Ginkgo, also known as ginkgo biloba, is an Asian tree that has no contemporary relatives. As such and because ginkgo-like plants are well-represented in the fossil record, it is often referred to as a living fossil. Also called the Maidenhair Tree for its leaves' resemblance to maidenhair fern, it has been under cultivation throughout human history.
The ginkgo leaf is used to make herbal teas and extracts, which have been shown to have a remarkably wide range of positive health effects. It has been a staple of Chinese medicine for hundreds of years.
Ginkgo has been shown in numerous studies to improve blood flow to the brain, and it is therefore thought to improve concentration and memory. Many students swear by its effects when studying for exams. It improves blood flow in general and as such is useful for circulatory problems that lead to fluid retention in the extremities, such as swollen feet and ankles. Ginkgo has long been thought to heal male impotence, and is a standard herbal remedy for male sexual dysfunction.
Recent studies show that gingko has improved cognitive function of multiple-sclerosis (MS) patients suffering from a loss of alertness, confusion and memory problems. The same study showed that cognitive function of the non-MS control group was unchanged, contradicting earlier claims. Ongoing studies of the effectiveness of ginkgo in allaying the symptoms of early-stage Alzheimer's are promising, but thus far inconclusive.
Many people mistakenly believe, "if it's herbal, it's safe," but this is untrue. Gingko, as with all plants with a medicinal effect, can interfere with prescription drugs or cause unwanted side effects on its own. Gingko should not be taken in conjunction with certain anti-depressants and should be avoided if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Because if its effects on blood flow, persons with blood-clotting disorders who are taking blood thinners should also avoid gingko, which could increase the effects of the prescription drug.
As with all herbal remedies, check with a doctor before embarking on a new regimen. If taking gingko, be sure to inform any future doctors as well, as they will need to take this into account when prescribing medicines for you.