T.E.R:R.A.I.N - Taranaki Educational Resource: Research, Analysis and Information Network


Ginkgo biloba (Ginkgo)

Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Ginkgophyta
Class: Ginkgoopsida
Order: Ginkgoales
Family: Ginkgoaceae
Genus: Ginkgo
Species: G. biloba
Binomial name: Ginkgo biloba
Common Names: Ginkgo, Gingko, fossil tree, Maidenhair tree, Japanese silver apricot, baiguo, bai guo ye, kew tree, yinhsing 

The Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest types of trees in the world and is a living fossil. It is a unique species of tree with no close living relatives. The ginkgo is classified in its own division, the Ginkgophyta; it is one of the best-known examples of a living fossil, because Ginkgoales other than G. biloba are not known from the fossil record after the Pliocene. For centuries it was thought to be extinct in the wild, but is now known to grow in at least two small areas in Zhejiang province in Eastern China, in the Tian Mu Shan Reserve. However, recent studies indicate high genetic uniformity among ginkgo trees from these areas, arguing against a natural origin of these populations and suggesting that the ginkgo trees in these areas may have been planted and preserved by Chinese monks over a period of about 1000 years. Whether native ginkgo populations still exist has not been demonstrated unequivocally and is therefore uncertain.
The ginkgo is dioecious. That simply means that there are separate male and female plants. Only the female plant produces fruit.
The seeds from this fruit have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The nuts have not been popular outside China as their outer shells have a terrible odour described as "rancid butter" or "vomit". Yet in China, gingko nuts are considered a delicacy, and the trees are often thought sacred. They are so reverenced they may be planted near temples in certain Asian countries. Asians who favour gingko nuts know that once the badly smelling outer layer is peeled off the nut is sweet and of mild flavour, comparable to a chestnut or pistachio. The nuts are often roasted, where the resemblance between the gingko nut and the chestnut is even more closely understood. The seeds are first dried then cracked. It is recommended boiling them for about 10 minutes, which allows the outside flesh of the nut to fall away from the core of the nut. In most cases people don't eat the inner core of gingko nuts because this is bitter. In Chinese dishes Gingko nuts may be added to soups, stews or stir-fried dishes, or the nuts may be eaten singly. It is thought that they are potentially helpful in memory retention and traditional Chinese medicine, gingko nuts are considered to be an aphrodisiac.
According to the literature the most effective and simplest way of taking ginkgo is as a tincture. To make a tincture, place 150g of dried ginkgo leaves or 400g of fresh ginkgo leaves in a jar and cover with 500ml of vodka. Cover and store in a dark place for 4 weeks, shaking the jar daily. After 4 weeks, strain the mixture, pressing all liquid from the ginkgo. Stored in a glass bottle, this will keep for up to a year. For those who wish to avoid consuming alcohol, ginkgo tea is very simple to make. Simply add 1 cup of boiling water to 1 teaspoon of dried ginkgo or 1 tablespoon of fresh ginkgo. Allow to stand for several minutes, and then sweeten as desired. The disadvantage to taking ginkgo in tea form is that the required dosage is much higher - 2-3 cups per day, rather than the 1-3 teaspoons of tincture. It is said a teaspoonful of tincture of ginkgo each day will improve general well-being, aid mental alertness and promote longevity and those who suffer from frequent leg-cramp will benefit from regularly taking ginkgo, as it improves blood flow.

Visit the University of Maryland Medical Centre for an overview of the uses of the Ginkgo biloba 

Male and female trees

Ginkgo tree with green foliage early January


Ginkgo early June


Ginkgo leaves and fruit  late April

Ginkgo leaves June

The fruit of the ginkgo same tree as above but photo taken late June

The rancid smelling Ginkgo fruit

Ginkgo fruit and the nut which has been removed from the fruit. See uses in the text above.


Chinese residents collecting fallen ginkgo fruit (late May) on the Te Henui Walkway.