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Hold Your Nose, Roast Ginkgo Nuts For A Health Boost

Roasted ginkgo nuts. Credit: Katherine Leiner

Roasted ginkgo nuts. Credit: Katherine Leiner

Why let gingkos jar this glorious New York City scene? It’s late November. Central Park is at its peak in fall color. The Conservatory Garden up on Fifth Avenue and 105th Street is all decked out with its fall array of chrysanthemums.

Yet it happened on my afternoon doggie walk, as I passed under a ginkgo tree, and the pungent smell about bowled me over. I am familiar with what is often called “nature’s stink bomb” and have developed a kind of acceptance and regard for the ginkgo, knowing its benefits, but simply, it smells like vomit. The stench is supposed to keep animals from eating the fallen fruit from this ancient Asian tree.

Ginkgo’s famous healthful qualities

But as a baby boomer who is keen to stave off memory loss, I know ginkgo biloba made from this tree species is one of the best-selling herbal medications. It is used in traditional medicine to treat blood disorders and improve memory. It also is an antioxidant, so I welcome the stench.

This time of year in Central Park, one will find many older Asian people on their knees, some wearing rubber gloves, picking through the fruit that has fallen on the ground. And each year, I ask myself, why don’t I collect a bag and try them out? So this year I did just that.

Ginkgo leaves are fan-shaped and green until the fall, when they turn a bright yellow. The leaves contain two types of chemicals, flavonoids and terpenoids, which are antioxidants. Studies show that ginkgo is good for promoting blood flow and treating anxiety, glaucoma, premenstrual syndrome and Reynaud’s disease.

It is important not to use ginkgo for at least 36 hours before surgery or dental procedures because of the risk of bleeding. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also not take ginkgo. Ginkgo may also interact with some medications and antidepressants. As with any supplement, it’s good for users to read up on ginkgo before ingesting it. Also keep in mind, the nut can be toxic to eat raw, and even picking it up can cause a rash like poison ivy.

Recipes from around the world

Asian women to whom I’ve spoken say it is no mistake that the nuts fall at this time of year because when they are cooked, they helps fight flu and colds.


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Ginkgo leaf. Credit: Katherine Leiner

The best way to use them is to remove the fleshy insides and skin from the nut. The flesh is discarded, and then the nut is boiled in salt water, fried, roasted or broiled. The nuts are used in Asian rice porridge and other desserts. Another chef used the nuts to make dried scallop and ginkgo nut congee, but instead of hassling with  fresh ginkgo he uses tinned nuts because they are easier.

In a piece called “Gathering Ginkgo Nuts in New York,” a couple wrote about collecting the ginkgo nuts and trying various ways of cooking them. They finally hit on something when they separated the smelly pulp from the nut, washed the nuts, coated them in egg, salt, pepper and flour and dropped them in hot oil. Delicious was their assessment of this cooking method for a local, sustainable nut.

I have now collected about two pints of ginkgos, and today is the day I intend to try them. A friend gave me this recipe, which seems easy enough.

Roasted Ginkgo Nuts

Serves 2


2 pints of ginkgo nuts

Oil for frying, such as coconut or olive oil

Salt to taste


1. Using rubber gloves, collect the yellow squishy nuts from the ground. You know they’re ripe because they have fallen from the tree and they stink to high heaven. Still using rubber gloves, separate the pulp from the nut. (I did this outside on Park Avenue.)

2. Wash the nuts thoroughly and let them dry.

3. Pour a half-inch of your favorite oil into a pan. Salt the nuts. When the oil is hot enough to sputter, place the nuts in the pan. The nuts should pop like popcorn, except much louder. When they have split open and you can see the green of the nut.

4. Drain, and let cool. Eat like popcorn.

Top photo: Roasted ginkgo nuts. Credit: Katherine Leiner

Zester Daily contributor Katherine Leiner has published many award-winning books for children and young adults and, more recently, her first novel for adults, "Digging Out" (Penguin). Her most recent book, "Growing Roots: The New Sustainable Generation of Farmers, Cooks and Food Activists," won half a dozen awards, including the National Indie Excellence Gold Medal Award. Leiner's next novel is due out this year.

  • Lavinia 12·3·13

    “Delicious was their assessment of this cooking method for a local, sustainable nut.” When I first read this sentence, I thought Leiner was referring to the people and not the gingko. I love the image of elegant Park Avenue denizons on their hands and knees in order to boost their immune systems and brain function. What fun! And thanks for the recipe, I’ve always wondered how you cook those things!

  • Maryann Macdonald 12·3·13

    Please give us a progress report!

  • michele willens 12·3·13

    well, who knew? excellent info as always

  • Bette 12·3·13

    Love the idea of central Park being a place to find local nibbles! And where else would you pick out the stinky parts of the nuts besides Park Avenue? Delightful piece, written well. I’m off to pull out my rubber gloves!

  • meg 12·3·13

    Must admit, not sure getting past the smell is worth it, but then again it might be, as I can’t remember what it was I as going to say next!!

  • katherine leiner 12·4·13

    Thanks so much for you comments. I can assure you that the work involved in getting to the heart of this stinky matter is well worth it. A friend of a friend of a friend’s told me to only eat 2-3 at a time, or might remember too much of what I have been trying to forget!

  • Beverly 12·4·13

    Never realized that one could do this…out here in Colorado I doubt we have any local gingko
    trees but, as a devotee of Katherine Leiner’s writings, I will keep an eye out the next time I am in Central Park!
    AND, PLEASE, Katherine, I would love to know about your book you are to publish this year!

  • michlhw 12·18·13

    im dying to purchase my own house so i can grow a gingko tree in my backyard (amongst other edibles). you lucky new yorkers!

  • Anita 11·28·16

    Just harvested my first ones !. Totally easy

  • katherine leiner 12·4·16

    Have to say that nowhere in NYC this year (2016) could one find a single Gingko. I think because it’s been to dry? Love to know if anyone out there knows?