Ginkgo has a long history as a sacred tree in China and Japan. It reached Europe in the 18th century and became a popular ornamental plant. It is considered a living fossil because the trees growing today are almost identical to those in fossil records that pre-date the first living mammals.
The seeds are an important part of traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine. Research has focused primarily on the leaves, and several clinical studies exist on the constituents and properties of the leaves.
The plant contains unique active constituents called ginkgolides (terpenic lactones), which are not found in any other species. Herbal remedies made from the leaves and taken internally are popular for allergic and inflammatory conditions, as well as for senile dementia and circulatory complaints. Externally, ginkgo is anti-inflammatory, stimulates skin and acts as an antioxidant.