What is Ginkgo Biloba?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 April 2014
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Ginkgo Biloba is a tree which has been cultivated for centuries as an ornamental and as a source of nutritional supplements. The efficacy of Ginkgo Biloba is a topic of debate; some studies have clearly shown that Ginkgo extracts are certainly useful for the treatment of some conditions, while others have been more inconclusive. Ginkgo Biloba extract can be found in many health food stores, and it is a common component in an assortment of herbal supplements and blends. Before taking Ginkgo or any other herbal supplement, you should talk to your doctor to make sure that you do not have any medical conditions which could make Ginkgo use dangerous.

These trees are quite distinctive; so distinctive, in fact, that they are literally placed in their own class, with no living relatives. In Asia, Ginkgo Biloba has been cultivated for centuries, and botanists have also uncovered several stands of wild trees. When mature, these trees can get quite tall, with distinctive fan-shaped leaves which make them popular ornamentals; some people call ornamental Ginkgos "Maidenhair Trees." Ginkgo is also extremely hardy, and the trees will happily survive in extreme conditions which prove to be overwhelming for other trees and plants.

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Female trees produce very distinctive soft fleshy seeds which smell rather unpleasant. In China, these seeds have been harvested for food uses, often in auspicious or traditional dishes. The seeds are said to have beneficial properties for human health, although most Ginkgo Biloba extract comes from the leaves. The leaves are processed to extract their essence, which can be sold as a liquid or in the form of powders and capsules.

Many people use Ginkgo Biloba as a memory aid, although scientific studies seem to suggest that Ginkgo may not actually be very effective for this use. It does appear to benefit people with dementia, such as Alzheimer's patients, which has raised hopes among scientists who focus on dementia and related health problems. Ginkgo also reduces blood clotting, stimulates the flow of blood, and it appears to help patients with mental problems caused by a lack of bloodflow to the brain.

Like any herbal extract, Ginkgo Biloba is extremely complex. Studies on Ginkgo have only begun to unravel the compounds in this plant extract, some of which may cause allergic reactions or other health problems. People who are already on blood thinners can experience adverse reactions if they take Ginkgo, and the herb also appears to cause digestive problems, nausea, seizures, and heart problems among some patients.

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