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Passion Flower

Passion Flower

Botanical Description & Habitat

Passiflora incarnata


Common names

Apricot vine

Apricot vine
Jamaican honeysuckle
Passion flower
Passion fruit
Passion vine
Purple passion flower
Water lemon
Wild Passion flower

Grows in partially shaded dry areas, and along fences and woods of the United States.

A long vine which grows for 30 feet in length and bears alternate, serrate leaves with finely toothed lobes. The flowers are white with purple centers developing in the leaf axils, blooming from May to July. The fruit is a smooth, yellow, ovate berry containing numerous seeds.

The parts have been equated with aspects of Christ and the Crucifixion.

Medicinal parts
Plant, dried, collected after some of the berries have matured
flower - dried

Historical Properties & Uses

Passion flower has a mild sedative effect encouraging sleep. This property has been well-substantiated in numerous studies on animals and humans. Nervous symptoms and cramps inhibiting sleep are alleviated by ingestion of the herb, and leading quickly to restful, uninterupted and deep sleep. When Spanish explorers first encountered the Indians of Peru and Brazil, they found this plant used in native folk medicine as a sedative. They took it back to Spain, from whence it gradually spread throughout Europe. It was in Europe the leaves of the plant first found use as a sedative and sleep-inducing substance. Interestingly, its sedative effect was not noted by Americans until lately.

Today, more that 400 species of passion flower are found throughout the world. The active constituents of passion flower can be broadly classified as alkaloids and flavonoids, supported in their actions by a variety of other constituents, including amino acids, sugars, coumarins, and alcohols (actually sterols).

A decoction of passion flower has been successfully used in bronchial asthma. It has been used in Europe and America as a topical treatment for burns; compresses of the herb have a marked effect on inflammations.

The leaves of Passiflora edulis are used in South America as a diuretic and for hemorrhoidal inflammations. In Brazil, Passiflora incarnata is used as an antispasmodic and sedative. In North America, passion flower is often used as an analgesic and anticonvulsant, with some success noticed in cases of tetanus. In Italy, a combination of passionflower, belladonna, and lobelia is used to treat asthma. In Poland, a proprietary drug for treating neurasthenia, hysteria, and abnormal sexual excitability contains an extract of passion flower.

Numerous homeopathic drugs contain passion flower; it is possible the main sedative activity of the plant is truly homeopathic in nature, being in that respect a function of the harman alkaloid constituents otherwise stimulant in nature.

Passion flower has been commonly used in the treatment of: nervous, high-strung, easily excited children; cardiovascular neuroses; bronchial asthma; coronary illness; circulation weakness; sleeplessness; menopausal problems; concentration problems in school children; and in geriatrics. There is some experimental support for these applications.

Passion flower appears completely nontoxic, and has been approved for food use by the F.D.A.

Passionflower has approval status by the German Commission E for nervous restlessness.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Method of Action

Passion flower has related analgesic, sedative, sleep-inducing, and spasmolytic effects
The major pharmacological effect of passion flower, first observed nearly a hundred years ago and consistently reported ever since, is a sedative property. The analgesic property of this herb was also observed, and doctors had success treating the sleeplessness experienced by neurasthenic and hysteric patients, as well as that caused by nervous exhaustion. Early investigators noticed the herb worked best when sleeplessness could be traced to an inflammation of the brain; passion flower appeared to act as an analgesic and was free of side effects. Later in this century, investigators discovered the flavonoid fraction was more effective. However, other tests showed the most effective sedative activity was obtained from a combination of both the flavonoids and the alkaloids.

Early research indicated an extract of passion flower was effective against the disturbances of menopause, and as agent against sleeplessness occurring during convalescence from the flu. The herb had no side effects, and appeared to induce a normal peaceful sleep. Observations on the day following administration revealed no depression of body or mind, in contrast to the morning-after effects usually experienced with narcotic drugs.

Passion flower is one of the main constituents of a German sleeping pill called Vita-Dor. This product, also containing aprobarbital, valerian root, hops, mellissa, and vitamin B1, is highly effective in inducing and maintaining sleep throughout the night.

A recent Romanian patent was issued for a sedative chewing gum containing passion flower extract in a base of several vitamins. Many other examples of the widespread application of passion flower in Europe could be cited; however, American recognition of the sedative effects of passion flower has lagged seriously behind.

Some of passion flower's main constituents are the harmine and harman alkaloids (passiflorine, aribine, loturine, yageine, etc). In man, small doses (about 3-6 mg) stimulate the central nervous system, much like coffee and tea. In larger doses (15-35 mg), these alkaloids produce a strong motoric restlessness followed by drowsiness. Still larger doses intensify the motoric activity and cause hallucinations, convulsions, and vomiting. Oral doses of 300-400 mg will produce marked psychotic symptoms, replete with hallucinations, followed by pronounced central nervous system depression.

Hence, passion flower is sometimes used as a mild hallucinogen. Since large doses of pure haman alkaloids are needed to produce psychoactive symptoms of any merit, use of the whole plant probably has no such observable effect.

Pharmacological investigations in animals indicate relatively large doses of harman derivatives excite the central nervous system, producing hallucinations and convulsions appearing to be of extrapyramidal origin. These effects do not agree with the properties of the whole plant. Harman alkaloids arrest spasms in smooth muscle, lower the blood pressure, and expand the coronary vessels, effects which have also been observed in whole herb extracts and appear occasionally in the folk literature. A centrally-depressive chemical, a gamma-pyrone derivative called maltol, has been isolated from passion flower and shown to have mild sedative properties in mice; maltol could offset the stimulant properties of harman alkaloids, but it is unlikely it accounts for all sedative effects observed in humans.

Presently, the active principle in passion flower remains unknown. It has been verified the herb's alkaloid fraction is sedative, the flavanoid fraction (also containing some harman) is active, and a combination of the two is most active.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Possible Interactions
Passion flower should be used with caution in conjunction with CNS depressants or stimulants.

Specifically, this herb should not be used at all in conjunction with the potent CNS depressant analgesic, methotrimeprazine.

To minimize central nervous system depression and possible synergism, it would be wise to avoid using passion flower with procarbazine antineoplastic drugs.

The neuromuscular relaxing action of passion flower may be enhanced by the use of certain aminoglycoside antibiotics, such as clindamycin. In the absence of other hard data, it may be assumed observable interactions occur between the many central nervous system drugs and the psychoactive principles in this herb.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

No toxicity of passion flower has been noted, although harman alkaloids have demonstrated toxic effects.

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Preparation & Administration

Three times a day

Dried root
2-4 grams

made from 1 tsp of dried root

Fluid extract
1:1 in 25% alcohol, 2-4 ml

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E.

Recommended daily dosages in Germany are as follows:

4 - 8 g of the herb.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


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