Passionflower (Passiflora Incarnata)
Passionflower is native to the Americas and gets its name from its star like flower that was thought by the Jesuits to represent the Passion of Christ. Most are unaware that the fruits of this plant and its species family is the Passionfruit which is aptly named and quite delicious!
Cooling (cooling plants tend to sedate the nervous system, reduce irritation, are anti-inflammatory, and slow down overactive processes).
Affinity towards the nervous system, so it sedates an overstimulated (hot) nervous constitution. It is in the nervine relaxant category, and a moderate sedative that does not induce drowsiness while supporting sleep.
Passionflower is an herbal specific for:
- Insomnia related to anxiety and overthinking.
- Muscle tension related to nervous overstimulation.
- Anxiety characterized by restless mind, and excessive thinking.
- High blood pressure due to anxiety or stress.
- Asthma associated with anxiety.
- Nerve pain due to nervous system hyperactivity.
- Muscle spasms, tremors, seizures.
Matthew Wood, master herbalist, writes that Passiflora is a specific for “wakefulness, sleeplessness, mental chatter, inability to turn off internal dialogue, easily distracted and overstimulated during the day, inability to sleep at night”.
Chinese medicine perspective:
According to Herbalist Peter Holmes, passionflower calms the shen (spirit), and tonifies the heart yin (yin relates to the strength or power in storage of the organ). Native American shamans & healers considered it a great remedy to “pacify the spirit. It also circulates the kidney/adrenal qi (when it is blocked it causes mental tension, restlessness and low back area pain) and clears internal wind (spasms, cramps, tremors etc.) Circulates lung qi (lung qi blockage manifests as dry cough, wheezing, obsessive thinking, asthma and skin problems).
Flavonoids such as passiflorine, apigenin, quercitin, shaftosides. Small amounts of harmala alkaloids such as harmine, harmaline and harmalol which are the MAOI compounds found in ayahuasca brewed with B. caapi that make DMT orally active. Minerals such as iron, calcium, phosphorus.
Tincture 1-4ml (1:5 dry herb in 40% alcohol) once in evening or throughout the day for anxiety. Dried herb: 2g in capsule form or steeped into hot water 1-4x/day up to 10grams according to Peter Holmes Although it is often found in combination with other nervine sedative herbs, according to some sources it can be used on its own in a higher dose for insomnia, or anxiety.
Not to be used by those pregnant or alongside strong sedative pharmaceuticals Research: A recent 2019 research study on 40 participants over 4 weeks showed statistically significant improvements in sleep duration, decreases in time to sleep onset and improvement in sleep related symptoms during the day in those with mild to moderate insomnia when using a combination of passionflower, Vitamin B6 and melatonin for at least 2 weeks.
A 2017 study using passionflower extract showed that “resistance to stress significantly increases during treatment with the investigated passion flower extract. This is accompanied by a significant improvement of typical symptoms such as inner restlessness, fear, sleep disturbance, and exhaustion. These findings are consistent with previously reported calmative effects, anxiolytic properties, and positive impact on sleep observed in earlier studies and partly with different passion flower extracts.”
This study was particularly interesting as it goes in depth on the mechanism of how passionflower works and good evidence of its strong antioxidant effects and neuroprotective effects. If interested I recommend you look through the free full study here.
Personal Experience: I am currently in a relatively good mood, perhaps a little overstimulated after working and it is late at night, but I don’t have the slightest inclination towards sleep. I will drink a very large dose of passionflower tea (over 20 grams) to see what effects it has at its highest potency. I will report back in 45 minutes to describe my experience (the average time most herbs take for me to feel their effects)
Taste: Slightly sour and a little salty, resembling a broth made from an herb. Smells like a grass with faint hints of chamomile. It must have a notable mineral content because a strong tea of it taste like an herbal mineral water (minus the carbonation)
Experience: About 45 minutes after beginning to drink a strong tea made from passionflower and drinking about 3 cups of it over this period, I can say the effects are certainly noticeable. Overall, I feel significantly calmer, in fact I didn’t notice that I actually wasn’t very calm prior to drinking this tea. It has a peculiar effect that is similar to a low dose psychedelic (and I mean really low dose), where my find feels focused, alert and very open.
My body and muscles feel much more relaxed, and any minor muscle tension I had before are unnoticeable. There is a mildly euphoric effect, especially in my heart area. The experience is best described as being significantly calm yet focused and not the least bit drowsy. I feel that if I laid down to sleep right now, I would drift away easily. The description of passionflower as clearing "mental chatter" seems very accurate, I’m able to focus on the task at hand without the usual intrusion of thoughts.
I overall just feel warm and at ease, and more empathic. There is also a very mindful quality to it where observing my thoughts and actions becomes very easy. I took a pretty large amount of the tea and feel no adverse effect whatsoever, just calm and focused with a mild cheerfulness. This plant seems perfect for right before meditation for the relaxed calm it gives, or right after a nice hot shower before bed to help with restful sleep. It does not make me feel sleepy but when I close my eyes, I can feel that it would be much easier to drift off into the dream realms.
This herb is certainly a potent ally for anxiety, insomnia, muscle tension or depression. A nice well steeped tea is ideal for this plant or used in smaller doses throughout the day. In my experience the effects go beyond subtle at about 5-10 grams of the plant as a tea. This plant feels very bright and happy like the sun shining through clouds, and has a very mild "psychedelic" quality at high doses.
Thanks for reading!
Bogdan Makartchuk, ND
Herbal Hour: Natural Health Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and your Favorite Podcast Player!
1) Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman, 2003, Healing arts press
2) The Earthwise Herbal: A complete guide to New World Medicinal Plants V2, Mattew Wood, North atlantic books, 2009
3) Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth, Dr. Marie Tilgner, Wise acres LLC 2009
4) The Energetics of Western Herbs Volume 2. Peter Holmes, Snow Lotus Press 1994