I'm happy to be a member of this group. I teach foraging in the greater NY area and am best-known for having been arrested and handcuffed by undercover park rangers for eating a dandelion in Central Park.
Although I've been connected to the internet for a year, this is the first newsgroup I've joined, and I thought I had set things up so I'd be getting an e-mail digest of letters every day. So far, nothing has come in. Did I do something wrong, or am I just being impatient even though the jewelweed season is over?
I believe my information packet was already posted, so I won't put that in again. However, I did see one old question about gingkos form mid-October. My book, "Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not-So-Wild) Places," (William Morrow Publishers, 1994) has a chapter on everything I know about the gingko. Here it is:
GINGKO, MAIDEN-HAIR TREE
The gingko is a tall, slender tree, growing up to 90 feet, with a gray, furrowed bark. Unlike all other trees, this relic from the Age of the Dinosaurs sports short, thick, bullet-shaped twigs growing at right angles to the branches. You can spot them at a glance in the winter, when no leaves obscure your view.
Even through they�re gymnosperms�more closely related to conifers than to other broad-leafed trees, gingkos have broad, lobed, fan-shaped leaves 2-3" across, instead of needles. Broad leaves, which catch more sunlight, all originally evolved from needles. In other families, individual needles expanded over evolutionary time, but the gingko�s leaves formed when many needles knit together: You can still see the their outlines as veins diverging from each leaf�s base.
The gingko�s fruit, which ripens from mid- to late fall, is a beautiful apricot color, about the size of a small fig, with an odor worse than vomit. This stench comes from butyric acid, named from its presence in rancid butter. It may have functioned to repel dinosaurs�contemporaries of this ancient tree. This theory seems difficult to prove, until you inhale, and realize that it must repel all creatures, living or extinct. (In reality, butyric acid, which gives Linberger cheese its distinctive odor, is a common product of many plants and animals.
You won�t find the fruit on more than 1/3 of the trees, because this primitive species has separate male and female trees. (Separate elongated clusters of inconspicuous, whitish male and female flowers briefly hang from the twigs in early spring.) Only the females bear fruit. Americans try to plant the males only. Fortunately for foragers, and unfortunately for building superintendents, it's very hard to determine the sex of a gingko sapling, and it's even more difficult to transplant adult trees, so there are plenty of female gingko's around. Just follow your nose. Inside the fruit is a thin beige nutshell containing an emerald-green kernel about the size of an almond.
The gingko is a unique tree, with a dramatic history extending farther back than any other living broad-leafed tree: Its habitat in China was supposedly destroyed during the Ice Age. All species in the genus and all genera in the order were believed wiped out. When the glaciers descended, North American trees sought refuge in Central America, returning after they melted. But European and Asian trees had no retreat. Geological barriers like the Mediterranean Sea and the Himalayan Mountains cut them off. Scientists knew gingkos and their relatives only as fossils.
Then, in the late 1700�s, Western explorers discovered a small number of these stately trees flourishing by a monastery in China. The monk�expert herbalists and gardeners�had saved this rare treasure by cultivating it for countless generations. When the news broke, the gingko became the greatest botanical sensation of the day. Its instant popularity was also due to its adaptability, eerie beauty, and tasty, nutritious nuts, which became an intrinsic part of Oriental cuisine.
Gingkos don�t grow wild any more, but they�ve been planted worldwide. I�ve found them in cultivated parks and on city streets across the country, except for the coldest, most northern regions. The tree has outlived all it�s diseases. Whatever blights or insects once attacked it became extinct when the gingkos all but vanished, and this "living fossil" now flourishes under harsh urban conditions. Only another Ice Age could phase it. It�s like a strange, hardy, time-traveler that likes our modern, chaotic world, and has decided to stay.
The nut is in season from mid-fall to late fall. The fruit is soft and easy to discard, but wear gloves whenever you handle it. One out of fifty get a poison-ivy like rash from touching it bare-handed. Leave the vile-smelling fruit by the tree, or everyone you live with will never forgive you.
A student of mine, preparing an environmental benefit dinner, collected a huge quantity of gingkos one afternoon in Central Park. It got so late, she began stuffing whole gingkos into her bag, smelly fruit and all, but she still got caught in the rush hour. As soon as she boarded the jam-packed subway, people began turning their heads from side to side, sniffing the air. Then, a miracle occurred: She got a seat! Within a few stops, she had a whole section of the car to herself, and by the time she reached her destination, even the homeless had fled. Still, the brown rice, gingko, and field garlic pilaf she served at the dinner was the hit of the event.
Usually, I start collecting my year�s supply after a storm, when the wind has littered the sidewalks with apricot-colored spots. The morning after the storm is best. If I start a day or so later, I find a smelly, well trampled mess�little bits of jade-green mixed with stinking apricot paste and crushed nutshells.
Because the trees are so tall, I sometimes see ignorant people using sticks to knock down the fruit, breaking the brittle branches. This is destructive and unnecessary. All the nuts eventually fall to the ground themselves.
In New York City, Asian people compete for the nuts. Individuals stake out a tree, and become angry if someone else forages there. A cottage industry has sprung up in Central Park. On November afternoons, you�ll see piles of discarded fruits under gingko trees, entire families washing the nuts in the lake and leaving the park with filled shopping carts. You rarely see gingkos sold commercially in most stores. Instead, the nuts from Central Park wind up in specialty shops in Chinatown, and on the menus of overpriced Oriental restaurants.
The nuts are only edible cooked. Wash them (still wearing gloves), bake in the shell (some people boil them, but I think they taste much better baked) at 275�F for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Now comes the fun part, eating gingkos. When cool, crack the shells with a light tap of a hammer or mallet, or open them with your teeth, like pistachios. The shells are thin enough to open with one gentle blow. Properly cooked gingkos are soft and rich. Undercooked nuts are hard and slightly unpleasant.
After only 15 minutes of serious cracking, you�ll have enough to add color, flavor, and texture to a pilaf, soup, stuffing, or vegetable dish. Gingkos make a great snack food, full of protein and low in fat. Asian people use them as appetizers, and mix them with rice, tofu, stir-fried vegetables, and mushrooms in a variety of dishes. Don�t use the cooked gingkos like the crunchy nuts you're used to. They�re more like a soft, dense savory vegetable.
Gingko nuts are perishable. Don�t refrigerate for more than a few days, or they�ll dry and become as hard as rocks�shelled or not. I freeze them, shelled or unshelled, within a couple of days of collecting and roasting. Briefly re-bake them to defrost, and they�ll be perfect.
Eating gingkos is supposed to promote digestion and diminish the effects of excessive alcohol. In Chinese folklore, the fruit is applied as a dressing for wounds, and a tea of the fruit is used for indigestion, and as an expectorant for asthma, bronchitis and tuberculosis. But the fruit is poisonous, both internally and externally, and it�s quite repulsive. I strongly advise against using it.
Modern science has found that an extract of the leaves stimulates the immune system and improves memory. A popular anti-aging preparation sold in health food stores is based on gingko leaf extract. It�s also used for circulatory disorders, and contains an analog of platelet activating factor, intervening in the formation of arterial plaque. It�s also used for headaches, asthma, depression, toxic shock syndrome, bleeding, bruising, and edema. It destroys free radicals, and may help prevent cancer. Don�t try making your own gingko home remedies. You can�t separate the undesirable substances, such as tannins, from the medicinally active substances without a lab.
Gingko extract contains numerous valuable substances, including bioflavonoids even more effective than those in citrus fruit. These ginkgolides and heterosides are antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and vasodilators (opening blood vessels, increasing circulation, and increasing oxygenation). The extract is especially important for Alzheimer's disease�increasing circulatory efficiency, particularly in the brain. Ginkgo extracts are also used for tinnitis (ringing of the ears), asthma, heart and kidney disorders, and glucose utilization. The extract�s has a dramatic effect on blood flow. Energy production also improves from waste product elimination. Is this reason enough to call this ancient species an anti-aging miracle? Eating ginkgo nuts probably has similar benefits.
Japanese folklore advises eating no more than seven nuts at a time. I eat dozens with no ill effects, but I do know people who get headaches, possibly because their blood vessels are opened too much. Some gingko overeaters experience shortness of breath, either from an allergy to gingko, or from eating too many nuts and neglecting to breathe. Eat very small amounts the first time.
If you want a signed copy of my book, please send a check for $21 to "Wildman" Steve Brill, 143-25 84th Dr. #6C, Jamaica, NY 11435. You can get the book at bookstores, but then the publisher makes almost all the money.
Here's an exerpt from my upcoming cookbook, "The Wild Vegetarian." (Maybe it will be published in 2001. I haven't found a publisher yet.)
Gingko: Basic Preparation
Remove the beige nut from the foul-smelling fruit under running water wearing rubber gloves. Throw away the fruit, wash off the nuts, and prepare as follows:
4 cups gingko nuts, fruit discarded, well-rinsed
1. Toast the nuts 30 minutes in a preheated 275� F oven in a baking dish, stirring occasionally. 2. When cool, crack open the thin shells with the tap of a glass or book. Don�t hit so hard as to shatter the shell. 3. Remove the green kernel covered with a brown skin. It�s unnecessary to remove the skin. Serve as an appetizer, or use in soups, stews, or Asian dishes. Use within a few days or freeze. Unshelled and shelled gingkos dry out and become hard and resistant to rehydration. Caution: some people get an allergic reaction from gingkos, so start by trying this food in small quantities.
Makes 2 cups
Indian Mixed Vegetables With Gingko Nuts
Indian seasonings and gingkos lend everyday vegetables an exotic touch.
1/4 cup mustard oil or peanut oil
INGREDIENTS TO SAUTE
2 tbs. whole black mustard seed
1 tbs. whole cumin seed
1 tsp. whole coriander seed
2 tsp. whole cloves
1/2 tsp. whole cardamom or 1/4 tsp. powdered cardamom
1 19-oz. package firm tofu, drained and diced
4 medium carrots, sliced
2 bell peppers, sliced
2 small red onions, sliced
1 cup cooked, shelled gingko (Gingko biloba) nuts or green peas
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 tbs. fresh ginger, chopped
2 small hot peppers, seeds and ribs removed, sliced
1 cup silken tofu
1/2 cup water
2 tbs. flaxseed oil or corn oil
2 tbs. turmeric
1 tbs. brewer�s yeast
1 tsp. Vege-sal or 1/2 tsp. salt
1. Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the mustard seed, cumin, coriander, cloves, and cardamom 2-3 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mustard seeds pop. 2. Add the remaining ingredients to saut� and saut� 10 minutes. 3. Meanwhile, pur�e all sauce ingredients in a blender until smooth. 4. Stir the sauce into the saut�ed ingredients, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook 10 minutes. Serve with Indian bread, brown rice, or other grains.
Gingko nuts complement rice and seaweed perfectly. You�ll never forget how good they taste together, since gingko improves memory.
4 cups water
1 cup basmati brown rice
1 cup sweet brown rice
1 cup shelled gingko (Gingko biloba) nuts
1/2 cup dried wakame (edible kelp, Alaria esculente), or any other edible seaweed, soaked 5 minutes and rinsed
1-1/2 tbs. olive oil
1/2 tbs. Vege-sal or tamari soy sauce
1 tsp. thyme, ground
Bring all ingredients to boil in a saucepan (or use a rice cooker), reduce heat, and simmer, covered, 45 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
Makes 6 cups