PASSION FLOWER: Passiflora Incarnata, Passiflora Edulis, Passiflora Caerulea, Passiflora Foetida, Passiflora Lutea, Passiflora Tenuiloba, Passiflora Mexicana, Passiflora Quadrangulans, Passiflora Maliformis, etc.
Also known as: Maypop, Apricot Vine, Passion Vine, Granadilla, Manacoc, etc.
Parts Used: aerial portions
Systems/Organs affected: nervous system, brain, digestive, muscles, structural, heart, liver
Properties: sedative, athelmintic, anti-inflammatory, nerve tonic, expectorant, emmenogogue, narcotic, anti-venomous, tranquilizer, antispasmodic, antidepressant, analgesic, bitter, hypotensive, anti-fungal, antimicrobial, anodyne
Passion flower is a member of the Passifloraceae family. It has a very unique structure making it easy for hummingbirds, bees, bats and the like to pollinate. It is a perennial vining plant with three lobed, palmate leaves (generally) and very striking 5 petaled and 5 sepaled flowers that have 5 stamens and 3 stigmas. There is a lovely collar like display of filaments protruding from it as well. It also produces an elongated fruit that can get up to 8" long and is delectable. Once you have seen a passion flower you never forget it. There are around 530 species of passion flower, most of which are found in East Asia, South America, New Guinea and South Asia. There are around nine different species found in the united states, four in Australia and one in New Zealand. There continue to be new species being identified as years pass-the last one as recent as 2006. Some species have found their way past their natives ranges and have naturalized elsewhere such as the blue passion flower that now grows wild in Spain. Certain varieties even have built in preservation mechanisms. The leaves are often food for a number of insects. Butterflies will lay eggs on them so some passion flowers produce small colored nobs that resemble butterfly eggs, keeping the butterflies from laying TOO many eggs on the plant. Some other species produce a sweet nectar on their leaves that attract ants that will kill and eat other insects feeding on the plant. The stinking passion flower is covered in hairs that produce a sticky substance that attracts small insects which get stuck to the plant and are hence-forth digested.
The history behind passion flower is steeped in religion. In the 15th century Spanish missionaries used the flower as a symbol of Christianity. They taught that the ten petals and sepals represented the 10 true apostles (those who remained faithful to Christ), the filaments surrounding the flower are representative of the crown of thorns and the pointed tips of the leaves were representative of the lance that Christ was stabbed with. The three stigmas and five stamens represented Christ's wounds (4 nails and one lance) and the tendrils were representative of the whips used to beat Christ before the cruxifiction, etc. This symbolism was taught for a few centuries and as such has given the flower several names in various countries such as the German, Christus Krone (Christ's crown), Spain's Espina de Cristo (Christ's thorn) and Jesus-Lijden (German for Jesus Passion) to name a few. Outside of Christianity many countries refer to it as clock plant as it reminds one of a clock face.
Aside from its spiritual roots it has been widely used as a medicinal plant. The Native Americans used the roots and leaves for hysteria, insomnia, epilepsy and as a painkiller. In 2001 a study was done on the maypop(p. incarnata) variety (the same used by the indians) as a possible treatment for anxiety. It was found that the plant worked just as well as the medication oxazepam with much less side effects. (Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 26(5):363-367, Oct. 2001)
K.J. Gremillion found in her studies with Native American sites that passion flower was cultivated by early tribes dating back thousands of years. The fruits were a regular part of their diet. Ripe fruits are said to be delicious but over ripe fruits are said to taste foul. In Schoepf's 'Materia Medica Americana' (1787), it was said that passion flower was useful for treating epilepsy in the elderly. Even though there are references to it being used as a medicine in the early to mid 1800's, it wasn't until the late 19th century that it was reintroduced as a medicine by Professor I.J.M. Goss. Dr. E.D. Stapleton used a tincture of passion flower for insomnia and wrote of his experience with it in the 1904 issue of 'Detroit Medical Journal'. He stated that, "...It relieves irritation of the nerve-centers and improves sympathetic innervation, thus improving circulation and nutrition, and is, as a rule, sure in its results-no bad after-effects, no habits formed."
In 1898, John Uri Lloyd and Harvey Wickes Felter also found it to work chiefly on the nervous system and found it especially useful for insomnia in infants and the elderly. It was listed in the National Formulary from 1916-1936 and approved as a sedative and sold over the counter as a sleep aid. However, in 1978 the FDA received no new information from companies as to its safety so it was not really spoken of after that point. To date this plant is used far more in other countries than it is here for that very reason. Other countries continue to study it. In 1988 the Italians published a study on passiflora incarnata. They found that rats that had been given either an oral dose or an injection of the plant had decreased brain stimuli, prolonged sleeping time and were protected from the convulsive effects of chemical tests. Their locomotor activity was also reduced by the plant in extract form. They are unsure as to which chemical components within the plant create these effects, they just know the plant works. Many European countries including France and Germany, use it for anxiety. It is also used throughout Europe in combination with other herbs (such as hawthorn and valerian) for gastritis, digestive spasms and colitis among other things.
The Cherokee Indians used a poultice of the root (incarnata) for boils and skin wounds, to help wean babies and as a blood tonic. The fruit was made into beverages and the leaves and tendrils were fried or boiled and consumed. The Mayans used the foetida variety for skin abscesses. P. quadrangularis, which is a native to Jamaica and South America, produces a lovely edible purple fruit but the root is said to be poisonous (it doesn't stop the locals from still using it in minute amounts as an athelmintic). It is used in Mauritius to induce vomiting and as a diuretic. P. melliformis and p. pallida leaf juice is used by the West Indies natives and the Brazilians for intermittent fevers. P. foetida is used for female issues, skin inflammation, hysteria and as an expectorant. The roots of p. normalis and p. contrayerva are said to counter poison and p. capsularia is said to stimulate menstruation.
Passion flower contains a number of flavonoids such as quercetin, kaempferol, apigenin, isovitexin as well as some indole alkaloids such as harman, harmalol and harmaline. Some of the harmala alkaloids are known to be MAO inhibitors (monoamine oxidase..medications used for depression) and are found mostly in the roots and leaves. The plant also contains coumarins, organic acids, enzymes, aminos and in some cases, cyanogenic glycosides making some varieties rather poisonous (p. adenopoda).
There are studies that have shown it to be effective for menopause, anxiety, depression, Parkinson's, shingles, high blood pressure, insomnia, pain management and drug withdrawal symptoms from opiates. There have also been some side effects for certain conditions as well such as drowsiness or bleeding as passion flower can inhibit the body's blood clotting elements. It can also aggravate conditions caused by too much testosterone (baldness, hair growth, skin issues, prostate issues, aggression,etc.). It should also NOT be used by pregnant women as it can stimulate uterine contractions. Do not use if taking sedatives or CNS depressants. Stop taking at least 2 weeks before any surgical procedure. Always consult a physician before starting any herbal product or regimen.
As is customary with my posts I am including some links herein for your benefit. Use them wisely and stay strong and healthy!