Most ginkgos that are planted are male trees. Sometimes you might run across a female tree full of nuts that can actually be harvested and eaten!
The reason we don’t see many female ginkgo trees is due to the fruit they produce, which is rather smelly. One female tree can produce a lot of seeds that will drop to the ground in the fall and get stepped on and run over, creating a big smelly mess. I personally think they don’t smell as awful as people say they do. My husband says they smell like trash that’s been in the garbage can for a few days. They do smell better than roadkill!
Ginkgo nuts aren’t actually nuts. They are actually gymnosperm! Gymnosperms are “naked” seeds found in the conifer family as well as a few other families. The ginkgo nut is not a tree nut and may be closer to a pine nut.
There are some precautions you have to follow when harvesting and eating ginkgos. The fleshy part of the seed is not edible and can cause skin irritations and possibly blisters. The seed itself cannot be eaten raw and must be separated from the shell and papery skin before eating. You should also avoid consuming any parts of the ginkgo tree when pregnant, breastfeeding, and do not give it to children. Ginkgo can interfere with some medications and health conditions so always check the safety of the plant before consuming.
The ginkgo tree can grow to be 50-100 feet tall. It has leathery, fan-shaped leaves that turn yellow in the fall. The fruit is a round drupe that turns a yellow color becomes wrinkly when mature. You can learn more on its identification and medicinal uses here.
Harvesting Ginkgo Nuts
The best time to harvest ginkgo nuts is during late fall and early winter when the fruit has fallen to the ground. When harvesting and processing ginkgos you will want to wear gloves. Even if you aren’t allergic, it’s still a good idea because the smell and seep into your hands and will take awhile to wash out.
Use a disposable bag or a bowl to collect the ginkgos. Don’t use a cloth bag or basket unless you want them to smell like stinky ginkgos! Make sure you are following sustainable harvesting practices when you go out to harvest. However, depending on where you are harvesting, such as a public grounds, they might be okay with you taking as many as you can as they will be swept up and tossed out anyway.
Practicing Sustainable Wild Harvesting
- Only harvest plants you know are safe and can identify
- Only harvest plants in safe areas that are not contaminated or polluted
- Do not harvest on private property without permission
- Harvest no more than 10% or use the method: take 1 leave 2
- Know how to handle and prepare the plants you are harvesting
- Always check the legal status of the plant you want to harvest (is it endangered?)
Processing Ginkgo Nuts
Once you have collected your ginkgos, you can either field dress them where you are or take them home to prepare them. If you do take them home, process them outside! Otherwise, your house will smell like the ginkgos.
Wear gloves and separate the see from the fleshy outer shell. Make sure you rinse them well and get all of the flesh off of the seed. After they are cleaned they can be boiled, pan-fried, or cooked in the oven. They must be cooked before eating. The raw seed is inedible and contains a toxin which can be partially removed through cooking. Cooking will not remove all of the toxins so you shouldn’t eat more than 10-12 nuts per day and shouldn’t eat it more than three times a week.
They kind of smelled like cheese when they were roasting. They didn’t have a very strong flavor to them either. Cooking them does not make the inside hard or crunch. They are firm but soft. I did not care for them too much but I did prefer them when they were warm rather than room temperature. Ginkgo nuts are used in Asian cuisine so you can do more with them than just eat the seeds.
Have you ever eaten ginkgo nuts? What did you think?