Passionflower is one of the most widely used herbs in Western herbalism for its benefits on anxiety, insomnia, and depression along with a myriad of other uses. The main chemicals given credit for this action are flavonoids known as chrysin and related compounds such as maltol, and benzoflavone.
Flavonoids in general exist in an incredibly wide range of plants, and have an equally wide range of therapeutic benefits. Chrysin, the main flavonoid contained in passionflower leaves and stems, is actually so strong as an anxyolytic (reduces anxiety) that it has been shown to be as effective as benzodiazepines including the commonly prescribed oxazepam, in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder.
In depression passionflower was found to produce similar effects to the antidepressant fluoxetine. Passionflower was noted to have much less side effects however. [1-3, 8].
How Does It Work?
There are a couple of mechanisms at play when it comes to the plant flavonoid chrysin, and passionflower in general when it comes to it's anti-anxiety, and antidepressant actions. Chrysin was shown to prevent an increase in the stress hormone corticosterone, and provide antioxidant protection from various regions of the brain associated with oxidative (free radical) damage which are common in anxious and depressed individuals.
Other more complicated factors known to play a role in the development of depression and anxiety such as nerve growth factor, Na+/K+/ATPase activity, and BDNF levels.
Passionflower was shown to modulate all of these activities which tells us that passionflowers chemicals have a powerful, and complex effect on the brains of mammals going through anxious states. .
On top of passionflowers ability to modulate factors within the brain associated with depression and anxiety, offers a wide range of secondary benefits on these conditions.
Passionflower is antispasmodic. This may at first sound like this action shouldn't have anything to do with depression and anxiety, but lets consider the following. When one is stressed, or anxious, it is common to subconsciously contract various muscles as well. Especially in the jaw, neck, and shoulders. Many people (myself included) tend to clench their jaws when stressed, especially while asleep when the subconcius control has full reign over the body. These individuals are generally just given mouth guards to prevent tooth damage in this condition and a correction to the cause of the jaw clenching (such as anxiety) is not actually addressed. The problem is that when muscles are tensed over a long period of time, especially involving the jaw or neck, tension headaches often result, which only further adds to the original stress causing the anxiety and depression. Passionflower has potent antispasmodic components in its leaves and stems, which can greatly reduce or even inhibit these muscles from spasming and clenching. It works through an ability to actually inhibit the calcium channels of the muscles which are required for muscle contraction to take place. this action is strong enough to stop clenching, and tension, but not enough to paralyze the muscles completely (which would be a bad thing). .
Anxiety, and depression, are both associated with fits of insomnia. This condition adds to the root cause of the anxiety or depression. When I cant sleep, I often find myself to be extra exhausted, and stressed out in the morning. By addressing the issue with herbs like passionflower, which actually simultaneously address both the symptoms, and cause of insomnia, the problem tends to sort itself out much sooner than later. Passionflower works as an anti-insomnia agent through many of the actions listed earlier in this article. Its antispasmodic actions help the body relax before bed and drift off to sleep, its antidepressant, and anxiolytic actions reduce the release of stress hormones, as well as oxidative damage in the brain. On top of that, passionflower is a potent anti-inflammatory [5, 6], neuroprotective , and mild sedative on its own. This sedative action has been suggested to be due to the naturally occurring MAO inhibitory alkaloids present which are well known across the plant world to produce relaxing actions.
How to Use passionflower
Passionflower is best used in either a tea form, or a liquid extract. Since the essential oils are needed for many of passionflowers benefits on anxiety, avoid using boiling water when making a tea (remove the water just before boil), and cover the tea while it is infusing. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes, and drink whenever you are overly stressed, anxious, or having trouble sleeping.
Tinctures and liquid extracts are also very effective and easy to use. You can simply add it to your tea, water, or other beverage, or if your brave you can take the dose directly from the dropper and hold it under your tongue for near instantaneous results. Liquid extracts often contain alcohol however so for some this may produce a burning sensation in the mouth if not diluted in water or another beverage.
Keep some passion flower by your bed, or in your medicine cabinet to use whenever you are having anxious moments. For those fleeting sensations in the chest, stress related tension headaches, difficulty falling asleep, and any condition with racing thoughts and a sense of impending doom, passionflower is the best.
This is a brand I would highly recommend and have used many times in the past.
- Sarris, J., & Wardle, J. (2010). Clinical naturopathy: An evidence-based guide to practice. Sydney: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.
- S. M. Elsas, D. J. Rossi, J. Raber, G. White, C.-A. Seeley, W. L. Gregory, C. Mohr, T. Pfankuch, and A. Soumyanath. (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). 940-949. Doi: 10.1016/j.pjymed.2010.03.002. Retrieved from the web.
- C.B Filho, C.R. Jesse, F. Donato, R. Giacomeli, L. Del Fabbro, M. Da Silva Antunes, M. G. De Gomes, A. T. R. Goes, S. P. Boeira, M. Prigol and L. C. Souza. (2015). Chronic unpredictable mild stress decreases BDNF and NGF levels and Na+, K+. -ATPase activity in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex of mice: Antidepressant effect of chrysin. Neuroscience 289. i367-380. Retrieved from the web.
- H. Karaki, T. Kishimoto, H. Ozaki, K. Sakata, H. Umeno, N. Urakawa. (1986). Inhibition of calcium channels by harmaline and other harmala alkaloids in vascular and intestinal smooth muscles. J. Pharmac. 89. 367-375. Retrieved from the web.
- Yang Yao, Li Chen, Jinting Xiao, Chunyang Wang, Wei Jiang, Rongxin Zhang, and Junwei Hao. (2014). Chrysin protects against focal cerebral ischemia/reperfusion injury in mice through attenuation of oxidative stress and inflammation. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 15. 20913-20926. Doi: 10.3390/ijms151120913. retrieved from the web.
- Shiamala Devi Ramaiya, Japar Sidik Bujang, and Muta Harah Zakaria. (2014). Assessment of total Phenolic, Antioxidant, and Antibacterial activities of Passiflora species. The Scientific World Journal. Vol 2014. Article ID 167309.
- Yookyung Song, Samin Hong, Yoko Iizuka, Chan Yun Kim, Gong Je Seong. (2015). The neuroprotective effect of maltol against oxidative stress on rat retinal neuronal cells. Korean J Opthamol. 29(1). 58-65. Retrieved from the web.