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Helpful Herbs: Ginkgo

A traditional Japanese tree, Gingkos can be grown in Zones 3-8. Ginkgos are some of the oldest trees on the planet, and are considered living fossils, but they can be part of your modern day garden.

Ginkgo grown from seed will take up to 30 years to mature, but you can propagate trees from softwood cuttings or purchase a started sapling. The sex of the trees won't be clear until they reach maturity, but once they do the females will produce flowers and the males cones. The flower of the female Ginkgo has been compared to the odor of rot or vomit: it is not a pleasant scent. If you have both a male and female tree, the female's flowers will turn into seeds once they are pollinated.

Ginkgo trees prefer full sun and sandy soil. They do not need much in the way of fertilizer, and can grow up to 100 feet tall and 50 feet wide. The leaves are distinct, flat and fan shape, turning to a deep yellow in the fall. The fruit are also yellow, while the blossoms are a beautiful pale pink.

The leaves and nuts from Ginkgo trees are both used for healing and cooking. The flat leaves of the tree can be dried and used to make a tea that gives an energy boost and is said to improve mental clarity. The nuts, known for the pungent odor, should be cooked before being eaten and you should not eat more than eight per day. The nuts can be boiled or roasted, and are chewy with a slightly plum-like flavor.

Ginkgo's healing benefits are numerous and stretch back into history. The plant helps to ease muscle pain and has been used to treat symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. In addition to Alzheimer's specifically, Ginkgo is also used to treat more general mental impairments and can help to improve memory function and overall clarity. It's ability to help increase blood circulation is part of why it will ease pain and cramps as well as boosting your energy. Most commonly taken as a tea, the Ginkgo leaf has been used to treat anxiety and panic attacks. It can also be made into a tincture that can also be used for symptoms of vertigo and for its antioxidant properties.

Also known as the maidenhair tree, Ginkgo species date back to approximately 250 million years ago, and they are the oldest living species of tree in the world. They flowered alongside dinosaurs and through the Ice Age. The plant's remarkable ability to survive and resist disease has made it holy to Buddhist monks. Four Gingko trees growing in the city of Hiroshima when it was bombed are still alive today.

Once used to treat asthma in ancient China, Ginkgo nuts were also eaten as special treats in ancient Japan and were brought to American in 1778. A favorite plant of Frank Lloyd Wright, the tree quickly spread through the US and Europe as decorative landscaping in cities.

A plant with a history that extends far beyond human civilation, Ginkgo is a distinct and beautiful tree to cultivate. While its odor is questionable, its beautiful flowers are enthralling and its healing tea continues to be used for clarity and energy.


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