Friday, November 7, 2008

Ginkgo biloba

This woman has hit the motherload as far as harvesting Ginkgo biloba fruit goes. These large specimens were indeed female and had a substantial, smelly bounty.

New Yorkers may not know this tree, nor know that there are female and male specimens, but they have probably smelled the ginkgo before. The smell is most aptly described as similar to vomit or dog waste, or a mix of the both. That doesn't prevent people like the woman in the photo - protected with latex gloves - from collecting the fruit. Ginkgo biloba is traditionally used by Asian cultures for tea and, of course, is a popular herbal remedy (promoting brain power) at the drugstore.

Now is as good a time as any to note that calling this a fruit is in fact a misnomer - ginkgoes are gymnosperms, which means that they are not flowering plants. Despite the fact they are broadleaved deciduous plants, they have more in common with a pine or a spruce than an oak or maple. Technically the woman in the first photo is collecting 'naked seeds.' Gymnosperms are more primitive plants than angiosperms (flowering plants) and the ginkgo's evolutionary history dates back over 150 million years. It is a living fossil.

Despite its homeopathic applications, female ginkgo trees are not commonly planted - 'never plant a female ginkgo' could be considered the horticultural equivalent of 'don't spit in the wind' - and they are on the Parks Department's list of noxious plants. Instead, the male plants are used, as the tree is nonetheless beautiful and, for the same reason that it has survived for so many millions of years, is very tolerant to urban conditions like pollution, compaction and drought.


Christina said...

Interesting. Does the tea/brainpowder end up smelling/tasting like the trees?

Brandon M Forsht said...

Ginnan, AKA Ginkgo "nuts" are popular in seasonal dishes in Japan. Just the other day I was at Sushi Zen (44th street) and had some with my Eel Charashi.

To prepare them you need to soak them a bit to soften the flesh. then using heavy rubber gloves, you rub off the rest of the flesh , leaving a hard shell. The shell is cracked with a nut cracker, and you are left with a yellowish green seed. Then you boil the seed/nut in seasoned dashi (fish stock). If you are not going to serve them right away they can be frozen. If this is all too much for you, Asian grocers often sell them cleaned and prepared (but they are not as good)

Also at this time of year Ginkgo leaves and maple leaves are dipped in tempura batter and fried to accompany seasonal dishes.

Oh and as for the taste of ginnan... it's not for everyone. I love it, but admittedly I'm strange. It is mild, vegetal, and nutty with just the slightest aromatic hit of... hmmm something like perfectly ripened soft french cheese.

see this article from the NYT
What's That Smell in the Park? It's Dinner

Published: November 17, 2004

Richard Alomar, ASLA said...


When I saw this page I was floored!
I had just finished writting my page about Gingkoes, after a month of mulling around the image of the fallen leaves on Thompson Street.

Keep up the observations, photos and thoughts...


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