Passionflower Monograph by Student Contributor Crystal Walter

    Passiflora Incarnata (Passifloraceae) Monograph Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) was used traditionally in the Americas and later in Europe as a calming herb for anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and hysteria. It is still used today to treat anxiety and insomnia. Scientists believe passionflower works by increasing levels of a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. […]

    Passiflora Incarnata (Passifloraceae)

    Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) was used traditionally in the
    Americas and later in Europe as a calming herb for anxiety, insomnia,
    seizures, and hysteria. It is still used today to treat anxiety and
    insomnia. Scientists believe passionflower works by increasing levels
    of a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA
    lowers the activity of some brain cells, making you feel more relaxed.
    Passionflower is ecologically intriguing, drop-dead gorgeous, and an
    incredibly useful herbal medicine and wild edible.
    The Latin word for passionflower is Passiflora incarnata. The effects
    of passionflower tend to be milder than valerian (Valeriana
    officinalis) or kava (Piper methysticum), 2 other herbs used to treat
    anxiety. Passionflower is often combined with valerian, lemon balm
    (Melissa officinalis), or other calming herbs. Few scientific studies
    have tested passionflower as a treatment for anxiety or insomnia,
    however, and since passionflower is often combined with other calming
    herbs, it is difficult to tell what effects passionflower has on its
    own. Passionflower leaves (Passiflora spp.) are the only food source
    for gulf fritillary caterpillars (Agraulis vanillae, Nymphalidae) and
    butterfly larvae also feed on passionflower leaves.
    Passiflora incarnata plant-ant mutualism is so important to certain
    species of plants that their survival is contingent on the presence of
    their little bodyguards. Some ants even go so far as to girdle the
    twigs of neighboring plants that might otherwise outcompete their
    plant friend. Passionflower produces extrafloral nectaries at the base
    of the leaf, on the very top of the petiole (leaf stalk), and at the
    base of the flower, on the little green bracts (leaf-like appendages
    below a flower or group of flowers) below the petals (pictured below
    is an ant feeding off the extra-floral nectaries on the bracts below
    the flower bud). If you spend enough time with the plant you will see
    the ants crawling over the plant and pausing periodically to feed at
    the nectaries.
    Passiflora closests analog is Ashwagandha.  One study of 36 people
    with generalized anxiety disorder found that passionflower was as
    effective as the drug oxazepam (Serax) for treating symptoms. However,
    the study lacked a placebo group, so it is not considered to be
    definitive. In another study of 91 people with anxiety symptoms,
    researchers found that an herbal European product containing
    passionflower and other herbal sedatives significantly reduced
    symptoms compared to placebo. A more recent study found that patients
    who were given passionflower before surgery had less anxiety, but
    recovered from anesthesia just as quickly, than those given placebo.
    During my studies I performed a weeks proving of passiflora incarnata
    and found consistent relief of insomnia and anxiety symptoms.
    Native to southeastern parts of the Americas, passionflower is now
    grown throughout Europe. It is a perennial climbing vine with
    herbaceous shoots and a sturdy woody stem that grows to a length of
    nearly 10 meters (about 32 feet). Each flower has 5 white petals and 5
    sepals that vary in color from magenta to blue. According to folklore,
    passionflower got its name because its corona resembles the crown of
    thorns worn by Jesus during the crucifixion. Passionflower’s floral
    arrangement is so unique that early Christian missionaries decided to
    capitalize on its distinctive morphology, and use it as an educational
    tool in describing Christ’s crucifixion. The name describes the
    passion of Christ and his disciples, although in addition, it does
    excite passion in laboratory mice, who have demonstrated increased
    mounting of non-estrus females. The passionflower’s ripe fruit is an
    egg-shaped berry that may be yellow or purple. Some kinds of
    passionfruit are edible.
    Above the corona rises the androgynophore (translates to
    male-female-bearing), which is the shared female and male reproductive
    structure. Rising above the short stalk, there are the five stamens
    (male, bearing pollen). Above the stamens rests the pistil, which is
    the female part of the flower; the pistil is comprised of three parts:
    the ovary, resembling a green ball, giving rise to the three styles
    and stigmas (female).
    Passionflower has an interesting floral reproductive strategy: on any
    given plant, some flowers will be functionally bisexual (with fertile
    male and female parts), and some plants will be functionally male
    (with both male and female parts present, but only the male is
    functioning reproductively).
    Parts Used:
    The above ground parts (flowers, leaves, and stems) of the
    passionflower are used for medicinal purposes.
    Available forms include the following:

            •       Infusions
            •       Teas
            •       Liquid extracts
            •       Tinctures

    How to Take It:
    No studies have examined the effects of passionflower in children, so
    do not give passionflower to a child without a doctor’s supervision.
    Adjust the recommended adult dose to account for the child’s weight.
    Contra-indications/ Side effects: {x} bradycardia; hypotension;
    concurrent use of pharmaceutical sedatives.
    According to Mills and Bone[xi], passionflower is in the following
    category of herbs:
    Drugs that have been taken by only a limited number of pregnancy women
    and women of childbearing age, without an increase in the frequency of
    malformation of other direct or indirect harmful effects on the human
    fetus having been observed. Studies in animals have not shown evidence
    of an increased occurrence of fetal damage.
    In the American Herbal Products Association Botanical Safety
    Book[xii], Passionflower is not contra-indicated in pregnancy or
    In Herbal Medicines, third edition {vi}, Barnes et al report no
    recorded drug/herb interactions, however a hydroalcoholic extract was
    reported to potentiate rhythmic rat spasms in isolated rat uterus, and
    based on these results, the author’s caution against using
    passionflower in pregnancy.
    Pregnancy: [viii] [ix] headache and pain, in general; prevention of
    herpes outbreak; hypertension; help with insomnia and exhaustion in
    postpartum depression; insomnia and anxiety. Please see the notes in
    the contra-indications section regarding passionflower’s safety in
    Indications/Usages:[vi] [vii]
    Nervous system/antispasmodic: insomnia, anxiety, anxietous depression,
    hypersensitivity to pain, headaches, agitation, transitioning from
    addictions, tics, hiccoughs, overstimulation, nervine tonic in
    preventing outbreaks of the herpes simplex virus, stress-induced
    hypertension, and menstrual cramps. The mandala-like flower
    demonstrates the powerful signature of its use in circular thinking,
    especially during insomnia; passionflower is especially suited for
    folks who have a hard time letting things go, mulling them over
    incessantly in a repetitive manner.
    Children: insomnia; trouble sleeping through the night; teething;
    colic; adjunct treatment in asthma; especially with panic around
    asthma attacks; whooping cough.  See the notes below on calculating
    dosages for children.
    Determining dosage in children by weight:
    To determine the child’s dosage by weight, you can assume that the
    adult dosage is for a 150-pound adult. Divide the child’s weight by
    150. Take that number and multiply it by the recommended adult dosage.
    For example, if your child weighs 50 pounds, she will need one-third
    the recommended dose for a 150-pound adult. If the adult dosage is
    three droppers full of a tincture, she will need one third of that
    dose, which is one dropper full (1/3 of 3 droppers full). A 25-pound
    child would need one-sixth the adult dose, so he would receive one
    half of a dropper full (1/6 of 3 droppers full).
    The following are examples of forms and doses used for adults. Speak
    to your doctor for specific recommendations for your condition:

            •       Tea: Steep 0.5 – 2 g (about 1 tsp.) of dried herb in 1 cup boiling
    water for 10 minutes; strain and cool. For anxiety,
                              drink 3 – 4 cups per day. For insomnia,
    drink one cup an hour before going to bed.
            •       Fluid extract (1:1 in 25% alcohol): 10 – 20 drops, 3 times a day
            •       Tincture (1:5 in 45% alcohol): 10 – 45 drops, 3 times a day
    The use of herbs is a time honored approach to strengthening the body
    and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can
    interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these
    reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a
    health care provider.
    Do not take passionflower if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
    For others, passionflower is generally considered to be safe and
    nontoxic in recommended doses.
    Possible Interactions:

    Passionflower may interact with the following medications:
    Sedatives (drugs that cause sleepiness) — Because of its calming
    effect, passionflower may make the effects of sedative medications
    stronger. These medications include:

            •       Anticonvulsants such as phenytoin (Dilantin)
            •       Barbiturates
            •       Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium)
            •       Drugs for insomnia, such as zolpidem (Ambien), zaleplon (Sonata),
    eszopiclone (Lunesta), ramelteon (Rozerem)
            •       Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil),
    amoxapine, doxepin (Sinequan), and nortriptyline

    Antiplatelets and anticoagulants (blood thinners) — Passionflower may
    increase the amount of time blood needs to clot, so it could make the
    effects of blood thinning medications stronger and increase your risk
    of bleeding. Blood thinning drugs include:

            •       Clopidogrel (Plavix)
            •       Warfarin (Coumadin)
            •       Aspirin

    Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAO inhibitors or MAOIs) — MAO
    inhibitors are an older class of antidepressants that are not often
    prescribed now. Theoretically, passionflower might increase the
    effects of MAO inhibitors, as well as their side effects, which can be
    dangerous. These drugs include:

            •       Isocarboxazid (Marplan)
            •       Phenelzine (Nardil)
            •       Tranylcypromine (Parnate)

    Alternative Names:

    Passiflora incarnata; Maypop
            •       Reviewed last on: 6/23/2011
            •       Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice
    specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ.
    Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

    Edible Fruit
    Passionflower is also called maypop, the origin of the name is often
    attributed to children’s proclivity for jumping on the hollow fruits
    for the simple joy of hearing them “pop”. Daniel Austin demystifies
    this common etymological misconception in Florida Ethnobotany: “The
    names maricock and maracocks gave rise to maracoc, maycock, maypop
    (Alabama, North Carolina), mollypop (Alabama, North Carolina) ……All of
    these names are supposedly derived from mahcawq (Powhatan), akin to
    machkak (Menomini)…”[ii]
    The ripe fruits have a spongy partition, interesting in texture, which
    bears the ripe whitish yellow edible flesh surrounding the black hard
    seeds. I pop open the fruits when they are starting to turn yellow and
    begin to wrinkle, and slurp up the seedy flesh. I prefer to chew up
    the crunchy edible seeds, but some folks opt to spit them out. The
    fruit was eaten and perhaps cultivated by Native Americans as
    evidenced by historical accounts and the presence of seeds of in many
    archeological sites. One historical account from 1612 stated, “… yt is
    a good Sommer Cooling fruict, and in every field where the indigenous
    people plant their Corne be Cart-loades of them.” [iii]
    It is likely that Native people encouraged this native weedy vine in
    their corn/bean/squash patches typical of traditional polyculture
    farming methods (growing different species of plants together, and
    allowing/encouraging weedy edibles to fill in bare patches).
    The taste is sour/sweet, with the unripe fruits being decidedly
    sourer. The passion fruit of commerce is the closely related
    Passiflora edulis, native to South America, now grown throughout the
    tropics for its tasty fresh fruit and juice.
    Personal experience from Herbalists:
    I use passionflower, primarily in tincture form for insomnia.
    Passionflower is one of the herbs I use commonly for dysmenorrhea
    (menstrual cramps), often in combination with motherwort, black
    cohosh, and kava kava. Many women find relief with passionflower for
    cranky PMS moments.
    Considered safe for children, it is beneficial internally to take the
    edge off teething, and to help children relax when they are climbing
    up the walls. Many parents use it to help children who wake frequently
    throughout the night sleep more soundly. As one of our safer
    anti-anxiety herbs, it can be helpful in treating children’s acute or
    chronic anxiety, and also to help them deal with an acutely traumatic
    or stressful situation.
    Passionflower is one of my favored remedies for acute musculoskeletal
    pain; I use it in combination with meadowsweet, black birch, and
    skullcap for muscle strains, sprains and joint inflammation in
            •       hypnotic (sleep-aid)
            •       analgesic (pain-reliever)
            •       hypotensive (lowers blood pressure)
            •       nervine
            •       anxiolytic (anti-anxiety)
            •       anti-spasmodic
            •       antidepressant
    Energetics: slightly cooling and drying, mildly bitter
    Traditional Uses: The Cherokee used the roots as a poultice to draw
    out inflammation in thorn wounds; tea of the root in the ear for
    earache; and tea of the root to wean infants. [iv] The Houma people
    infused the roots as a blood tonic. ii
    It is interesting to note that contemporary herbalists use primarily
    the leaves, stems and flowers, whereas the ethnobotanical literature
    cites medicinal use of the roots only. In discussing its inclusion
    into the Eclectic material medica, Felter and Lloyd state in King’s
    American Dispensatory:[v]
    Passiflora was introduced into medicine in 1839 or 1840 by Dr. L.
    Phares, of Mississippi, who, in the New Orleans Medical Journal,
    records some trials of the drug made by Dr. W. B. Lindsay, of Bayou
    Gros Tete, La. The use of the remedy has been revived within recent
    years, Prof. I. J. M. Goss, M. D., of Georgia, having introduced it
    into Eclectic practice. Prof. Goss, who introduced it to the Eclectic
    profession, employed the root and its preparations. We know of
    physicians who prefer the tincture of the leaves, and others still,
    who desire the root with a few inches of the stem attached.
    Eclectic specific indications and uses: {v} irritation of brain and
    nervous system with atony; sleeplessness from overwork, worry, or from
    febrile excitement, and in the young and aged; neuralgic pains with
    debility; exhaustion from cerebral fullness, or from excitement;
    convulsive movements; infantile nervous irritation; nervous headache;
    tetanus; hysteria; oppressed breathing; cardiac palpitation from
    excitement or shock.
    Michael Moorisms:[x] Cardiovascular excess in mesomorphs, sthenic
    middle-aged women; complementary with Crataegus, lowers diastolic
    pressure; PMS depression, PMS with insomnia; insomnia in sthenic
    individuals; and headache in hypertensive states with tinnitus.
    Cultivated/Wildcrafted: Passionflower is abundant throughout an
    extensive range, so it’s not under threat as a species. Although, in
    the peripheries of its range, it may be only sporadically found. At
    the time of this writing, most of the major herbal distributors in the
    U.S. are selling organically grown herb from Italy, which is
    surprising considering its abundance and ease of cultivation in the
    southeastern U.S.
    Part used:  Leaves, stem, and flowers, harvest when the leaves are
    green and vital
    Preparation & Dosage:
    Tincture: 1:2 95% fresh herb
    1:5 50 % freshly dried herb
    Both preparations: 2-4 droppers full up to three times/day
    Tea: .5 to 2 grams of herb per cup of water as an infusion up to 3  times/day
    Akhondzadeh S, Naghavi HR, Vazirian M, Shayeganpour A, Rashidi H,
    Khani M. Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a
    pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam. J Clin
    Pharm Ther. 2001;26(5):369-373.
    Akhondzadeh S. Passionflower in the treatment of opiates withdrawal: a
    double-blind randomized controlled trial. J Clin Pharm Ther.
    Barbosa PR, Valvassori SS, Bordignon CL Jr, Kappel VD, Martins MR,
    Gavioli EC, et al. The aqueous extracts of Passiflora alata and
    Passiflora edulis reduce anxiety-related behaviors without affecting
    memory process in rats. J Med Food. 2008 Jun;11(2):282-8.
    [vi] Barnes, Joanne, et al. Herbal Medicine, Third Edition
    Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded
    Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine
    Communications; 2000:293-296.
    [i] Dai, C. and Galloway, L. F. (2012), Male flowers are better
    fathers than hermaphroditic flowers in andromonoecious Passiflora
    incarnata. New Phytologist, 193: 787-796.
    Dhawan K, Kumar S, Sharma A. Anxiolytic activity of aerial and
    underground parts of Passifloraincarnata. Fitoterapia. 2001;72:922-6.
    Dhawan K, Kumar S, Sharma A. Anti-anxiety studies on extracts of
    Passiflora incarnata Linneaus. J Ethnopharmacol. 2001;78:165-70.
    Elsas SM, Rossi DJ, Raber J, White G, Seeley CA, Gregory WL, Mohr C,
    Pfankuch T, Soumyanath A. Passionflora incarnata L. (Passionflower)
    extracts elicit GABA currents in hippocampal neurons in vitro, and
    show anxiogenic and anticonvulsant effects in vivo, varying with
    extraction method. Phytomedicine. 2010;17(12):940-9.
    Ernst E, ed. Passionflower. The Desktop Guide to Complementary and
    Alternative Medicine. Edinburgh: Mosby; 2001:140-141.
    [v] Felter and Lloyd. King’s American Dispensatory.
    Grundmann O, Wang J, McGregor GP, Butterweck V. Anxiolytic Activity of
    a Phytochemically Characterized Passiflora incarnata Extract is
    Mediated via the GABAergic System. Planta Med. 2008
    [iv] Hamel, B. and Chiltoskey, Mary U. Cherokee Plants and their uses-
    a 400 year history
    [vii] Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism
    Lakhan SE, Vieira KF. Nutritional and herbal supplements for anxiety
    and anxiety-related disorders: systematic review. Nutr J. 2010;9:42.
    Larzelere MM, Wiseman P. Anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Prim Care.
    2002 Jun;29(2):339-60, vii. Review.
    [xii] McGuffin, Michael et al. American Herbal Products Association’s
    Botanical Safety Handbook
    [xi] Mills, S. and Bone, K. The Essential guide to Herbal Safety
    Miyasaka L, Atallah A, Soares B. Passiflora for anxiety disorder.
    Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Jan 24;(1):CD004518.
    [x] Moore, Michael. Southwest School of Botanical Medicine, 2001.
    Author’s personal class notes.
    Movafegh A, Alizadeh R, Hajimohamadi F, Esfehani F, Nejatfar M.
    Preoperative oral Passiflora incarnata reduces anxiety in ambulatory
    surgery patients: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Anesth
    Analg. 2008 Jun;106(6):1728-32.
    [viii] Romm, Aviva Jill. The Natural Pregnancy Book – Herbs,
    Nutrition, and other Holistic Choices.
    [ix] Romm, Aviva et al. Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health
    Rotblatt M, Ziment I. Evidence-Based Herbal Medicine. Philadelphia,
    PA: Hanley & Belfus, Inc; 2002;294-297.
    [iii] Strachney, Wm. (1612) 1953. The Historie of Travell into
    Virginia Britania. London (Wright, L. B. and
    Freund, V., Eds. Reprinted by Hakluyt Society, London.)