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!
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Step 1: 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
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
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
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
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
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.