How does it feel?
Passionflower has a delicate herby taste, with mildly sour and sweet tones. The sourness can be felt as mineral twinges on the sides of the tongue. The infusion of dried herb is refreshingly pleasant smooth and easy to drink.
Passionflower truly feels like a ‘mug of calmness’. The tea has a smooth, rich texture which adds to its nurturing and nourishing quality. The calming nervine effects of this herb are felt directly on taking. The aromatic compounds directly engage our sensory nervous system to soothe and settle the mind.
What can I use it for?
Passionflower is a prime remedy for anxiety. This herb can be used to support in all manner of anxiety symptoms. A typical indication for passionflower is where anxiety is accompanied by racing and repetitive thoughts. There may be agitation, restlessness, spasms, neuralgic pain, headaches, palpitations and feelings of panic. Passionflower is truly the perfect fast-acting medicine to bring a sense of calm and relaxation (1).
Passionflower works directly on the brain, removing cerebral irritability. The nerves may feel like they are ‘rattling’ or on ‘overdrive’. There may be a sense of mania or that one is about to lose control. Passionflower brings peace to the nervous system and allows one to function from a place of calmness, regaining a sense of confidence and control.
The grounding and calming effects of passionflower are second to none where these types of presentations are accompanied by sleep disturbances such as insomnia. It is a gentle relaxant and a mild hypnotic.
Passionflower is also sometimes used to alleviate the nervous irritability that comes with weaning off from conventional sedatives or anxiety medications. It is also used to support the recovery phase from alcohol and drug addictions by the same mechanism. For this application, it may be combined with other nervine sedative herbs such as hops and valerian (1).
Furthermore, passionflower may be used as a stomach relaxant and for symptoms of indigestion, particularly where digestive symptoms arise from stress and tension.
Into the heart of Passionflower
Passionflower is deemed to be mildly cooling in the understanding of western herbal energetics. This cooling action reduces ‘heat’, excitation and overstimulation in the cells (2). Whilst passionflower is less obviously sour than other herbal medicines such as the medicinal berries in the Materia medica, it does have a notable sour taste. This cooling action is often seen in plants that have a sour taste profile. Herbs like sorrel and lemon balm also fit in this category of non-fruiting sour relaxants whose actions may be well applied for this type of nervous excitability.
In Ayurveda, there is a different model and understanding of healthy balance and disease. Ayurveda has its own philosophy and understanding of bodily systems that has been built up over thousands of years of observation. The Ayurvedic understanding of health and disease is based on the three doshas, vata, pitta and kapha. In the physical body, vata is the subtle energy of movement, pitta the energy of digestion and metabolism, and kapha the energy that forms the body’s structure.
In Ayurveda, passionflower is thought to decrease pitta and kapha. It also moves obstructed vata. It is said that used in excess, it may increase vata, so it is likely best to use with caution for individuals with a high vata constitution (5).
Similar to Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has its own unique system of understanding health balance and disease. TCM understands passionflower to be of a calming nature, relieving anxiety and soothing the spirit. It also tonifies heart yin (put simply, yin translates as a restorative energy that allows our body and mind to slow down, rest and relax), whilst clearing internal wind. Internal wind may be indicated by the presence of spasms, pain and seizures arising from hyperactive liver yang (put simply, yang refers to active energy, heat, movement and power) (6).
In the energetics of the eclectics, passionflower is understood to be best adapted to debility and nervous irritability. It is specifically indicated for irritation of the brain and nervous system with atony. This herb is appropriate for those whose sleep is affected by over work, worry and exhaustion. Sometimes convulsions, hysteria and oppressed breathing may be present (7).
In Greives’ ‘A Modern Herbal’ written originally in 1931, the traditional uses of passionflower are understood to be due to a combined effect as a nervous system depressant. She described this mechanism to be specifically moderating from the activity associated with the motor side of the spinal cord (11).
Historical records show that the Aztecs used passionflower for its medicinal benefits, including for the treatment of urinary tract disorders, bone fractures, and skin contusions. Traditionally, Native Americans used passionflower as a sedative.
Nicolas Monardes, a Spanish doctor working in Peru, was the first to learn of the medicinal uses of passionflower in 1569. It was he who later returned it to Europe. It then became widely cultivated and used in European folk medicine.
North American physicians prescribed passionflower for its effects on spasmodic conditions such as seizures and epilepsy. In the early 20th century, European physicians were understood to have used passionflower to treat anxiety and mild sleep disorders.
Adaptogens are strengthening herbs that help us adapt to stress by interacting with the endocrine system. They help normalise metabolism and nourish the tissues. Examples include Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Ashwagandha root (Withania somnifera), Rhodiola root (Rhodiola rosea) and Ginseng root (Panax ginseng)Analgesics
Analgesics are medications that are applied internally or externally to reduce pain. Many of them work by depressing the functions of the central nervous system, Examples of effective analgesics include Jamaican Dogwood (Piscidia erythrina), Pasqueflower (Anenome pulsatilla), California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Corydalis (Corydalis yanghusuo) and Wild Lettuce (Lactuca virosa). Topically, Aconite (Aconitum napellus) and Cayenne (Capsicum minimum) are powerful anodynes.Antimicrobial
Antimicrobials are herbs that interfere with the proliferation and life-cycle of microbes; bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Examples include Thyme leaf (Thymus vulgaris), Echinacea (Echinacea species), Elderberry (Sambucus nigra).Antispasmodic
Antispasmodic plants reduce or relieve smooth muscle spasm. They can be helpful for an array of issues including menstrual cramps. Also known as spasmolytics, these plants include aniseed (Pimpinella anisum), blue cohosh (caulophyllum thalictroides), cramp bark (viburnum opulus) and lavender (Lavandula angustofolia).Antitussive
Antitussive is a substance that reduces the amount of, or severity of, coughing. Licorice, peppermint and bupleurum are examples of this.Bronchodilator
Bronchodilator plants cause widening of the bronchi. The bronchi are any of the major air passages of the lungs which diverge from the windpipe. Plants with this action include ephedra (ephedra sinica), nigella sativa and bala (Sida cordifolia).Nervines
Nervines are herbs that soothe the nervous system and have a calming effect on the emotions. Examples include Oatstraw flowering tops (Avena sativa), passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), Lavender (Lavandula officinalis), St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Rosemary leaf (Rosmarinus officinalis), and Gotu Kola leaf (Centella asiatica).Relaxant
Relaxant plants promote relaxation and can reduce tension. Herbs with this property include passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and valerian (valeriana officinalis).Sedative
A sedative is a substance that reduces as activity, particularly in the nervous system and decreases nervous tension. It may alleviate pain, anxiety or spasm and induce sleep. Sedatives include Californian poppy (eschscholzia californica), hops (humulus lupulus), true unicorn (aletris farinosa), and valerian (valeriana officinalis).Stomachic
Stomachic herbs promote the appetite or assist digestion, for example psyllium husk is a bulk laxative that supports the digestive tract.
What practitioners say
Nervous system: Passionflower has a marked central nervous system sedative effect. It is often used by herbalists to treat anxiety, restlessness and other mental health conditions. It has been shown to improve symptoms in people with attention deficit disorder as well as in treating drug withdrawal symptoms in people recovering from conventional and recreational addictions (3).
Passionflower is an excellent remedy for insomnia. It works effectively taken in the evening to support one’s transition into sleep. It is well known to induce a restful sleep without the next day hangover that often comes with sedatives.
Furthermore, passionflower can be applied to spasmodic conditions such as in excesses of the psychomotor system and in spasmodic muscular convulsions such as seen in epilepsy (1). It is also referenced for use in Parkinson’s disease (3,4).
As a sedative, passionflower can be used in the acute treatment of mania and also for panic attacks, but it is also safe to use for chronic anxiety. Passionflower is more gentle as a sedative than other herbs like valerian and hops.
Digestive system: Passionflower may be applied in spasmodic conditions of the digestive system, particularly where they are linked to stress and tension. This herb is antispasmodic, meaning that it can easily relax tension held in the digestive tract such as in flatulence and intestinal spasm. This spasmodic state can also be seen in conditions such as reflux, colic and dysentery (1).
This herb is also indicated for when liver congestion is accompanied by haemorrhoids. This connection is understood to be linked to portal vein congestion, which puts additional pressure back into the cardiovascular system.
Cardiovascular system: Passionflower additionally acts as a hypotensive to reduce high blood pressure and prevent tachycardia, particularly where the cause is stress. It is specific for palpitations and likely works via its mechanism upon the nervous system to reduce the stress response (1,4).
Respiratory system: Passionflower can be useful in the treatment of spasmodic asthma and whooping cough (1,4). As a herb with powerful antispasmodic actions, passionflower can be applied where these conditions leave a patient with persistent tension in the lungs and diaphragm that leads to spasmodic coughing.
Anxiety: A double-blind randomised control trial was carried out to compare the efficacy of Passiflora incarnata extract with oxazepam (an anti-anxiety and insomnia pharmaceutical medication) in the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder.
The study was carried out on outpatients with a generalised anxiety diagnosis. Patients were allocated in a random fashion: 18 participants received the Passiflora extract at 45 drops per day, 18 in the placebo tablet group, and 18 received oxazepam at 30 mg per day plus placebo drops over a 4-week trial.
The results show that Passiflora extract and oxazepam are equally as effective in the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder. However, subjects taking oxazepam displayed significantly more problems relating to impairment of job performance. The study concludes that Passionflower is effective for the management of generalized anxiety disorder. Passionflower holds the advantage over oxazepam with its low incidence of impairment of job performance and side effects (8).
Pre-clinical anxiety: A systematic review was carried out on 9 different clinical trials where passionflower is used in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. The review includes a number of studies where passionflower was used in clinical trials to assess its efficacy for anxiety. Some of these studies focused on preoperative and pre-spinal anaesthesia anxiety and also for anxiety related to dental procedures. The results resounded across each study that passionflower was safe and effective for reducing anxiety. This includes the case of conscious sedation in adult patients. Passionflower was found to significantly contribute to reducing pre-procedural anxiety. A very low incidence of side effects was reported however, a study where passionflower was used in preoperative anxiety found that psychomotor functions were impaired 30 minutes after extubation (9).
The same review discusses the results of a study where the effects of passionflower were compared to midazolam for bilateral extraction of the mandibular third molars. The anxiolytic action of both substances used in the study was similar. Among the subjects in the midazolam group, 20% reported significant memory loss, while none of the patients receiving passionflower reported such an experience. The midaxolam group reported a higher incidence of drowsiness (9).
The review concludes with a theme of strong evidence to support that passionflower is able to alleviate some symptoms of neuropsychiatric origin. The anti-anxiety effect of passionflower is parallel to drugs such as oxazepam or midazolam. However passionflower holds the advantage of having little to no adverse reactions, such as including memory loss or collapse of psychometric functions as often seen with its pharmaceutical equals. Consequently, it seems to be a safe and effective medicine to reduce stress reactivity, insomnia, anxiety, and depression-like behaviours (9).
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD): In an 8-week, double-blind, randomised clinical trial the effectiveness of passionflower in treatment of ADHD was carried out on a group of 34 children aged between the ages of 6- 13 years old. Subjects in the treatment group were given 0.04mg passionflower tablets twice daily whilst the control received methylphenidate (an ADHD medication) at 1 mg twice daily. Both treatment groups demonstrated significant clinical benefits over the period of treatment as assessed by both parents and teachers. The study concludes that ‘passionflower may be a novel therapeutic agent for the treatment of ADHD’ (10).
Research into passionflower’s effects on psychiatric disorders is promising, however larger scale clinical trials and studies are required to add more weight to the evidence base.
Anticonvulsant: Animal studies have long been used in scientific research of herbal medicines. Whilst herbal reality does not condone the use of animals in research for ethical reasons, we are including an animal study that demonstrates one of the important actions of passionflowers for which there are limited in vitro or in vivo studies.
A study that combines insights from in vitro and in vivo methods was carried out to the investigate biological actions of passionflower extracts under cold and hot extraction methods. Flavonoid yields increased substantially with hot versus cold extraction methods.
The in vitro methodology demonstrated that passionflower extract induced prominent, dose-dependent direct GABA currents in hippocampal slices, but the expected modulation of synaptic GABA currents was not seen. Interestingly GABA was found to be a prominent component of passionflower extract and when amino acids were removed from the extract, the GABA currents were absent. GABA is known as a calming neurotransmitter, and it is the GABA receptors that drugs like Xanax and benzodiazepines target.
Furthermore, the in vivo method which evaluated the behavioural effects of passionflower extract on mice demonstrated prominent anticonvulsant effects against PTZ-induced seizures (13).
Did you know?
The name passionflower refers to the ‘passion of christ’. It was thought to symbolise events in the last hours of the life of Jesus Christ. Symbolically the corona or flower was thought to represent the crown of thorns, the styles represent the nails used in the Crucifixion, the stamens represent the five wounds, and the five sepals and five petals represent 10 of the Apostles—all but Judas.
Passionflower is generally referenced as unsafe to take during pregnancy and lactation. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding it is best to consult with a clinical herbalist before taking this herb.
Passionflower may increase the effects of prescription sedatives, antispasmodics and anxiolytics; it is best to consult a herbal practitioner if you are taking any of these medications.
Passionflower should not be taken alongside the older types of anti-depressants called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
It is important to consider the possibility of antagonistic effects when passionflower is given with stimulants.
- Dried herb
- Infusion (tea)
Tincture (1:2 or 1:5 in 40%): 60- 80 drops three to four times per day
Infusion (tea): Add 1- 2tsp of dried herb to a mug of water, steeping for 15 minutes. After straining, drink passionflower tea up to 3 times a day.
Plant parts used
- Whole plant
- Indole Alkaloids (unto 9%) – harmene is the primary alkaloid (1), harman, halo, harmaline, harmalol, passiflorine (4)
- Flavonoids- vitamin, Cglycoflavones, apigenin (uto 2.5%) luteolin, rutin (1), homoorientin, orientinkaempferol, quercetin, saponarin, isovitexin (4)
- Fatty acids
- Sterols- passicol is a polyacetylene and is antimicrobial
- Volatile oil
- Vitamin K
Passionflower is native to the southeastern United States and Central and South America. It typically occurs in sandy soils, roadsides, prairies, plains, meadows, pastures, woodland edges, streams and riverbanks.
According to ‘Nature Serve’ (a conservation status, taxonomy, broad-scale distribution database in the US) passionflower was last assessed for its endangered rating in 1994. It was then classified as stable in many areas of its native habitat across the United States of America. It also states the global reassessment is in need of review (12).
Habitat loss and over-harvesting from the wild are two of the biggest threats faced by medicinal plant species. There are an increasing number of well-known herbal medicines at risk of extinction. We must therefore ensure that we source our medicines with sustainability in mind.
The herb supplement industry is growing at a rapid rate and until recent years a vast majority of medicinal plant products in global trade was of unknown origin. There are some very real and urgent issues surrounding sustainability in the herb industry. These include environmental factors that affect the medicinal viability of herbs, the safety of the habitats that they are taken from, as well as the welfare of workers in the trade.
The botanical supply chain efforts for improved visibility (transparency and traceability) into verifiably sustainable production sites around the world are now certificated through the emergence of credible international voluntary sustainability standards (VSS). Read our article on sustainable sourcing of herbs to learn more about what to look for and questions to ask suppliers about sustainability.
Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to supply herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.
Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific / botanical name is used and that suppliers can provide information about the source of ingredients used in the product.
A supplier should be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration where the supply chain is unknown.
How to grow
Passionflower is a hardy plant that is easy to grow. It blooms over a long period from early summer until autumn. It grows best in any fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny, sheltered position in the garden. This advice is focused on how to grow in small potted plants.
- Plants for sale are usually of flowering size and available in 1 or 2 litre pots
- Plant your passionflower in the spring after the cold weather has passed (typically late May/early June). In the garden border, produce the best growth and flowers when in a sunny, sheltered position away from cold drying winds. A south- or west- facing fence or wall is ideal.
- Passionflowers climb by means of their tendrils and need to be planted and trained against a trellis or horizontally-wired fence or wall on which the tendrils can cling. The growing area needs to permit for 10m of growth.
- Water passionflowers once a week during dry spells and container plants as soon as the surface of the soil looks dry. Flowering may reduce in particularly dry spells.
- The roots can be fertilised in the spring using a general fertiliser. During the winter, no feeding is required as the plant will be dormant.
- Lime Flower
Mix Equal Parts of the dried herbs listed below to the approximate weight of 5- 10g (or 3-4 teaspoons. Steep in hot water in a tea pot for unto 15 minutes. Then strain the infusion into your favourite mug. Drink throughout the day.
This blend of gently relaxing and aromatic herbs will help bring a sense of calm and relaxation in mind, body and spirit. Drink throughout the day and enjoy the benefits of these delicious herbs.
- MENZIES-TRULL, C. (2022). Herbal Medicine Keys To Physiomedicalism Including Pharmacopoeia. [S.l.]: FACULTY OF PHYSIOMEDICAL.
- Wood, M. (2013). The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism. North Atlantic Books.
- Winston, D. and Maimes, S. (2019). Adaptogens : herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press.
- Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism – principles and practices. Inner Traditions Bear And Comp.
- Frawley, D. and Lad, V. (2004). Yoga of Herbs.
- Holmes, P. (2007). The energetics of Western herbs : a materia medica integrating Western and Chinese herbal therapeutics. 4th ed. Cotati, Calif.: Snow Lotus Press.
- Felter H. W, Lloyd J. U (1898) Kings American Dispensary 18th Edit. Reprinted on Henritttas Herbpages ibiblio.org/hermed
- Akhondzadeh, S., Naghavi, H.R., Vazirian, M., Shayeganpour, A., Rashidi, H. and Khani, M. (2001). Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 26(5), pp.363–367. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2710.2001.00367.x.
- Janda, K., Wojtkowska, K., Jakubczyk, K., Antoniewicz, J. and Skonieczna-Żydecka, K. (2020). Passiflora incarnata in Neuropsychiatric Disorders—A Systematic Review. Nutrients, 12(12), p.3894. doi:10.3390/nu12123894.
- Akhondzadeh, S., Mohammadi, M. R. and Momeni, F. (2005) “Passiflora incarnata in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents,” Therapy, 2(4), pp. 609–614. doi: 10.1586/14750708.2.4.609.
- Grieve, M. (1959). A Modern Herbal. Penguin Books.
- natureserve.org. (n.d.). NatureServe Explorer 2.0. [online] Available at: https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.154895/Passiflora_incarnata [Accessed 6 Dec. 2022].
- Elsas, S.-M. ., Rossi, D.J., Raber, J., White, G., Seeley, C.-A. ., Gregory, W.L., Mohr, C., Pfankuch, T. and Soumyanath, A. (2010). Passiflora 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, 17(12), pp.940–949. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2010.03.002.