Ginkgo Biloba tree has become popular in many US cities. The ginkgo tree is an ancient species Native to China. Some refer to this tree as a living fossil. Perhaps because this tree succumbed the atomic bombing in Japan where only ginkgo trees and cockroaches survived.
“Eyewitness reports from post-war Hiroshima and Nagasaki relate that it was particularly gingkos and cockroaches which thrived again soon in areas most affected by atomic bomb radiation,” according to a post on classicalchinesemedicine.org.
Ginkgo is also known as Kew tree, Japanese silver apricot, and Maidenhair. This tree has several contemporary uses: landscape and shade, alternative medicine and food, though caution is emphasized on the last two. I am not trying to persuade anyone on the medicinal uses, just expose the good, the bad and the ugly of the tree and its byproduct.
Ginkgo Medicinal Uses
Ginkgo Leaf Extract has many medicinal uses. In traditional Chinese medicine ginkgo leaf, seeds and roots were used to treat illness. Nowadays it is used as a possible remedy for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, glaucoma, intermittent claudication, macular degeneration, memory enhancement, Raynaud’ s phenomenon, tinnitus, hearing loss, fibromyalgia, and vitiligo, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Ginkgo Seeds as Food
As a food, it is not recommended, but aside from medicinal uses, some people eat the roasted or toasted seeds in the traditional Chinese and Japanese method, though in the USA scientist warn against eating the seeds, fruits, and leaf.
“The ROASTED SEED or crude ginkgo plant is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth,” according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s website.
Precautions and side effects
As with any change in lifestyle, as a precaution, it is advised always to consult with your physician before embarking on a diet change or taking any supplements especially if you are taking any medications. Ginkgo carries some side effects especially for individuals who have blood circulation problems or are taking blood thinners. Ginkgo inhibits the effects of certain antidepressants, increases risk of bleeding, the leaf may cause digestive discomfort, headaches, and palpitations and of course children and pregnant women shouldn’t take it.
“Ginkgo usually has few side effects. In a few cases, stomach upset, headaches, skin reactions, and dizziness were reported,” wrote ConsumerReport.org and adds:
“There have been a number of reports of internal bleeding in people who take ginkgo. However, it’ s not clear whether the bleeding was due to ginkgo or some other reasons, such as a combination of ginkgo and blood-thinning drugs.”
Ginkgo Biloba Tree on City Streets
In an urban setting ginkgo tree grows approximately 80 feet tall and 60 feet wide, but in its natural setting the tree can grow larger. I recently spotted 14 ginkgo trees on Harvard Street in Brookline, MA, where one block is lined on both sides with young ginkgo trees planted on tiny plots, and in Brooklyn, NY, last week I saw mature ones all over. The female tree produces flowers that bloom at night and produce an orange-tan color fruit with seeds. Mature ginkgo tree bears fruits during September through November. The fruit falls on to the ground or streets and when stepped on a bad odor is carried throughout. Which is no surprise why it drives neighbors in urban settings mad.
It is a burden to owners who have to clean a big mess imposed on them by their City. Unfortunately urban planners should reconsider this tree for sidewalks for three reasons: (1) the large size; (2) female trees’ fruit has a strong malodor, which some describe the odor as feces while others as rancid butter or vomit; (3) and the fruit produces a messy-stinky mush once it falls on the streets and people step over it sometimes tracking into their home where it is hard to eliminate the odor. The tree is beautiful, BUT it has a place in an urban landscape: only at a park, which is why male trees are best for landscape in urban areas near sidewalks. Another problem is people harvesting the seeds and leaving the fruit pulp behind. That’s a problem with my cousin’s ginkgo tree in Brooklyn, NY; neighbors pick the seeds and leave the pulp.
The City of Brooklyn, NY, had replaced my cousin’s dead tree with ginkgo several years ago. But her neighbors are not happy with the tree; they complain to her all the time. The tree is a major problem in New York City where ginkgo has been planted for over 40 years. Phil Abramson, Parks Department spokesman, in 2009 said to The Brooklyn Paper “that the city stopped planting female ginkgo trees,” but the problem is still there with the older trees and neighbors are tired of cleaning the streets for decades. For example, Bay Ridge resident Richard Mahany, 74, was mad. That is because he “has diligently raked the putrid ginkgo nuts into the street, clearing a pathway so passersby aren’t forced to step on the notoriously pungent droppings,” he said to The Brooklyn Paper. But 40 years later and “after a quintuple bypass surgery,” he was in 2009 still doing the same, raking ginkgo droppings, and was willing to pay for a new tree to replace ginkgo, a high maintenance tree for city residents.
So what is New York City doing with the mature female ginkgo trees such as my cousin or Richard Mahany’s (from the 2009 article) who had been raking the droppings for over 40 years? Will the same happen in Brookline, MA, and other cities across the USA? Will people just ignore the pungent smell from the yearly fruit droppings?
There are three things to keep in mind: (1) the fruit-bearing ginkgo tree is a great shade tree, but not on urban streets. (2) “Do not eat Ginkgo biloba fruit or seed.” (3) It is a medicinal, part of traditional Chinese Medicine, but use only under your physicians’ blessing because it could interact with other medication.
SOURCES AND PHOTOS:
Photo by Margarita Persico are at The Flickr Collection on Getty Images
Med Line Plus Ginkgo http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/333.html
Classical Chinese Medicine http://www.classicalchinesemedicine.org/2010/03/ginkgo-cultural-background-and-medicinal-usage-in-china/
The Brooklyn Paper – “Ooh, that smell! Man battles Ridge ginkgo tree!”