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Using native plants from Asia in medicines and health products

Extracts from the wild ginkgo plant are used to treat asthma and digestive and circulatory problems for centuries.

China landscape

Traditional Medicine

Wild ginkgo are only found in south-east China. They’re rare because of habitat destruction but have survived for over 150 million years – since the time of the dinosaurs! Extracts are used to treat asthma and digestive and circulatory problems, and have been for centuries. If we can protect these special trees, they will help us for many years to come.

Ginkgo's beautiful leaves (above) earn it the nickname “duck’s-foot trees”! They are from a ginkgo in Kew which was planted in 1762, thought to be one of the first in the UK. There are separate male and female trees; the males produce catkins full of pollen and the females produce smelly fruits.

Shopping around

Plants are useful – we need them every day to make cosmetics, health foods and medicines – but we still need a lot of research into how ingredients from plants work. Kew scientists help to identify plants used in traditional Chinese medicines to make sure that the correct species and strengths are being used to make medicines in Britain.

Kew's Christine Leon says: “Anguo city is home to China’s largest and most famous traditional herbal markets. Stallholders use natural plant extracts and dried herbs to make up tailored prescriptions for each patient. Back in Kew’s labs, we are working to identify the unique chemical content of the same herbs. By pinpointing the different substances in different herbs, I can confirm that people are taking the treatments they intended.”

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