Common Names

Passion Flower
Botanical Name
Passiflora incarnata
PASSIFLORACEAE ~ Passion Flower Family

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What is it?

In herbal medicine we include all the dried aerial parts that remain after harvesting the fruit from the lovely Passionflower (which is indeed the same plant that produces 'Passionfruit'. Passionflowers are long lived, climbing herbs that grow absolutely incredible flowers.

There is some fascinating history behind the name -- In the mid-1560s a medical doctor by the name of Nicholas Monardes of Seville came across this herb in the Peruvian Andes. It is said that he was a humane and devout man who was tortured by what he had seen happen at the hands of his conquistador compatriots. As he sought solace and refuge in the mountains he came across this exotic plant and had a vision of how it represented the 'passion' of Christ. He saw the five wounds of Christ in the five stamens, he saw purity in the white colour and heaven in the blue, he saw the three nails of the cross in the three styles, a hammer in the ovary of the flower, a crown of thorns in the corona and the 10 true disciples in the 10 petals; and so he christened it Passionflower.




How has it been used?

In the Yucatan it was an old remedy for insomnia, hysteria and convulsions in children. The Algonquin Indians brewed it to soothe their nerves and the Houmas used it as a tonic in their water.

John Heinerman relates how an old friend of his by the name of T.W. Edwards of Memphis, Tennessee, who was a famous herbalist who treated folks for miles around using nothing but herbs from the woods and meadows of his state swore that 'Passionflower was the perfect medicine to give hyperactive kids or adults as well as senior citizens suffering from tranquiliser addictions'.

19th century eclectic physicians used Passionflower as an important remedy for insomnia, restlessness, menstrual discomforts, diarrhoea, epilepsy and whooping cough. Dr Michael Weiner in Weiner's Herbal writes 'Passionflower may be our best tranquiliser'


Science on Passionflower

Passionflower containts substances such as maltol, ethyl-maltol and flavonoids that are believed to contribute to its relaxing effects. It also has substances that appear to have a more stimulating action (harmala chemicals which have been shown to dilate the coronary arteries) and researchers conclude the herb has a 'complex activity' on the central nervous system.

Numerous positive clinical studies have now been conducted with Passionflower and the European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy recommends Passionflower for treating nervous tension, restlessness, irritability and difficulty falling asleep (ESCOP monographs, Passiflorae herba, UK, July 1997)

~ In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial Passionflower extract was found to be as effective as oxazepam (a powerful benzodiazepine drug in the Valium class) for managing generalised anxiety disorder however it was noted that the Passionflower resulted in no incidence of a reduction in job performance unlike what was seen in the drug arm of the trial. The dose used was 45 drops of Passionflower extract per day -- which is really not that high (Akhondzadeh S et al: J Clin Pharm Ther 26(5):363-367, 2001)

~ A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that a single large dose of Passionflower demonstrated a sedative effect compared with baseline values in healthy female volunteers (Schulz H, Jobert M, Hubner WD: Phytomed 5(6):449-458, 1998)

~ A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled 14 day trial compared clonidine (an alpha-2 adrenergic agonist, maximum dose 0.8mg/day) plus Passionflower extract against clonidine plus placebo in the outpatient detoxification of opiate addicts (i.e. heroin or morphine)
Both treatments were effective at treating the physical symptoms of withdrawal but the group receiving the Passionflower showed superiority over the clonidine alone in terms of managing mental symptoms. The dosage of Passionflower used was 60 drops per day (Akhondzadeh S et al: J Clin Pharm Ther 26(5):363-373, 2001)

~ A controlled study that compared high doses of Passionflower and Valerian extracts against chlorpromazine (an antipsychotic drug), electro-encephalograph (EEG) recordings showed sedative activity after 6 weeks of the herbal combination. The same combination was shown to improve symptoms of insomnia in further studies and it was noted that the side effects that are characteristic of drug sedatives were not observed with the herbs (Kammerer E, Wegener T: Natura Med 10(2):1-8, 1995)

~ A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial showed that a combination of Passionflower and Hawthorn extracts reduced heart rate at rest, reduced diastolic blood pressure during exercise and improved exercise capacity compared with placebo in stage 2 heart failure patients (von Eiff M et al: Acta Ther 20:47-66, 1994)

~ The authors, titles and the 'where-and-when' published of over 60 further studies and articles on Passionflower are listed in a PDF found here

Safety of Passionflower

Passionflower is completely safe to take in high or frequent doses if needed and may be used with confidence by the young and old or during pregnancy and breastfeeding.


Personal experiences

I use a very great deal of Passionflower in my work and consider it to be one of the finest medicines from Nature to help 'knit up the ravelled sleeve of care' (Shakespeare).

Passionflower has a mellow and meditative effect on people. I have found it incredibly helpful for people who are plagued by an overactive mind and nervous system that will not let them rest and relax.

I've also found that small doses (as little as 10 drops of the tincture for a more sensitive person, perhaps double that for someone who needs a stronger action to feel the effect) during the day can have an excellent effect on symptoms of excess nervous tension with no loss of concentration or alertness.

Passionflower works equally effectively as a tea taken during the day or in the evening and, like the tincture, it will be noticeable if a person 'tunes in' to its effects that their pulse rate has slowed down and they feel an increased sense of inner calm. I have no hesitation in using much larger doses (up to a full tsp of a tincture or several grams of the dried herb) in people who are having trouble falling asleep or who are in severe anxiety or agitation.

If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or simply have your own reasons to want to know this potent plant ally at a much deeper level then I warmly recommend you conduct an experiment in the 'laboratory' of your own body and take a therapeutic dose of the tea or tincture of Passionflower and see what happens! You would have to be made of stone to not feel anything and think that the more you do this with an open and attentive mind the more you will be able to feel how this herb clearly calms and soothes the whole nervous system - it is quite lovely!

Further to this, if you would like to learn more about the ancient art of pulse testing, a simple but powerful way to ask the intuitive intelligence of the body for its responses to a herb by feeling the pulse whilst giving a tiny dose by mouth, read here

I have the highest regard for the combination of Passionflower with Skullcap for problems related to the head such as nervous tension, worrying, anxiety, constant thinking, or even physical pain or discomfort in the head.

Passionflower also combines perfectly with Chamomile for tension in the spine and belly, with Oatstraw for an exhausted 'strung-out' nervous system and with Lemon Balm for such functional heart troubles as cardiac anxiety, palpitations, arrhythmias etc.


Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Passionflower is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This interesting and useful subject is introduced further here

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Passionflower can particularly offer its benefits when a relaxing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing',more about this here

Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898

We have observed some individuals appear to be very susceptible to its effects in even small doses. Moderate doses act as an antispasmodic and are somewhat hypnotic. Its force is exerted chiefly upon the nervous system, the remedy finding a wide application in spasmodic disorders and as a rest-producing agent.

It is especially useful to allay restlessness and overcome wakefulness, when these are the result of exhaustion, or the nervous excitement of debility.

It proves especially useful in the insomnia of infants and old people. It gives sleep to those who are labouring under the effects of mental worry or from mental overwork. It relieves the nervous symptoms due to menstrual disturbances, and the nervous irritability resulting from prolonged illness.

The sleep induced by passiflora is a peaceful, restful slumber, and the patient awakens quiet and refreshed.


Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd