Introduction: How to Safely Harvest and Prepare Ginko Nuts

Picture of How to Safely Harvest and Prepare Ginko Nuts

Ginko nuts are reputed to be very healthy, stimulating the brain, preventing Alzheimer's and other degenerative brain diseases.  The leaves also can be made into a soothing skin salve. We don't know whether these claims have any basis, but we do know that roasted ginko nuts go awesome with a cup of oolong tea.

So if you notice a tree with fan shaped leaves, and plum shaped fruits which smell like dog feces it's probably a ginko.  Only the female trees bear fruit, and they need to be in proximity to a male ginko to make the nuts.  Ginkos are considered to be a "living fossil" because they have been thriving for tens of thousands of years in their current form. 

A note of caution:
Ginko seeds contain urushiol, which is the same chemical that causes poison oak, ivy and sumac to create an allergic reaction, and skin rash.  Wear gloves and protect your skin when handling the fruit!

Step 1: Locate a Ginko Tree

Picture of Locate a Ginko Tree

If you know of ginko tree in your neighborhood, you may skip this step. Otherwise, locate ginko tress in your neighborhood by going to Public Trees Map at the Neighborhood Fruit website. Put your zipcode and distance (ex. 94110 and 1) and search. Take note of the tree addresses and get ready for your adventure!

Step 2: Prepare to Go Ginko Picking

Picture of Prepare to Go Ginko Picking

Ginko fruits contain urushiol, which is the same toxin in Poison oak.  Use tools (chopsticks) or gloves to handle fruit, and don't touch your face until after you are done (see photo below).

You will need a disposable plastic bag, or a bin to carry the fruit home in, a fruit picker, rubber gloves and perhaps chopsticks. 

Step 3: Pick the Ginko

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Ginkos can be picked like any other fruit tree.  Since you want the nut not the fruit, it is completely acceptable to pick up the windfalls off the ground.

Step 4: Soak the Ginko Fruit in Water

Picture of Soak the Ginko Fruit in Water

You want to separate the ginko fruit from the ginko nut.  We have discovered that soaking the fruit for an hour or two in water before you attempt to separate them works really well.  The fruit gets water logged and slides easily off the nut.

The gesture for removing the nuts is similar to the gesture used to pull the seeds out of plums.  You want to keep the nuts and compost the fruit.

Step 5: Dry the Wet Nuts

Picture of Dry the Wet Nuts

Rinse the nuts one final time, and put them on a cookie sheet.  Put them in the oven to dry at 180 degrees Fahrenheit (80 degrees Celsius) for 30 to 60 min.  They are ready when the white shells are dry.  You can store them in an airtight jar for months.

Step 6: Cooking the Nuts

Picture of Cooking the Nuts

Note: the nuts need to be cooked before you can eat them. 

To prepare them for eating, either roast them in a cast iron skillet like you would any other raw nut, roast them in the oven at 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) or put them in a paper bag in the microwave.  You will know they are cooked because they have turned translucent bright green.

In the photos below, you can see the difference between a cooked and uncooked ginko nut.


Archergal52 (author)2009-10-26

Fascinating!  I've loved ginkgo trees for years because of their neat fan-shaped leaves and the beautiful gold they turn in the fall.  I honestly don't ever remember seeing fruit before. But maybe I've just never been around a female tree that has a male tree nearby.  Ginkgo trees are rare enough around here to be kinda special.


samcrobb (author)Archergal522016-02-05

Pretty much every Ginkgo that you get from a nursery (which is where most people/municipalities get them) are male clones specifically to avoid the smell, otherwise they would have a much harder time selling them.

It's possible that your tree doesn't produce fruit because either it's A) gendered male, or B) a female that is too far from males to receive pollen.  Many cities only plant the males because the fruit can be considered by some to be a nuisance - it's stinky and abundant, and can trigger allergic reactions - so perhaps that's what happened in your city.

Alas, the closest ginkgo tree to me is about 6 miles away.  I only wish I had some nearby.

Hey, that's a cool thing to know!

NATIVEBOY (author)2009-12-03

is poison ivy edible if u remove the oil?

Hey NativeBoy,
I think that Poison Ivy is a bad idea to mess with, in any format.  I know three people who have ended up in the hospital from burning dormant leaves and breathing the smoke, so I would say that eating it is a REALLY bad idea.

oh but i dont get a rash i can roll in it all day and nothing going to happen

samcrobb (author)NATIVEBOY2016-02-05

That used to be me too. Not anymore. Repeat exposure to poison ivy increases susceptibility. That being said, I have an aunt in her fifties that pulls poison ivy out of her garden bare handed and never has a problem, but if I were I wouldn't press my luck. You may eventually regret it.

You are very lucky indeed.  I look at a photo of poison ivy and I get a rash!  (only a slight exaggeration!)

Touurmoi (author)2015-11-05

Can you grow a ginko from the nut?

samcrobb (author)Touurmoi2016-02-05

I have done so with success (so far). If collected in the fall, they must be cold stratified. I collected mine, soaked them in water for 24 hours, put them in loose ziplock bags with a moist paper towel (check every few to make sure it stays moist), and left them in the fridge for about 2 months. If you do this be sure to clean the meat off with a toothbrush or something, and do a couple different batches in different ziplock bags because might get moldy and have to be discarded. After stratification bury them in small pots, point down, about 1/2" deep. Some of mine took up to a month to poke through the surface, but when they do they'll get to a few inches tall within a couple weeks. I use compostable seed pots that I can put right into bigger pots when they get larger. I started this process last winter with about 7 seeds, I now have 4 small trees in pots in a cold frame outside. This was my first attempt at starting trees from seed, I tried several species and had the best success with the Ginkgo. Just make sure you keep them watered, and you should be good to go.

klilise (author)2015-11-02

I, unfortunately, picked up some fruit BEFORE looking it up on instructables. Nasty rash, with skin sloughing, on my face of course, not my hands. Found that (after several experiments) peanut oil soothed the rash. Applied it with cotton balls.
Went back to harvest more, taking full precautions, still wound up with an itchy face. Used a baking soda and water paste on my face, which burned a bit where it had been itching, then peanut oil again, and no more itch! I didn't wait for the paste to dry, just rinsed it off in lukewarm water after a few minutes. Actually left my skin feeling lovely.

HMike (author)2013-11-06

Ginkgo does NOT contain urushiol but "Allergy or hypersensitivity to Ginkgo biloba or members of the Ginkgoaceae family may occur. A severe reaction, called Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which includes skin blistering and sloughing-off, has been reported with use of a combination product. There may be cross-sensitivity to ginkgo in people allergic to urushiols (mango rind, poison sumac, poison ivy, poison oak, cashews), and an allergic cross-reaction has been reported in a person allergic to poison ivy." See for more info.

srchu (author)2012-10-21

Love the article, but it left out one thing, how long do you roast the nuts in the oven or microwave?

Miss415 (author)2011-01-23

Here's a link to an article that summarizes much of the medical research for ginkgo biloba from the Univ of Maryland.

greenjedi (author)2010-04-14

I'm extremely allergic to poison ivy. I usually have to go on anti-inflammatory  steroids for 2-3 weeks whenever i get any on me. I would be very afraid to try these.

Andrew McClellan (author)2009-12-15

You wouldn't happen to know whether it'd be alright to smoke some ginkgo leaves? I happen to have a male in my back yard and I tried making tea out of some dried leaves maybe a month ago, yet it was very hard for me to drink, so I never it again. I still have the dried leaves though, and I am wonder if I would be able to use them in incense. It'd be a small dose of course. I've read up and everything, yet I'm unable to find the answer.

Well, since ginko nuts contain urushiol, which is also present in Poison Oak, and I've had a bunch of friends end up in the hospital with lesions in their lungs after inhaling poison oak smoke, I would advise against burning the dried leaves.

Darn. What terrible news, yes? Well, I am very grateful for this news. Thanks

virginadian (author)2009-10-28

my mom puts ginko nuts in congee when i'm sick, it's a bit bitter but all in all very delicious and nutricious

Now that would be cool, if you made an instructable for the right way to make congee/ jook/ zhou/ 粥!

 Not an instructable, but instructions nonetheless.

Thanks TamarGirl!  Whenever I make congee, I do it slightly differently than that (slowly cooking it and stirring constantly, adding cold water every time it boils).  I'll have to try to do it that way!

jaysbob (author)2009-10-27

the roasted fruit don't still have that awful smell do they? there's several large fruiting females a couple blocks away and boy are they pungent. never thought of collecting the fruit before simply because they smell so dang rancid. whats the taste like?

The roasted nuts are delicious, bitter and strange.  But, don't eat the fruit, make sure to read the instructable on how to prepare them

thats what I meant was the nuts sorry. I don't think I could eat the fruit if I wanted to haha. do the nuts still have a smell?

Hey Jaysbob,
The nuts don't have any smell, except for a mild, astringent smell.  Please enjoy!

cpetito (author)2009-10-27

Our previous house had a female Ginko tree in the front yard.  It was a wonderful tree - except in the fall when it was time to rake the prehistoric, very dense leaves amid the "fruits which smell like dog feces".  (I concur with the very accurate description :-)

We heard that the fruit had benefits, but never really believed that anything that smelled that bad could possible be good for human use.  Perhaps we should sneak back to the old house and steal away some fruit - I assume that cooked they taste better than they smell?

Thank you for bringing back memories of a wonderful tree!

I'm glad you liked the instructable.  You always could go ask the new residents of the house for a few of the fruit, if you want to try it.

SharonH (author)2009-10-28

Our street in San Jose is lined with Ginkgo trees, about a third female, and we're happy to have people pick them, which they do.  But please do us a favor and take the whole fruits with you.  Some have squeezed the seed out, leaving the sticky, stinky fruit on our sidewalks and in the gutters.  It does indeed make the neighborhood smell like an unscooped litter box.  If you want to deter trick-or-treaters just line your walk with the stuff ;-).

Hey Sharon,
It sounds like your neighbors who pick your fruit are very rude.  I never leave detritus behind, in the case of ginkos, it's an absolute necessity because you have to soak them for an hour (which is difficult and embarrassing to do in someone's front yard).

If you want, you can register the ginkos on your block on our site, which will help get rid of the excess fruit.

theseoman (author)2009-10-26

 great instructions, thanks!

You are welcome.  Thank you!

wupme (author)2009-10-26

Ginko increases the risk of an Heart Attack and Stroke and should not be consumed by people who are already in risk for those.

Also btw, every Academic free trial concluded that the effects for better brain activity where not better then those of placebo.

But maybee they taste good, i dont know :-)

neighborhoodfruit (author)wupme2009-10-27

Hello Wupme,
Yeah, medical claims for alternative medicines are confusing and hard to wade through, that's why I stayed out of it. 

However, when it comes to delicious snacks, that's something I excel in.  And these puppies are delicious with tea.
Thanks for your feedback!

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