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Ginkgo leaves

 

Rhizome zingiberisGinkgo (Ginkgo biloba), also spelled gingko and known as the Maidenhair Tree, is a unique species of tree with no close living relatives. The tree is widely cultivated and introduced, since an early period in human history, and has various uses as a food and traditional medicine.

Description

Ginkgos are very large trees, normally reaching a height of 20–35 m (66–115 feet), with some specimens in China being over 50 m (164 feet). The tree has an angular crown and long, somewhat erratic branches, and is usually deep rooted and resistant to wind and snow damage. Young trees are often tall and slender, and sparsely branched; the crown becomes broader as the tree ages. During autumn, the leaves turn a bright yellow, then fall, sometimes within a short space of time (1–15 days). A combination of resistance to disease, insect-resistant wood and the ability to form aerial roots and sprouts makes ginkgos long-lived, with some specimens claimed to be more than 2,500 years old.

Ginkgo is a relatively shade-intolerant species that (at least in cultivation) grows best in environments that are well-watered and well-drained. The species shows a preference for disturbed sites; in the “semi-wild” stands at Tian Mu Shan, many specimens are found along stream banks, rocky slopes, and cliff edges. Accordingly, Ginkgo retains a prodigious capacity for vegetative growth. It is capable of sprouting from embedded buds near the base of the trunk (lignotubers, or basal chi chi) in response to disturbances, such as soil erosion. Old individuals are also capable of producing aerial roots (chi chi) on the undersides of large branches in response to disturbances such as crown damage; these roots can lead to successful clonal reproduction upon contacting the soil. These strategies are evidently important in the persistence of Ginkgo; in a survey of the “semi-wild” stands remaining in Tian Mu Shan, 40% of the Ginkgo specimens surveyed were multi-stemmed, and few saplings were present.

Stem

Ginkgo branches grow in length by growth of shoots with regularly spaced leaves, as seen on most trees. From the axils of these leaves, “spur shoots” (also known as short shoots) develop on second-year growth. Short shoots have very short internodes (so they may grow only one or two centimeters in several years) and their leaves are usually unlobed. They are short and knobby, and are arranged regularly on the branches except on first-year growth. Because of the short internodes, leaves appear to be clustered at the tips of short shoots, and reproductive structures are formed only on them (see pictures below – seeds and leaves are visible on short shoots).

In Ginkgos, as in other plants that possess them, short shoots allow the formation of new leaves in the older parts of the crown. After a number of years, a short shoot may change into a long (ordinary) shoot, or vice versa.

Ginkgo leaves

The Ginkgo leaves are unique among seed plants, being fan-shaped with veins radiating out into the leaf blade, sometimes bifurcating (splitting) but never anastomosing to form a network. Two veins enter the leaf blade at the base and fork repeatedly in two; this is known as dichotomous venation. The leaves are usually 5–10 cm (2-4 inches), but sometimes up to 15 cm (6 inches) long. The old popular name “Maidenhair tree” is because the leaves resemble some of the pinnae of the Maidenhair fern Adiantum capillus-veneris.

Leaves of long shoots are usually notched or lobed, but only from the outer surface, between the veins. They are borne both on the more rapidly-growing branch tips, where they are alternate and spaced out, and also on the short, stubby spur shoots, where they are clustered at the tips.

Cultivation and uses

Ginkgo has long been cultivated in China; some planted trees at temples are believed to be over 1,500 years old. The first record of Europeans encountering it is in 1690 in Japanese temple gardens, where the tree was seen by the German botanist Engelbert Kaempfer. Because of its status in Buddhism and Confucianism, the Ginkgo is also widely planted in Korea and parts of Japan; in both areas, some naturalization has occurred, with Ginkgos seeding into natural forests.
In some areas, most intentionally planted Ginkgos are male cultivars grafted onto plants propagated from seed, because the male trees will not produce the malodorous seeds. The popular cultivar ‘Autumn Gold’ is a clone of a male plant.

Ginkgos adapt well to the urban environment, tolerating pollution and confined soil spaces. They rarely suffer disease problems, even in urban conditions, and are attacked by few insects. For this reason, and for their general beauty, ginkgos are excellent urban and shade trees, and are widely planted along many streets.

Ginkgos are also popular subjects for growing as penjing and bonsai; they can be kept artificially small and tended over centuries. Furthermore, the trees are easy to propagate from seed.

Extreme examples of the Ginkgo’s tenacity may be seen in Hiroshima, Japan, where six trees growing between 1–2 km from the 1945 atom bomb explosion were among the few living things in the area to survive the blast (photos and details). While almost all other plants (and animals) in the area were destroyed, the ginkgos, though charred, survived and were soon healthy again. The trees are alive to this day.

The ginkgo leaf is the symbol of the Urasenke school of Japanese tea ceremony. The tree is the national tree of China.

Medicinal uses

Extracts of Ginkgo leaves contain flavonoid glycosides and terpenoids (ginkgolides, bilobalides) and have been used pharmaceutically. Ginkgo supplements are usually taken in the range of 40–200 mg per day. Recently, careful clinical trials have shown Ginkgo to be ineffective in treating dementia or preventing the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease in normal people.

In memory enhancement

Ginkgo is believed to have nootropic properties, and is mainly used as memory and concentration enhancer, and anti-vertigo agent. However, studies differ about its efficacy. The largest and longest independent clinical trial to assess Ginkgo biloba’s ability to prevent memory loss has found that the supplement does not prevent or delay dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Some controversy has arisen over the conclusions drawn by some studies that were funded by a firm which marketed Ginkgo.

In 2002 a long-anticipated paper appeared in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) titled “Ginkgo for memory enhancement: a randomized controlled trial.” This Williams College study, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging rather than Schwabe, examined the effects of ginkgo consumption on healthy volunteers older than 60. The conclusion, now cited in the National Institutes of Health’s ginkgo fact sheet, said: “When taken following the manufacturer’s instructions, ginkgo provides no measurable benefit in memory or related cognitive function to adults with healthy cognitive function.” … The impact of this seemingly damning assessment, however, was ameliorated by the almost simultaneous publication of a Schwabe-sponsored study in the less prestigious journal Human Psychopharmacology. This rival study, conducted at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, was rejected by JAMA, and came to a very different—if not exactly sweeping—conclusion: There was ample evidence to support “the potential efficacy of Ginkgo biloba EGb 761 in enhancing certain neuropsychological/memory processes of cognitively intact older adults, 60 years of age and over.”

According to some studies, Ginkgo can significantly improve attention in healthy individuals. In one such study, the effect was almost immediate and reaches its peak in 2.5 hours after the intake.

In dementia

Ginkgo has been proposed as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease on the basis of positive preclinical results in mice. However, a randomized controlled clinical trial published in JAMA in 2008 found it ineffective at treating dementia in humans. A second randomized, controlled trial published in JAMA in 2009 similarly found no benefit from ginkgo in preventing cognitive decline or dementia.

In other symptoms

Out of the many conflicting research results, Ginkgo extract may have three effects on the human body: improvement in blood flow (including microcirculation in small capillaries) to most tissues and organs; protection against oxidative cell damage from free radicals; and blockage of many of the effects of platelet-activating factor (platelet aggregation, blood clotting) that have been related to the development of a number of cardiovascular, renal, respiratory and central nervous system disorders. Ginkgo can be used for intermittent claudication.

Some studies suggest a link between ginkgo and the easing of the symptoms of tinnitus.

Preliminary studies suggest that Ginkgo may be of benefit in multiple sclerosis, showing modest improvements in cognition and fatigue without increasing rates of serious adverse events in this population.

A study conducted in 2003 by the Department of Dermatology, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India concluded that Ginkgo is an effective treatment for arresting the development of vitiligo.

Side effects:

Ginkgo may have undesirable effects, especially for individuals with blood circulation disorders and those taking anticoagulants such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or warfarin, although recent studies have found that ginkgo has little or no effect on the anticoagulant properties or pharmacodynamics of warfarin in healthy subjects.

Ginkgo should also not be used

  • by people who are taking certain types of antidepressants
  • monoamine oxidase inhibitors
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
  • by pregnant women, without first consulting a doctor

Ginkgo side effects and cautions include: possible increased risk of bleeding, gastrointestinal discomfort, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, and restlessness. If any side effects are experienced, consumption should be stopped immediately.

Allergic precautions and contraindications to use:
  • People taking pharmaceutical blood thinners such as warfarin or coumadin should consult with their doctor before taking Gingko biloba extracts, as it acts as an anti-coagulant.
  • The presence of amentoflavone in Gingko biloba leaves would indicate a potential for interactions with many medications through the strong inhibition of CYP3A4 and CYP2C9; however, there is a lack of any empirical evidence supporting this. It is possible that the concentration of amentoflavone found even in commercial Gingko biloba extracts is too low to be pharmacologically active.
  • Ginkgo biloba leaves also contain long-chain alkylphenols together with the extremely potent allergens, the urushiols (similar to poison ivy). Individuals with a history of strong allergic reactions to poison ivy, mangoes, and other urushiol-producing plants are more likely to experience an adverse reaction when consuming Ginkgo-containing pills, combinations, or extracts.

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