Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest plants in the world, originating in China almost 180 million years ago. Fossil evidence suggests that the tree has remained unchanged since the Jurassic period. The fossils of the maidenhair leaves show that the leaves are almost identical to the ones today, thus the reason why it is called a “living fossil.”
Although the maidenhair tree is native to China and has been cultivated in China, Japan, and Korea since the 14th century. In 1690, there is record of Europeans coming into contact with the ginkgo in Japanese temple gardens. Nearly 100 years later, the tree arrived in the United States in 1784 thanks to England settlers who first planted the tree in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Despite its presence in the North American region for over 200 years, the ginkgo tree never actually naturalized.
The ginkgo has many uses, across many different fields. For one, this tree has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for years. The Ginkgo seeds, leaves, and nuts have been used to treat dementia, asthma, bronchitis, and kidney and bladder disorders. Ginkgo extract is used in some countries because it is believed to enhance memory. Despite this, there is no conclusive evidence to support that the ginkgo is actually helping in treating or preventing any of these conditions.
Unfortunately, the use of ginkgo extract and supplements can come with some side effects. The side effects include internal bleeding, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, and heart palpitations. It is not recommended to mix certain medications with ginkgo supplements, as they do not interact well.
The ginkgo tree is not only used for medicinal purposes. In fact, the tree is very popular for landscape use and is popularly planted along streets and parking lots. Here at Yale, this tree is planted alongside the street leadings to Yale Health and can even be found in some parking lots. The shape and seasonal color of this tree makes it a popular choice, but it is often found that male trees are preferred because female trees grow bad smelling fruits.