The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, "hmm.... that's funny...." Isaac Asimov

Friday, February 8, 2013

The hope of trees, cont'd; Ginkgo biloba


Several years ago, driving to work on cold days, the tips of several of my fingers started turning waxy and bloodless.  This went away when they warmed up, but it was irritating and painful. These were the same fingers that, long ago, suffered painfully from exposure to cold as I rode around on my motor scooter.  It turned out I was suffering from Raynaud's disease, which is a spasm of the blood vessels causing loss of circulation to the affected parts.  I looked online and found there was an herbal remedy reported to work; extract of Ginkgo biloba leaves. (1,2)  I got some and started taking two 500 mg capsules of the powdered leaves daily.

Unlike all herbal remedies I’ve ever tried, this actually worked.  The Raynaud’s phenomenon went away entirely, and has not returned. Ginkgo is purportedly good for the memory as well.  It stands to reason; anything that is good for your peripheral circulation should be good for your whole body. 

Ginkgo now seems like a friend to me, an important fellow traveler on this planet.  Apparently others have felt this way, for ages.  Ginkgo has long been cultivated in China; some planted trees at temples are believed to be over 1,500 years old. The tree is important in Buddhism and Confucianism, and is widely planted in Korea and parts of Japan.  It’s also widely planted in North America and Europe, in part because it tolerates urban conditions so well. (3) The wonderful author Rutherford Platt, noting that Ginkgo is closely related to trees that lived 280 million years ago, wrote, “Ginkgo should be as exciting as a crocodile on a big city street… its leaves are fern leaves, from the age of reptiles… There is no other tree like it, delivered.. from the age of dinosaurs into the heart of our teeming cities…somehow a tree evolved in a bygone age can take our ruthless cities, creating trunk, leaf and fruit from miserable dirt below the scorching pavements.” (4)

My sister-in-law Carol spotted some Ginkgos growing near where she works, and they were old enough to be bearing fruit (which doesn’t happen until they are 30 years old).  She kindly gathered a whole pile of fruits this fall, and I squeezed the seeds out of the malodorous pulp.  The seeds (pictured) are now being stratified, mixed with moist peat moss in the bottom of the refrigerator, getting happy for spring planting.  They’ll go into the ground in April, and more Ginkgo trees should be on the way. 

1. accessed 2/8/13

3. accessed 2/8/13

4.       Platt, Rutherford, 1952, 1968, Discover American Trees, Dodd, Mead & Co., NY

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