments.

Potential Health Benefits

Ginkgo biloba’s reputed health benefits primarily come from extracts made from its leaves. Here are some areas of interest:

  1. Cognitive Function and Memory: One of the most well-known uses of ginkgo biloba extract (GBE) is in the potential enhancement of cognitive function. Some studies suggest that GBE might benefit people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, though results are mixed and more research is needed.
  2. Circulation: GBE is believed to improve blood flow, especially to the extremities. This can be beneficial for conditions like claudication (pain due to inadequate blood flow).
  3. Eye Health: There’s some evidence suggesting that ginkgo might benefit people with glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration by improving blood flow to the eyes.
  4. Antioxidant Properties: Ginkgo leaves contain flavonoids and terpenoids, which have antioxidant properties, potentially protecting the body’s cells from damage.
  5. Mood and Anxiety: Some preliminary research suggests that GBE might help alleviate symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder and adjustment disorder.

Safety and Side Effects

Though ginkgo biloba is generally considered safe for most people, it can cause side effects, including dizziness, headache, stomach upset, and allergic skin reactions. There’s also concern that ginkgo might interfere with blood clotting. This means people on anticoagulant medications or preparing for surgery should exercise caution and consult their healthcare providers.

Environmental Benefits

Besides its health benefits, ginkgo trees are resilient, pollution-tolerant, and can thrive in urban settings. Their deep roots make them resistant to wind and snow damage, making them excellent urban trees.


From its deep historical roots in ancient China to modern health food stores worldwide, ginkgo biloba remains a symbol of longevity, resilience, and vitality. Whether you’re drawn to its potential health benefits or simply the beauty and history of the tree itself, ginkgo undoubtedly has a rich legacy worth exploring. As always, if considering ginkgo for health reasons, consult with a healthcare professional to ensure it’s right for your individual needs.

Ginkgo Biloba Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings

Specific Sources/Comments/Reports

  • Ginkgo reinforces warfarin action by heterogeneous mechanisms. It should thus not be used in patients on oral anticoagulant and/or antiplatelet therapy.

    – Oral anticoagulants and medicinal plants. An emerging interaction — Argento A, Tiraferri E, Marzaloni M. — Ann Ital Med Int. 2000 Apr;15(2):139-43.

  • Ginkgo may increase the risk of bleeding or potentiate the effects of warfarin therapy.

    – Am J Health Syst Pharm 2000 Jul 1;57(13):1221-7; quiz 1228-30 —
    Potential interactions between alternative therapies and warfarin. — Heck AM, DeWitt BA, Lukes AL.

  • Interactions include bleeding when combined with warfarin, raised blood pressure when combined with a thiazide diuretic and coma when combined with trazodone.
    – Drugs 2001;61(15):2163-75 — Interactions between herbal medicines and prescribed drugs: a systematic review. — Izzo AA, Ernst E.

  • The standardized extract of Ginkgo biloba has an inhibitory action on blood pressure and it may influence cortisol release in response to some stress stimuli.
    – J Physiol Pharmacol 2002 Sep;53(3):337-48 — Reduction of rise in blood pressure and cortisol release during stress by Ginkgo biloba extract (EGb 761) in healthy volunteers. — Jezova D, Duncko R, Lassanova M, Kriska M, Moncek F.

  • Bilobalide treatment resulted in a significant increase in the levels of glutamate, aspartate, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and glycine in the hippocampus of mice compared with the control. An increased level of glycine after bilobalide treatment was also detected in the striatum. In the cortex, bilobalide increased the GABA level, whereas it decreased the level of aspartate. These changes in the levels of various amino acids may be involved in the broad spectrum of pharmacological activities of the extract of Ginkgo biloba on the central nervous system.
    – Cell Mol Biol (Noisy-le-grand) 2002 Sep;48(6):681-4 — Effects of chronic administration of bilobalide on amino acid levels in mouse brain. — Sasaki K, Hatta S, Wada K, Itoh M, Yoshimura T, Haga M.

  • Reports case of a patient in whom Ginkgo biloba extract proved to be the unique cause of spontaneous hyphema. Ginkgo biloba is known for platelet inhibition and is extensively used in the elderly because of its beneficial effects as a vascular protector. The clinical progression of the present case strongly suggests that Ginkgo biloba may cause hemorrhage and hyphema, even in the absence of any other predisposing factor.
    – J Fr Ophtalmol 2002 Sep;25(7):731-2 — Spontaneous hyphema caused by Ginkgo biloba extract — Schneider C, Bord C, Misse P, Arnaud B, Schmitt-Bernard CF.

  • Ginkgo and trazodone may cause an adverse interaction.
    – Drugs Aging 2002;19(11):879-86 — Potential Interactions between Herbal Medicines and Conventional Drug Therapies Used by Older Adults Attending a Memory Clinic. — Dergal JM, Gold JL, Laxer DA, Lee MS, Binns MA, Lanctot KL, Freedman M, Rochon PA.

  • Ginkgo may exacerbate seizures although the evidence for this is similarly anecdotal and uncertain.
    – 2001 Dec;2(6):524-532 — Herbal Medicines and Epilepsy: The Potential for Benefit and Adverse Effects. — Spinella M.

  • The use of ginkgo biloba should be stopped at least three days before any surgery, as it may increase bleeding.
    – Murray, M. — The Pill Book Guide to Natural Medicines: Vitamins, Minerals, Nutritional Supplements, Herbs, and Other Natural Products. — Bantam, 2002. 671.

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