happywomanEver heard of ginkgo biloba? I was first introduced to the ginkgo biloba tree when I moved to Manhattan shortly after graduating college. Most days of the week, I would pass through Washington Square Park’s southeast corner from my apartment on Thompson Street in Greenwich Village where there was a large female ginkgo tree that would produce beautiful foliage that would leave most greenery-deprived New Yorkers in awe.

And then as an odd repayment for everyone’s adoration, the tree would grow a multitude of seed pods that would drop to the ground and break, creating a slippery mess that had an unfortunate vomit-like stench that lingered over much of the park for weeks. While I loved the beauty of that ginkgo tree, over the years, I grew to dread passing by it during seed pod season.

But, not everyone felt like me. Truth is, there would have been a far bigger, slippery smelly mess to clean up if it weren’t for the steady stream of elderly Chinese women who trekked from Chinatown with a handful of little plastic bags to gather and cart off the unbroken ginkgo biloba seed pods, which I assumed they used in folk medicines since potpourri had to be out of the question.

Years later, when I became a women’s health journalist reviewing study after study, I would become reacquainted with ginkgo biloba in a whole new way: This herb–made from an extract of the ginkgo tree’s leaves, not the smelly seed pods–would come up time and again when researchers would discover how it affected a wide variety of conditions, such as improving memory, glaucoma and dementia.

I bring up ginkgo today because if you get bothersome premenstrual symptoms–such as irritability, sadness, breast tenderness and bloating–month after month, one 2009 study in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine suggests this herb can reduce their severity significantly.

In the study, 85 women were given either 40 mg. of a standardized ginkgo biloba leaf extract three times daily from Day 16 to Day 5 of their cycle for two consecutive cycles or they were given a placebo. At the start of the study, the overall severity of symptoms in both the ginkgo and placebo groups was about the same–34.80% and 34.38%, respectively. However, the group that received the herbal remedy saw their symptom severity drop to just 11.11% by the end of the study while those who took a placebo saw theirs drop to just 25.64%.

What makes ginkgo biloba work so effectively against premenstrual woes? Researchers say compounds in it improve blood circulation and prompt changes in the brain related to mood, flavonoids it contains reduce inflammation, which helps counter the breast pain and bloating caused by fluid retention, and other ingredients in it exert an anti-anxiety effect, reducing stress. 

As with many herbs, ginkgo biloba can interact with over-the-counter and prescription medications you’re taking (such as ibuprofen, blood thinners and antidepressants). So check out this list of potential drug interactions before trying it.