Herb: Maidenhair Tree

Latin name: Ginkgo biloba

Synonyms: Salisburia adiantifolia

Family: Ginkgoaceae (Ginkgo Family)

Medicinal use of Maidenhair Tree:

Ginkgo has a long history of medicinal use in traditional Chinese medicine, where the seed is most commonly used. These uses are mentioned in more detail later. Recent research into the plant has discovered a range of medicinally active compounds in the leaves and this has excited a lot of interest in the health-promoting potential of the plant. In particular, the leaves stimulate the blood circulation and have a tonic effect on the brain, reducing lethargy, improving memory and giving an improved sense of well-being. They have also been shown to be effective in improving peripheral arterial circulation and in treating hearing disorders such as tinnitus where these result from poor circulation or damage by free radicals. The leaves contain ginkgolides, these are compounds that are unknown in any other plant species. Ginkgolides inhibit allergic responses and so are of use in treating disorders such as asthma. Eye disorders and senility have also responded to treatment. The leaves are best harvested in the late summer or early autumn just before they begin to change colour. They are dried for later use. The fruit is antibacterial, antifungal, astringent, cancer, digestive, expectorant, sedative, vermifuge. The fruit is macerated in vegetable oil for 100 days and then the pulp is used in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis, asthma, bronchitis etc. (This report might be referring to the seed rather than the fleshy fruit). The cooked seed is antitussive, astringent and sedative. It is used in the treatment of asthma, coughs with thick phlegm and urinary incontinence. The raw seed is said to have anticancer activity and also to be antivinous. It should be used with caution, however, due to reports of toxicity. The cooked seeds stabilize spermatogenesis.

Description of the plant:


30 m
(98 feet)

to May


Habitat of the herb:

Found wild in only 2 localities at Guizhou and on the Anhui/Zhejiang border, where it grows on rich sandy soils.

Edible parts of Maidenhair Tree:

Seed - raw (in small quantities), or cooked. A soft and oily texture, the seed has a sweet flavour and tastes somewhat like a large pine nut. The baked seed makes very pleasant eating, it has a taste rather like a cross between potatoes and sweet chestnuts. The seed can be boiled and used in soups, porridges etc. It needs to be heated before being eaten in order to destroy a mildly acrimonious principle. Another report says that the seed can be eaten raw whilst another says that large quantities of the seed are toxic. See the notes above on toxicity for more details. The raw seed is said to have a fish-like flavour. The seed is rich in niacin. It is a good source of starch and protein, but is low in fats. These fats are mostly unsaturated or monosaturated. A more detailed nutritional analysis is available. An edible oil is obtained from the seed.

Other uses of the herb:

An oil from the seed is used as a fuel in lighting. A soap substitute is produced by mixing the pulp of the seed (is the fruit meant here?) with oil or wine. Wood - light, soft, it has insect repelling qualities.

Propagation of Maidenhair Tree:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame or in a sheltered outdoor bed. The seed requires stratification according to one report whilst another says that stratification is not required and that the seed can be sown in spring but that it must not have been allowed to dry out. Germination is usually good to fair. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in light shade in the greenhouse for their first year. Plant them out into their permanent positions in the following spring and consider giving them some protection from winter cold for their first winter outdoors. Softwood cuttings in a frame in spring. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame. The cutting may not grow away in its first year but usually grows all right after that. Cuttings of mature wood, December in a frame.

Cultivation of the herb:

Found wild in only 2 localities at Guizhou and on the Anhui/Zhejiang border, where it grows on rich sandy soils.

Known hazards of Ginkgo biloba:

The seed contains a mildly acrimonious principle that is unstable when heated. It is therefore best to cook the seed before eating it to ensure any possible toxicity is destroyed. This acrimonious principle is probably 4'-methoxypyridoxine, which can destroy vitamin B6. It is more toxic for children, but the raw nuts would have to be eaten often over a period of time for the negative effects to become apparent.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.