It’s that time of year again, Fall. The sun rises a little later every morning and sets earlier each evening. Spikes of red spider lillies shoot up in clutches everywhere. Hordes of noisey dragon flies buzz in grey green shadows. Halloween candy crowds the shelves for future temptations, now 50% off. Giggling ghouls and goblins only a few days ago jostled each other for snack-sized Snickers and gruesome masks.

It is also that time when a particular odor begins to lay heavily in the air. It’s a smell as big as Sasquatch’s huge hairy feet. It hits you in the face like a Gorganzola pie. It makes you gag. It makes you hack. You run faster just to get away from it but it’s inescapable. It grabs hold of your olfactory senses like an angry chihuahua and wont let go. What’s that smell? It’s ginkgo.

The ginkgo tree is considered to be a dinosaur. It is the last living representative of a genus of trees that have been cultivated for centuries in its native Asia. It is the only link between lower and higher plants. Buddhist monks actually yanked it from the jaws of extinction. The monks planted these trees around the temples, and harvested the seeds. The medicinal and theraputic properties of the seeds have made them a source of much controversy.

The Ginkgo tree is dioecious, meaning there are both male and female trees. The female tree requires a male tree growing nearby in order to be fertilized and thus produce seeds. In America, mostly nursery grown male trees are planted. No female trees equals no seeds thus no stinky mess. This, however, makes a more pleasant park experience. It also explains why the use of gingko seeds is not as well known in the West as it is in the East.

As the Autumn temperatures fluxuate between cool and down right HOT, the Gingko’s fleshy seeds ripen in golden clusters high in the branches. The trees eventually let go and rain stink bombs. On those really hot " Indian Summer" afternoons, the smashed flesh simmers on the cement. The fumes are almost visible. Runners hop-scotch around the reeking rotting compost. Hunkered down in the tree’s shadows, however, squat Mamma-sans ( complete with face masks and gloves) collecting a stinky harvest.

Why is it such a stink fest? In the outer fleshy layers of the seeds is the presence of butyric acid which produces an odor similar to rancid butter. On contact with man, it can cause dermatitis and nausia. It also contains urushiol, an allergen. This also can cause dermatitis in sensitive people. So, rubber gloves and face masks come highly recommended.

The next question, what do you do with it? Why would anyone go to such lengths to collect such a nasty smelling thing? My first thought was voodoo. Could it be used as an alternitive to pepper spray or chemical warfare? We should drop a paper bag of that on Saddam Hussain’s suspected hideout. THAT would really make them scatter.

Amazingly, the seeds are boiled to remove the fleshy part. That also helps to remove the stink. Then the seeds can be roasted ( in an open fire or in the oven). The seeds are added to recipes, mostly oodon noodles or other “genki” (healthy) foods.They can also be eaten alone, the same way Westerners eat sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Many restaurants include gingko seeds in their most popular dishes. Japanese health food stores sell them in their natural form. It is even an ingredient in a pudding-like dessert..

In Asian medicine it is used to counteract a host of problem conditions ( stomach ailments, elimination, circulation).The Western cultures have only just begun to embrace Ginkgo as an herbal remedy for memory loss, tinnitus, depression, impotence, and dizziness. There is a recent study on ginkgo’s ability to enhance platelates in the blood. Gingko, it seems, like soy, to be a panacea. Even Paul Harvey has jumped on the Ginkgo bandwagon.

Westeners can find Ginkgo in a more deodorized form, the encapsulated version. However, like everything else in this life, too much of a good thing can result in adverse side affects. Everything in moderation including gingko. Unless you are going to try to flush out Osama bin Ladden, then the more the merrier!



Bremerton, United States

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