Passion flower is a unique flowering plant that blooms for a single day once a year. When its petals open, the passion flower reveals a growing fruit. The roots, stem, leaves, petals, and fruit may provide a calming effect when taken internally as a tea or as a dietary supplement. The plant parts blend well with valerian, kava, and lemon balm, which are all known to help promote relaxation, ease anxiety, and support a healthy sleep cycle. Researchers have compared the medicinal effects of passion flower to oxazepam, an anxiety medication; however, one study showed that the herb was a preferred alternative because it did not impair job performance. (1)
What is Passion Flower?
Passion flower is part of the genus of plants known as Passiflora, which contains more than 500 species in the Passifloraceae family. The most common variety of passion flower is known by the botanical name Passiflora incarnata. The plant is native to the lower portions of the United States between Texas and Florida, and north to Nebraska and the eastern seaboard. Passion flower also grows in Mexico and the tropic regions of South American.
Passion flower is a vined plant that sprouts curling tendrils from the stalk; although some species are shrubs or trees. (2) The flowers range in size, have different fragrances, and appear in shades of blue or purple. When the flower blooms, the petals separate, fall back and wither in about a day. The inner structure has five petals and sepals, and a collar of many colorful filaments. If there is a fruit, these elements may not be visible.
The appearance of the inner structure has been described as a “crown of thorns” by Spanish missionaries who in the 1500s first saw the flower and associated it to the Christ figure during the crucifixion in the Christian Bible. (3) Specifically, the pointed tips of the leaves are taken to represent the Holy Lance used to pierce the side of Jesus. The tendrils are said to resemble the whips used in the flagellation. The ten petals and sepals represent the faithful apostles, with St. Peter and Judas omitted. The three stigmas are said to represent the three nails used to hang Jesus from the cross, and the five anthers represent each wound in the hands and feet and the injury from the lance.
Planting and Growing Passion Flower
Passion flower grows best in loose, well drained soil with a moderate amount of fertilizer. The plant tolerates full sun but will grow well in light shade. Prevent exposure to cold or drying winds to keep the flower and leaves healthy. Passion flower will survive through the winter, though watering should be kept to a minimum to reduce exposing the roots to frost. (4) During warmer weather, water the plant as necessary. For best results, start the plant in a pot before transferring outdoors, but be wary as passion flower is invasive and may damage other plants in the area. (5)
If the flower has sprouted a fruit, it will be visible once the flower blooms, which occurs between summer and fall if planted the previous fall or earlier in the year during the springtime. (6) The bloom typically lasts a day, with the flower petals separating in a short period. From this point, if the fruit is left to grow, it will reach the size of a lemon and eventually drop off. The seeds grow from the core of the fruit and are surrounded by a fleshy sack that appears like a kernel of corn. If there is no fruit, the flower will die, but the plant should produce one or several more new buds during the season or the next year depending on its maturity. (7)
To retrieve the seeds from the fruit, allow the fruit to ripen indoors for 14 days. Mash the fruit and allow it to ferment for three days. This process will help to naturally kill off spores and fungus that can be present around the seeds. Then, push the seeds through a sieve and running water to clean them and remove any pulp. Dry the seeds and place them in a bowl, then pour hot water over them, leaving them to soften overnight. Sew the seeds immediately.
Due to the unique structure of passion flower, it typically requires a large bee for effective pollination. Cultivators often place wooden beams near the plants to encourage carpenter bees to nest in the area. Hummingbirds, bumble bees, wasps, and bats are attracted to the plant and also contribute to pollination.
The leaves of the plant are particularly susceptible to damage from butterfly larvae. To combat this, passion flower plants have adapted to produce colorful nibs like those of butterfly eggs to fool the butterfly into laying eggs elsewhere. Ants attracted by the liquid that is produced from the glands of the leaf stems will help to kill any larvae on the plant.
Passion Flower Benefits
The earliest known uses of passion flower for medicinal purposes occurred in Europe during the 1800s. Explorers first brought back passion flower seeds in the 1500s, but the plant did not become popular as a medicinal herb until later. Indigenous cultures in the Americas were said to eat parts of the plant, but the exact purposes are not well understood.
Modern analysis shows that passion flower contains many potentially beneficial compounds that may support the body in several ways. Some of these compounds include beta-carboline, alkaloids, and MAO inhibitors that help to regulate enzymes and other neurotransmitters in the brain. The plant also contains antioxidants, organic acids that help to form omega fatty acids, in addition to other compounds that support enzymes present throughout the human body. All of these compounds may help to regulate feelings of depression, anxiety, and other cognitive conditions.
A study that examined the potential medicinal benefits of passion flower extract for Generalized Anxiety Disorder notes that individuals may find the herb beneficial for supportive therapy alongside conventional drugs and treatments. (8) In concluding the study, researchers note that passion flower helped to reduce anxiety in participants without affecting speed of performance in the brain when compared to traditional pharmacotherapies.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a condition characterized by persistent and excessive worry about some things, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (9) What differentiates someone with this disorder to others is an overall inability to control a reaction to things such as bills, work, or other general daily occurrences or responsibilities. Treatment for GAD includes psychological therapies, or pharmacotherapy to treat hyper-reactivity in the brain that can lead to adverse emotional shifts. Pharmaceuticals often come in the form of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), which are known to affect reaction times and other cognitive side effects that can disrupt daily life.
To determine the efficacy of passion flower extract, the study used 30 patients with GAD aged from 18 to 50. Each was administered Sertraline (an SSRI) with either a placebo or Pasipy (a standardized hydroalcoholic extract of passion flower). Participants then underwent reaction time testing and the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale questionnaire. Reaction times did not change between the groups, indicating that that passion flower extract has a minimal impact on reaction times when compared to an SSRI. Those in the passion flower group noted a significant improvement in anxiety symptoms over the placebo group. Additionally, no adverse effects were found as a result of combining an SSRI and passion flower.
According to the study, passion flower has traditionally been administered for nervous anxiety, insomnia, tenderness, restlessness, irritability, and hysteria. The ability for passion flower to support these conditions is believed to be the result of the compound benzoflavone, chrysin, and pyrone derivative maltol. When ingested, these compounds have a “sedative-hypnotic effect that is presented through gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmission.”
Sample size, short duration, and patient evaluation are all limitations of this study. Further research may be needed to validate the claims presented here.
Passion flower has been studied for the treatment of opiate withdrawal. (10) Part of the treatment to deal with withdrawal is detoxification. Clonidine-based therapies are traditionally utilized for this purpose, but have shown limitations. Passion flower has been investigated as an alternative as it is believed to mimic some effects of traditional medicines for the detoxification of opiates. To determine the validity of these claims, 65 opiate addicts were assigned to treatment with either 0.8 mg of liquid passiflora extract and a clonidine tablet, or a clonidine tablet and a placebo.
Using the Short Opiate Withdrawal Scale to measure outcomes, both groups showed positive results, but the passion flower extract “show a significant superiority over clonidine alone in the management of mental symptoms.” This indicates that while passion flower alone does not provide detoxification, it may aid individuals in addressing the cognitive difficulties that come from withdrawal. However, due to the small sample size and short duration of study, a longer study may be necessary to confirm these results.
Passion flower is also the subject of sleep studies. Forty-one patients between the ages of 18 and 35 were given herbal tea with passion flower or a placebo during a seven day period. (11) After a seven day period of not receiving any treatment, the group received the opposite treatment. Each participant kept a journal, and a group of 10 individuals were chosen for an overnight polysomnography analysis (a measure of several factors such as heart rate and eye movement). Those who received passionflower showed benefits to sleep quality when evaluating the journal entries and polysomnography data.
Passion Flower Dosage, Warnings, and Interest
There is no established safe dosage of passion flower. Supplements can contain dosage amounts ranging from under 100 mg to over 1,000 mg. Passion flower can also be found in herbal blends that do not disclose the precise ratio of each herb. Supplements may contain whole parts of the root, leaves, stem, or fruit, and extracts from each of the plant parts.
Passion flower is considered safe and well tolerated by most individuals. There is insufficient data about side effects and possible drug interactions. Passion flower may interact with other drugs or therapies, so if changes to health occur immediately contact a primary care physician.
Passion Flower Supplements
Passion flower is available in capsules, tinctures, liquids, tablets, herbal blends, and tea. When using a passion flower supplement, or mixing passion flower with another herb to support relaxation, be aware that the effects of the herb may cause slow reaction times or other impairments that may be dangerous in some situations. For best results, consult with a primary care physician before starting any supplement regimen, and follow the manufacturer dosing guidelines and warnings.
When shopping for supplements, always shop brands that you can trust. The NHC.com store carries a wide variety of brands that are known to follow Good Manufacturing Practices, use third party testing for quality and purity, and include ingredients made or grown in the USA. Shop for passion flower today and see if it makes a difference in your life.