The variety of passion flower used for medicinal purposes goes by the name Passiflora incarnata. Passionflower has been used for centuries for simple ailments like cuts and bruises. But more recently this exotic plant has received much more attention due to its more impressive healing properties like how it helps with anxiety, depression, insomnia and other sleep disturbances.
A Brief History
The name "Passion flower" was coined in the 15th century by Spanish missionaries in Peru who saw this unusual flower as a symbol of the crucifixion. Each part of the flower holds symbolic meaning in recognition of the crucifixion story, the Passion of the Christ. Five sepals and five petals refer to the ten faithful apostles (excluding Judas and Peter). Three stigmas represent the three nails that held Christ to the cross, while five anthers represent his five sacred wounds. The tendrils of the flower are said to resemble the whips used in the flagellation, while the filaments, which can number in excess of a hundred depending on the flower, depict the crown of thorns.
Medicinal use of the herb did not begin until the late nineteenth century in the United States when Passion flower was used to treat nervous restlessness and gastrointestinal spasms. The native people of North America and Mexico used passion flower in their traditional medicine as a sedative and to treat stomach problems.
How Can Passion Flower Help?
Anxiety / Depression
Passion flower could be the most effective herb. As well as alleviating symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats (which are in themselves depressing enough), the alkaloids "chrysin" and "benzoflavone" present in this herb have been found to increase GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid) in the brain. GABA is one of the inhibitory neurotransmitters, used by the brain to prevent over-excitement and attain balance. It also helps to decrease the activity of depression-inducing brain cells.
Passion flower is a gentle anti-anxiety and mildly sedative herb that can even be used to induce a good night's sleep. One particular study asked volunteers with trouble sleeping to drink a cup of Passionflower tea at bedtime for a period of time, all reported significant sleep improvement.
The increased GABA in the brain that passion flower can induce will also reduce the anxiety so often associated with insomnia. In addition, passion flower is known to be a muscle relaxant, easing away the tension that can make it more difficult to drift off to sleep.
Antioxidant / Anti-Inflammatory
Passion flower is powerfully antioxidant due to the presence of the antioxidant compounds; vitexin, isovitexin, kaempferol, quercetin, rutin, apigenin and luteolin glycosides. It also contains indole alkaloids, fatty acids, gum, maltol, phytosterols, sugars and traces of volatile oils. One compound in particular – quercetin – has been extensively studied, it has been found to be exceptionally effective in ridding the body of damaging free radical molecules and it inhibits various enzymes that cause inflammation. These compounds also relax the nervous system, helping to relieve nerve-related pain such as back pain.
Lowers Blood Pressure
Studies show that using the extract of passion flower can help to reduce high blood pressure (hypertension). It was found that one cup of passion flower tea daily can help to regulate blood pressure levels in people with mild hypertension. However, it is important to note that those on blood pressure medication should not consume this herb as it can lower blood pressure to dangerous levels.
What do Scientific Studies Say?
Studies have been conducted to determine the effect of passion flower extract on a variety of issues, including anxiety, ADHD, insomnia and substance withdrawal.
In North America, passion flower extract is currently used as a sleep aid, sedative and to relieve anxiety. In Germany, besides its use as a sedative, a homeopathic formulation derived from the plant is popular as a pain remedy too. ADHD, hysteria, irregular heartbeat, palpitations, gastrointestinal problems, menstrual problems and fibromyalgia are some of the other mental and physical conditions that have been known to get relief through the use of passion flower extract.
A double-blind trial was conducted in to compare the effects of benzodiazepine and passion flower extract. It showed a daily dose of 45 drops to be having the same effect as 30 mg of benzodiazepine. Akhondzadeh et al. 2001
Passion flower extracts have equal anxiolytic effects to diazepam (Valium), oxazepam, and mexazolamwith a better safety profile than these medications. Grundmann et al. 2008, 2009. Dhawan et al. 2001, Akhondzadeh et al. 2001
Anxiety Before Ambulatory Surgery
Decreased anxiety in patients undergoing surgery versus placebo. DoubleBlind, Placebo-Controlled: Useful anxiolytic when taken before dental procedures. Movafegh et al. 2008, Kaviani et al. 2013
An 8-week randomized, double-blind study showed improvement of symptoms of ADHD in children to methylphenidate (Ritalin). Akhondzadeh et al. 2005
Germans used it to treat “insomnia of infants and epilepsy of the aged” in the 18th century. The report shows it being used for different purposes in different countries. In Turkey, it was used in the treatment of epilepsy, but in Iraq, it had its uses as a narcotic. Brazilians used it against worms and asthma. But the most common use of the passion flower extract across cultures has been to treat insomnia and anxiety. It's sedative property also has been widely exploited. Dhawan et al. 2001, Akhondzadeh et al. 2001
Opium-addicted patients undergoing anti-addiction treatment with clonidine reported significant reduction in anxiety levels and withdrawal symptoms when passion flower extract was administered alongside. Another study showed a similar reduction in pre-operative anxiety when the extract was given 1 ½ hours prior to surgery. Movafegh et al. 2008
Shows promise in the treatment of opiate, benzodiazepine and nicotine withdrawal in animals and humans. Akhondzadeh et al. 2001, Dhawan et al. 2002, 2003