Herb: Passion Flower

purple-passion-flower-fieldandherbs-labeledPassion Flower

The purple passion flower is a fast growing vine that can reach up to 20 feet or more. Both the fruits and flowers are edible on some varieties and many food items are made from the plant.

The unique flowers are about three inches wide and they have several petals accented with a purple fringe. The wonderful fragrance this plant gives off resembles that of carnations. The fruits, called may pops, are generally about two inches in size and are ripe when the fruit turns yellow. The fruits taste like a guava. To be fully ripe for eating, the fruits should fall off naturally.

The passion flower has large leaves that can reach 5 or 6 inches long and they have serrated edges. They generally have from three to five lobes that alternate along the stem. Flowers bloom where the leaf stem is attached to the vine. Passiflora incarnata really needs something to climb on, and look great at fences or running up a trellis.

Aside from the raw beauty of the passion flower, they confer a whole host of medicinal benefits if you use them properly.

For many years it was used in over-the-counter sleep drugs, but became less popular in the late 1970s / early 1980s. US pharmaceutical companies were less interested than their European counterparts in studying the plant.

As a sleep aid, it can work well on its own, but is best used in conjunction with a few other herbs that are well-known to promote restful sleep:

  • Valerian root
  • Lavender
  • Passionflower

Historical Uses

The historical use of passion flower is not dissimilar to its current use as a mild sedative. Medicinal use of the herb did not begin until the late 19th century in the United States. Passion flower was used to treat nervous restlessness and gastrointestinal spasms. In short, the effects of passion flower were believed to be primarily on the nervous system, particularly for anxiety due to mental worry and overwork.

How It Works

For many years, plant researchers believed that a group of harman alkaloids were the active constituents in passion flower. Recent studies, however, have pointed to the flavonoids in passion flower as the primary constituents responsible for its relaxing and anti-anxiety effects. European herbal pharmacopoeias typically recommend passion flower products containing no less than 0.8% total flavonoids. The European literature involving passion flower recommends it primarily for the treatment of mild to moderate anxiety. In this context, it is often combined with valerian, lemon balm, and other herbs with sedative properties.

Studied Uses

  • Anxiety: A combination of passion flower and valerian has been shown to reduce symptoms in people suffering from anxiety. One study found that a combination of valerian and passion flower reduced symptoms in people suffering from anxiety.
  • Insomnia: Passion flower is commonly recommended by doctors as a mild sedative for those suffering from insomnia or nervous exhaustion.
  • Pain: Passion flower has been historically used to relieve pain.

Possible Precautions

Some practitioners suggest not using passion flower with MAO-inhibiting antidepressant drugs because of concerns that they may interact with the harman alkaloids in passion flower. However, this interaction is theoretical and has not been reported in the medical literature.

Resources to Dive Into

Akhondzadeh S, Naghavi HR, Vazirian M, et al. Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam. Clin Pharm Ther 2001;26:363-7.

Fisher AA, Purcell P, Le Couteur DG. Toxicity of Passiflora incarnata L. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 2000;38:63-6.

Foster S. Herbs for Your Health. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1996, 68-9.

Meier B. Passiflora incarnata L.-Passion flower: Portrait of a medicinal plant. Zeitschrift Phytother1995;16:115-26.

Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 206-7.

Wichtl M. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1994, 363-5.

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