Ginkgo biloba is a living fossil, meaning it is the oldest of tree species that dates back 270 million years and is without any living relatives. Native to China, Japan and the Koreas, Ginkgo is recognized by its fan-shaped leaves and also has the distinction of being the only plant to survive the Chernobyl disaster of 1986.
As a medicinal herb, Ginkgo has been used for centuries to address a variety of conditions ranging from diabetes and arthritis to cognitive decline. More recently, researchers at Emory University have found that Ginkgo biloba seed extracts demonstrate antibacterial activity against several strains of bacteria responsible for acne, eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis. Based on these findings, the researchers published their study results in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology. It is interesting to note that one of the study authors, Xinyi Huang, was inspired to study the properties of Ginkgo biloba based on what she had read in the 20th century materia medica Ben Cao Gang Mu by Li Shizen, a copy of which resided at the university.
The group extracted certain compounds found in ginkgo seeds and tested them against a dozen strains of bacteria. Of particular interest was a compound dubbed ginkgolic acid C15:1. Analysis showed that gingko seed coats and immature seeds, which are abundant in ginkgolic acid C15:1, effectively inhibit the growth of three strains of bacteria -- C. acnes, S. aureus, and S. pyogenes.
While this sounds promising, it should be note that, like many things, too much of one thing can be bad. Concentrated forms of ginkgolic acid C15:1 can have toxic effects onteh skin. However, the researchers are hopeful that this study and others to follow will lead to the development of new topical antibiotics to effectively treat bacteria-induced skin conditions while reducing toxicity to human skin cells.
François Chassagne, Xinyi Huang, James T. Lyles, Cassandra L. Quave. Validation of a 16th Century Traditional Chinese Medicine Use of Ginkgo biloba as a Topical Antimicrobial. Frontiers in Microbiology, 2019