Gingko Nuts for Health

Gingko nuts are used to relieve respiratory problems in Chinese medicine.

| June 2014

Inspired by the extensive herb grounds of the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, herbalist Deni Bown has cataloged 150 essential herbs for modern living. Herbal (Pavilion Books Ltd., 2001) is an excellent source book for experts and novices alike. With Bown’s expertise and anecdotes, the story of each herb unfolds and is heavily illustrated with personal photographs and botanical name plates. This excerpt explains how gingko leaves are used in Western medicine, but in Chinese medicine even ginkgo nuts are used to treat respiratory conditions.

Herb Profile: Ginkgo

AKA: Maidenhair tree
Ginkgo biloba


A hardy deciduous tree, reaching 30m (100ft) tall, with bright green, fan-shaped, lobed leaves, up to 12cm (5in) across, resembling those of maidenhair ferns. The leaves turn butter yellow before falling. Trees are either male or female, and fruiting occurs only when they are grown close together, and in warm summers. The fleshy, yellow, plum-shaped fruits smell unpleasant but contain large, edible nuts. Ginkgos are native to Zhejiang and Guizhou provinces in central China.


The ginkgo tree is a botanical dinosaur. Plants alive today are unchanged from their ancestors, which grew 200 million years ago. Though common in cultivation, ginkgos were thought to be extinct in the wild until populations were discovered in central China. Ginkgos are sacred in China and Japan, and often found near temples. In China, the fruits symbolize longevity and are eaten at weddings with other auspicious plants such as mushrooms and seaweed. The oldest ginkgo in Britain dates back to 1754 and is in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Western research into ginkgo began in the 1960s, establishing new and different uses for this ancient Chinese herb.

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