Passion Flower

Despite its prehistoric look, passionflower is as popular as an herbal medicine today as it was for the early inhabitants of North America.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Passionflower, purple passionflower, passion vine, maypop
  • Scientific namePassiflora incarnata
  • Geographic distributionNorth America
  • Plant typeVine
  • Native regionNorth America
  • Main producer(s)United States of America
  • Plant Life CyclePerennial
  • Main Consumed PartFlowers
  • OLD Main Economic UseMedicinal
  • Main Economic ProducerU.S.
  • Native RegionNorth America
  • Growing HabitatSubtropical Regions, Temperate Climates
Passion Flower

In keeping with its prehistoric, otherworldly appearance, passionflower has decorated the North American southeast for thousands of years, finding use in both traditional and modern herbal practice. The first to recognize the potential benefits of passion flower were the Cherokee Native Americans, a tribe indigenous to the plant's native lands. They called it ocoee, a name that was later adapted to the Ocoee River and Valley in Tennessee, where it grows in abundance.

Later, Christian settlers utilized its various parts – petals, stamen, stigmas, and purple fringe – to symbolize the crucifixion of Christ when spreading word of their religion. Its medicinal value soon became highly prized in Europe, where herbal medicine still employs it today. Now locally known as the state flower of Tennessee, it has now found worldwide fame in this regard and many others.

Passion Flower Medicinal Properties

Quick Facts (Medicinal Properties)
  • Medicinal actionAntidepressant, Sedative
  • Key constituentsflavonoids
  • Ways to useCapsules, Food, Tincture, Syrup
  • Medicinal rating(2) Minorly useful plant
  • Safety rankingUse with caution

Health Benefits of Passion Flower

Research is ongoing in regard to its other purported properties and traditional uses. Passion flower medicinal uses include:

  • Inducing sleep and relaxation. Passion flower increases the prevalence of a compound called gamma aminobutyric acid in the body. This compound lowers activity levels of parts of the brain, which causes a feeling of relaxation and works as a powerful sedative.

  • Lessening anxiety. Some studies have shown passion flower to be just as effective as prescription drugs when treating anxiety. It has also been shown to reduce the emotional symptoms of drug withdrawal, including anxiety, irritability, and insomnia.

Along with these primary medicinal properties, additional health benefits of passion flower include:

  • Relieving asthma. Passion flower can relieve asthma symptoms due to its antispasmodic properties.

  • Treating bacterial infections. Through its antimicrobial compounds, passion flower can treat minor bacterial infections, such as vaginitis in women.

Native American applications for passionflower include using it to alleviate anxiety and insomnia. In modern times, it is also regarded as an effective treatment for withdrawal symptoms in people addicted to narcotics and alcohol.

How It Works

There's some controversy about whether passion flower's sedative effects are due to indole alkaloids such as harmane, harmaline, and harmol; flavonoids such as apigenin, luteolin, and scopoletin; or anisolated trisubstituted benzoflavone. However, it has been determined that Passiflora contains high levels of gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), which is an inhibitor of neurotransmitters and reduces brain activity, hence inducing somnolence.

Additionally, the phytochemicals contained in passion flowers are also considered antitussive, which helps with cough-related conditions. Among passion flower's chemical constituents, passicol is particularly important for its antibacterial, and antifungal actions.

Furthermore, passion flowers - and, to some extent, the fruit of the plant - contain flavonoids that prevent the oxidation of testosterone and have a positive effect on estrogen levels in women.

NATIVE AMERICAN APPLICATIONS FOR PASSIONFLOWER INCLUDE USING IT AS A MILD SEDATIVE.

Herbs with sedative properties are lemon balm, St. John's wort, and valerian.

Passion Flower Side Effects

Passion flower is likely safe for most people when taken by mouth. However, it is unsafe when taken in excess. Known side effects of passion flower include dizziness, confusion, irregular muscle action and coordination, altered consciousness, and inflamed blood vessels.

Cautions

Passion flower affects the central nervous system. Because of this, it can increase the effects of anesthesia and should not be taken prior to surgery.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeed should consult a physician before taking passion flower medicinally, since it contains chemicals that can cause the uterus to contract.

How to Consume Passion Flower

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsFlowers, Fruit, Leaves, Seed
  • TasteMildly bitter

While it is often used for culinary purposes, the most effective way of obtaining the health benefits from passion flower is in medicinal forms of consumption, where the properties are more concentrated.

Natural Forms

  • Raw. In its raw form, passion flower treats asthma thanks to its antispasmodic properties.

  • Infusions. When brewed into a hot tea, passion flower infusions have highly potent medicinal powers. Because of its anxiolytic properties, passion flower lowers anxiety and can lessen the emotional symptoms associated with drug withdrawal.

  • Powder. Passion flower powder, which can easily be blended into smoothies or other drinks, can lessen anxiety, as well as treat bacterial infections thanks to its antimicrobial properties.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Syrups. In this medicinal form, passion flowersyrups promote relaxation and treats bacterial infections, such as vaginitis.

  • Tinctures. In this form, passion flower tinctures induce relaxation.

  • Capsules. One of its most popular commercial uses, passion flower capsules can treat insomnia and other sleep disorders due to its sedative properties.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buyOnline herb stores

Natural Forms

Full-sized passionflower plants are widely available at garden stores and nurseries during spring and summer months, and they can be found in the wild throughout part of North America. Its fruit and flowers are sometimes sold separately at organic stores or local farmers' markets, though passion fruit teas are far more common and often carried in supermarkets.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

As information becomes widespread about passionflower's benefits, more locations are including herbal supplements of it alongside other common herbs. Capsules and liquid extracts are now found at some wholesale retailers, specialized health stores, and online.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsFlowers, Seeds, Leaves, Fruit

One of the hardier plants in the Passiflora genus, the passion flower is a perennial plant that can survive temperatures as low as 41 - 45° F (5 - 7° C). Because of its unique beauty and medicinal benefits, passion flower is become a more common feature in many gardens. For tips on how to help this flower thrive, follow the growing guidelines below:

Growing Guidelines

  • Passion flower likes moderately fertile, well-drained but reliably moist soils, with a pH ranging from 6.1 - 7.5

  • Seeds should be soaked in water before planting to aid germination. Otherwise it can take up to 12 months for plants to sprout.

  • Passion flowers prefer full sun, but we still be okay in partial shade. This is a hardy plant, but growing it in a sheltered spot will give it a best chance of surviving.

  • Pruning is recommended for optimum growth, and the vine itself can be trained up a wall or alternatively left as ground cover.

  • Passion flowers are prone to aphid damage, so precautions should be taken against these pests

  • If growing passion flower in a south-facing glasshouse or conservatory, protection from direct sunlight may be needed to prevent the leaves from scorching.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesPerfume

Plant Biology

Scientifically known as Passiflora incarnata, passion flower is an incredibly distinctive flower that goes by many different names, including maypop, purple passionflower, true passionflower, wild apricot, and wild passion vine. The stems, which can be smooth or pubescent, are long and trailing, possessing many tendrils. While leaves are typically 3-lobed, they can occasionally be 5-lobed, measuring 2.4--5.9 inches (615 cm) in length. The fleshy fruit it bears, known as maypop, is an oval yellow-orange berry about the size of a chicken egg. It starts as green, turning orange as it ripens.

  • Classification

    A member of the Passifloraceae family, passion flower is closely related to 530 other flowering species, including the popular South American passion fruit. It features white flowers with five petals, white and purple fringe, five quite prominent stamens, and three styles, which were symbolic to Christian teachers. These blooms last approximately one day and grow on vines that can reach up to 30 feet (9 m) long. A deep network of roots forms from the original taproot as the plant grows wider, and tri-lobed leaves are deep green in color.

  • Varieties and Subspecies of Passion Flower

    Passion flower is a common name for similar species of the same genus, but Passiflora incarnata has no true subspecies. As an ornamental plant, it has been cultivated for the selection of certain qualities, such as a more vivid color or a change in size, but these differences have not been great enough to warrant distinct classifications.

Historical Information

During the 18th century, the passion flower was brought over to Europe from South America. By the 1820s, passion flower hybrids were quite popular in Great Britain. The Spanish explorers who first brought it over to Europe called it Espina de Cristo (Christ's thorns).

Passion flower is the state wildflower of Tennessee.

Economic Data

In areas of wild growth, large-scale cultivation of the flower is still unnecessary, as it grows widely and quickly. Herbal supplement and pharmaceutical industries, however, are starting to pay more attention to the flower on a commercial level, and today an estimated 50 European countries include it as an active ingredient in sedative materials. The United States is the leading producer, followed by Germany.

Popular Beliefs

Passion flowers have long been associated with the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, as well as the Passion of Christ. To the Spanish, its ten petals and sepals represented ten disciples who were present for the crucifixion. The three stigma represented the three nails of the cross, the five anthers the wounds of Christ. The numerous fringes represented the crown of thorns in the passion story.

In Roman mythology, the passion flower was ruled by Venus and used mystically to bring peace in the home and carried to attract friends and popularity.

Other Uses of Passion Flower

  • Decoration. Due to its vibrant color and easy propagation, passion flower is a common ornamental flower throughout the United States and Canada, as well as in Europe.

  • Gardening. The flower's nectar is also a food source for hummingbirds and other wildlife, making it a pleasant attraction in gardens the world over.

  • Perfumes. Its lemony aroma has also found application in fragrance industries, namely in perfumes and soaps.

Bibliography

  • MedlinePlus Herbs and Supplements, Passionflower
  • Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Anti-Anxiety Studies on Extracts of Passiflora incarnata Linneaus, 2001
  • Phytotherapy Research, Antitussive Activity of the Methanol Extract of Passiflora incarnata Leaves, 2002
  • Royal Horticultural Society, Passionflower
  • University of Florida, 50 Common Native Plants Important in Florida's Ethnobotanical History, 2012
  • Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine. (2004). Passion Fruit (Passiflora edulis) Retrieved on June 1, 2016 from http://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/01197065-200401030-00005
  • Pest Technology. (2008). Diseases of Passion Flower (Passiflora spp.) Retrieved on June 1, 2016 from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ivan_Fischer/publication/228483390_Diseases_of_passion_flower_%28Passiflora_spp.%29/links/0f31753282313adf5e000000.pdf
  • Anesthesia & Analgesia. (2008). Preoperative Oral Passiflora Incarnata Reduces Anxiety in Ambulatory Surgery Patients: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study Retrieved on June 1, 2016 from http://journals.lww.com/anesthesia-analgesia/Abstract/2008/06000/Preoperative_Oral_Passiflora_Incarnata_Reduces.19.aspx
  • National Institutes of Health. (2009). Anxiolytic effects of a passion flower (Passiflora incarnata L.) extract in the elevated plus maze in mice Retrieved on June 1, 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19216234
  • Phytotherapy Research. (2011). A Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Investigation of the Effects of Passiflora incarnata (Passionflower) Herbal Tea on Subjective Sleep Quality Retrieved on June 1, 2016 from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ptr.3400/abstract?userIsAuthenticated=false&deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=
  • Journal of Ethnopharmacology. (2013). Passiflora incarnata L.: ethnopharmacology, clinical application, safety and evaluation of clinical trials Retrieved on June 1, 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24140586
  • ANTIMICROBIAL AGENTS AND CHEMOTHERAPY. (1973). Passicol, an Antibacterial and Antifungal Agent Produced by Passiflora Plant Species: Qualitative and Quantitative Range of Activity Retrieved on June 1, 2016 from http://aac.asm.org/content/3/1/110.full.pdf
  • African Journal of Plant Science. (2010). Pharmacological studies of Passiflora sp. and their bioactive compounds Retrieved on June 1, 2016 from http://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1380125484_Ingale%20and%20Hivrale.pdf
  • Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology. (2007). Risks and Benefits of Commonly used Herbal Medicines in México Retrieved on June 1, 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2322858/