Passionflower vine is a well rounded herb originating from South America, but can be found all over the world.
Its leaves and stems are used as an anxiolytic, muscle relaxant, analgesic, hypotensive, and antibacterial agent. The harmane alkaloids located within the leaves and stems make it useful for conditions like depression and high blood pressure.
The fruit is a rich source of antioxidants, and is useful for treating urinary tract infections.
Passionflower is often formulated with other herbs for a wide range of conditions. Its addition is usually aimed at reducing stress, promoting relaxation, and aiding sleep.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Heart palpitations
- Insomnia (Sleep Onset)
- Multiple Sclerosis
- None noted
What Is Passionflower Used For?
Passionflower has many uses, but is mainly used as a treatment for anxiety and other nervous disorders. It has muscle relaxant properties that make it useful for muscle cramping, jaw clenching, or traumatic damage. It is a popular treatment for insomnia, and depression.
+ Historic Use
The use of Passiflora spp. dates back through many years and many cultures. It has been used in Ayurvedic, Unani, and Siddha medical systems , as well as Native Americans, and various cultures in Central and South America.
Prehistoric use of Passiflora incarnata dates back to the late Archaic period (8000-2000B.C) in North America, and is hypothesized by ethnobotanists to have been a minor food plant for native Americans rather than a staple . Medicinally, it is documented that the Cherokee indians have used, and continue to use Passiflora spp. root tea as a tonic for the liver, and for skin boils. The roots are also pounded and used topically as an anti-inflammatory , and as an analgesic .
+ Western Herbal Medicine
In the 1800s in North America, the leaf infusion was used as a sedative, for headaches, and general pain, as well as topically for bruises, headaches, and general pain. . Since then, in Canada, Europe, and USA, it has been used for well over the last 200 years as a tranquilizer, and anxiolytic. It has also been used for colic, diarrhea, dysentery, menstrual difficulties, insomnia, neuralgia, eye disorders, epilepsy, convulsions, muscle spasms, and pain in these regions. .
Countries outside South America, have used this plant for its sedative properties and as a narcotic (Iraq), to treat hysteria and neurasthenia (Poland), diarrhea, dysmenorrhoea, neuralgia (Turkey, America), burns, haemorrhoids, insomnia, and to treat patients affected by opiate dependence (India) .
Passiflora spp. flower has been used medicinally as a sedative, anxiolytic, antispasmodic, hypotensive. Passiflora edulis, Passiflora quadrangularis have both been used, however Passiflora incarnata demonstrates the strongest effects .
When passion flower was found in Peru by a spanish doctor named Monardes, he took note of the indigenous uses, and brought it back to the old world from where he came . Once Passiflora reached Europe, it became widely cultivated and used for mild symptoms of mental stress, anxiety, and mild sleep disorder . The greatest admiration from the Europeans was during the 16th, and 17th centuries due in part from its beautiful flowers, and partly because of the belief that passion flowers were thought to represent the passion of Christ  hence its common name, passion flower.
+ Traditional South American Medicine
In Brazil Passiflora incarnata has been used as an analgesic, anti-spasmodic, wormicide, and sedative. . In some other areas of the Amazon, the fruit used as a heart tonic and to calm coughs. . P. feotida decoction of leaves and fruit are used traditionally in various Amazonian medical systems for diarrhea, asthma, biliousness, Peruvian medical systems, have commonly used passion fruit juice for UTIs, and as a mild diuretic .
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Leaves, stems, fruit, juice.
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Constituents of Interest
- Harmane alkaloids
Duration of Use
- Avoid long-term use in therapeutic doses.
Passiflora is the largest genus in the passifloraceae family, which includes as much as 500 different species.
Passionflower is an evergreen climbing vine. It uses long curling tendrils to climb up neightboring trees towards the jungle canopy.
Passiflora is the largest genus in the Passifloraceae family, consisting of nearly 500 species , with the addition of nearly 400 artificial hybrids . In fact of the nearly 500 species, the vast majority are found in Central, or South America, with a few species rarely occurring in North America, Southeast Asia, and Australia . Colombia is particularly rich in Passiflora as it accommodates more than 100 species , and contains nearly all sections of the genus .
+ The Passiflora Genus
The majority of the species in the Passiflora genus are perennial climbers, though some are trees (subgenus Astrophea), shrubs, herbaceous plants, and annuals . M. Miroddi et al (2013)  describes Passiflora incarnata as an evergreen climbing vine reaching a height of up to 6m. The stems are vining, glabrous, herbaceous, and include tendrils. The leaves are alternate, 3-lobed, serrulate, petiolate, and herbaceous. Passiflora flowers are hermaphrodite and are very characteristic in overall look, containing 5 petals, and 5 sepals, 3 styles, and 3 stamens (typically). Flowering time is usually june-july, and produces its ripe seeds by october or november. Pollination usually occurs via bees , or other flying insects . Some other species of Passiflora that are not included in this article are pollinated by hummingbirds, or bats .
The leaves of passiflora vary dramatically in size, and shape, and to some extent color, within the genus. In fact, Passiflora as a genus contains the most diverse leaf shapes out of any other genus of plant . In Central, and South America exists the Heliconius butterfly, it is these butterflies that are given responsibility for the dramatic differences of Passiflora leaves. These butterflies feed exclusively on passionflower leaves during its caterpillar stage, so passionflower has altered it leaves in ways to match the other plants of its surroundings so as not to be seen by the observant butterflies . This leaf variation even occurs at different stages of the plants development. In some rainforest species for example, the leaf forms of younger plants often resemble that of plants growing on the rainforest floor, changing throughout the years to eventually imitate the foliage of canopy plants as it ages and grows up and into the rainforest canopy .
Passiflora fruit can be described as large, or small berries, with the amount of seeds contained varying greatly. Fruit has a thick pericarp, except in the case of P. feotida where the pericarp is instead thin and papery. Generally, the morphology of Passiflora fruit is very diverse .
P. Edulis and P. incarnata are found in the Amazon Rainforest, and are the most commonly used species medicinally . In the united states, Belize, Brazil, Colombia, guatemala, and India, P. incarnata is grown on a large scale and has become the most economically important medicinal species. This emphasis has most likely been placed on P. incarnata due to traditional use and lack of bioprospecting , as few other species have been tested medicinally, and the ones that have, for the most part have shown very similar effects including P. edulis, P. feotida, P. quadrangularis, P. anata, P. setacea, P. nitida, and P. tenufila [6, 12, 16, 14]. In fact P. incarnata, P. edulis, P. nitida, P. laurifolia, P. quadrangularis, P. feotida, P. alata, and the common flower shop and garden center species P. caerula are all found in the same Subgenus (also called Passiflora but is considered sub genus) .
Habitat, Ecology, Distribution:
P. feotida (Stinking passion flower) is South American in origin and is one of the few annual species contained in the Passiflora genus .
P. incarnata prefers more temperate zones, and is native to the southern United States, and sports 6-8cm, fragrant flowers in a variety of colors .
P. edulis is native to Brazil, Paraguay, and northern Argentina, however has spread throughout most of the tropics and sub tropics worldwide .
In general, the majority of the Passiflora species can be found in lower North America, Central America, and South America, and is mostly found in the tropics .
Harvesting, Collection, Preparation:
Due to Passiflora’s relationship with the Heliconius butterfly, and its ever changing and deceptive leaf shape, it can often be very well camouflaged in its environment .
When collecting passion flower for medicine, it is important to consider what is being treated.
For fungal infections it may be best to damage the leaves a few hours or days before harvesting as this has been shown to increase the anti-fungal agents located in the plant .
In accordance with taste, Passiflora nitida is noted to stand out as particularly preferred in flavour and to have a high antioxidant activity as well. Passiflora alata on the other hand was the least preferred and had the most bitter flavour. .
If the antioxidant effects are the desired effects, species choice will make a difference, P. edulis, P. setacea, P. nitida, P. tenufida, all have high antioxidant levels, with P. malformis leaf aqueous extract shown to have the highest antioxidant profile .
Passion flower of all species make great house or garden plants. The flower is spectacular, they are easy to grow, and the leaves, stems, and fruit can easily be harvested and used.Many species of Passiflora do well in container culture, and home environments, outdoors seasonally in northern climates, or all year in tropical climates. Passionflower plants will pretty much all do well in a general potting mix, or regular garden soil. Passiflora can grow in sandy, loamy, or clay soils but generally prefers well-drained soil. .
Due to the climbing nature of passion flower, a climbing aid such as a tree, or trellis may be needed.
In nature, 95% of all flowering plants have a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi , and therefore it may be beneficial to inoculate with a commercial strain of endo- and ecto-mycorrhizal fungi when planting.
Passiflora incarnata is the most economically important of the Passiflora species, and is currently being cultivated on a large scale in Belize, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, India, United States , and in Australia. .
Pharmacology & Medical Research
M. Miroddi et al. (2013)  Refers to a clinical study done on menopausal women, found that P. incarnata was able to exert beneficial effects on precocious menopause symptoms (vasomotor signs, insomnia, depression, anger, headaches, etc). The researchers in this study suggested that health professionals can use it as an alternative to hormone therapy.
+ Opiate Withdrawal
A study done reviewing the clinical studies of Passiflora incarnata referred to a clinical double blind randomized trial vs placebo that investigated the effects of Passiflora incarnata on patients undergoing opiate withdrawal. This trial found that P. incarnata in combination with clonidine (commonly used pharmaceutical noted to have a better ability to treat physical symptoms of opiate withdrawal than mental), was able to reduce the mental symptoms of opiate withdrawal (insomnia, craving, dysphoria, anxiety, agitation, irritability) successfully. .
In a study done on the analgesic effects of P. feotida on mice, 200 mg/kg of ethanol extract was found to be comparable in effectiveness to morphine sulphate (5mg/kg). . This same study concluded that “it is very clear that P.feotida also has analgesic and anti-inflammatory activities for the pharmaceuticals”.
The antibacterial and antifungal compound Passicol, has reportedly been isolated from P. edulis providing distinct antibacterial effects against gram-positive, but not gram negative bacteria . Gram negative bacteria include such examples as Staphylococci, Streptococci, Corynebacterium diphtheriae (responsible for diphtheria), Bacillus anthracis (Anthrax), and Pneumococci.
The seeds have been found to possess antifungal compounds in the form of protein (Passiflin), and peptide (Pe-AFP1) .
See chemoprotective effects
Passiflora incarnata extract (containing amino acids), were found to contain high amounts of GABA, as well as providing the ability to induce direct GABA currents in CA1 hippocampal pyramidal neurons , thus providing evidence for anticonvulsant activity.
A hydroalcoholic extract of passionflower (Pasipay) was found to be able to prolong the onset time of seizures, decrease the duration of seizures, and provide mortality protection. The researchers in this study concluded that Pasipay may be useful in the treatment of absence seizure due to its effect on GABAergic and opioid systems, however, suggested more studies were needed in order to investigate the mechanisms involved. .
In a separate study chrysin was considered responsible, and its anxiolytic actions were linked to the activation of GABAa in rats .
Chrysin (5,7-dihydroxyflavone), is a flavonoid found in bee propolis, honey, Passiflora spp, and a variety of other plants. It is noted to produce antioxidant [6, 17], antinflammatory , antineoplastic, hypolipidemic, and antidepressent  activity.
In the pathophysiology of depression, several mechanisms are considered: oxidative stress (through reduced oxygen species, and glutathione in various brain regions), BDNF deficiencies, and inhibition of Na+,K+, ATPase activity . CUMS (Chronic unpredictable mild stress) is an animal model developed to mimic the initiation and progress of clinical depression in humans, and may also be used in the evaluation of antidepressant therapies, through both behavioural, and biochemical testing in animals . This study aimed at evaluating the effects of chrysin on female mice subjected to CUMS, through monitoring the changes in both NGF (Nerve growth factor), and BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) levels, and Na+, K+, -ATPase activity in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. The mice were given either a low dose (10 ml/kg), or high dose (20 mg/kg) of Chrysin dissolved in saline/propylene glycol solution (80:20), or fluoxetine (10 mg/kg) daily for 28 days, 30 minutes before stress was induced via various methods such as damp bedding for 12 hours, constant lighting for 36 hours, angled cages for 12-18 hours, electric shock foot, water and food deprivation, and others. After CUMS ended, mice were given behavioural tests (open field test, forced swimming test, sucrose preference test), blood samples were taken, and hippocampus and prefrontal cortex was dissected. It was found that all of the deleterious effects of the CUMS test were “significantly ameliorated” by the chrysin treated mice when compared to the control group, and was observed to produce antidepressant effects on the non stressed group of mice as well. .
The results were similar to the results obtained from the group treated with known antidepressant fluoxetine. Chrysins effect was noted to prevent the elevation of corticosterone levels, produce antioxidant activity, prevent inhibition of Na+,K+,ATPase activity, as well as up regulate NGF, and BDNF levels.
All of these results are consistent with current theories on the pathophysiology of depression, and mimic the results of currently used antidepressant pharmaceuticals (fluoxetine). With the observation that chrysin treatment resulted in lowered corticosterone levels, it suggests that the antidepressant activity of chrysin is associated with the HPA axis in mice. One of the key biological abnormalities associated with a depressive disorder is in fact hyperactivity of the HPA axis .
In a study done investigating the activity of chrysin on ischemia/reperfusion injuries in the mouse model , researchers found that mice pre-treated with chrysin, who were then subjected to an induced ischemia in the cerebral artery for one hour, followed by reperfusion, had reduced deficit scores, and infarct volumes compared to the control group. Researchers in this study suggest that the results were due to the anti inflammatory, and anti-oxidative effects of chrysin.
In a separate study, the ethanol extract of P. feotida (100 mg/kg) was found to possess "highly acute anti-inflammatory effect" in mice .
Infusions of Passiflora edulis, P. setacea, P. nitida, P. tenufila, all had antioxidant profiles comparable or higher than that of green tea .
P. maliformis leaf methanol extract was shown to have the most significant source of TPC, and strongest antioxidant activity. For stem extracts, P. quadrangularis methanol extract had the highest phenolic levels, and possessed the highest antioxidant activity .
Passiflora spp, contains a group of harmane alkaloids , which have been the subject of many studies. This class of alkaloids has been shown to inhibit muscle contraction, through inhibition of different types of calcium channels in rabbit aorta . This class of alkaloids is also hallucinogenic .
A study done in 2002 with mice, suggested that a methanol leaf extract of passionflower was shown to be comparable to the cough suppressant action of codeine . It may be possible that these actions are related to the strong antispasmodic activity of the harmala alkaloids contained within Passiflora spp.
In vitro research involving Passiflora extracts noted the presence of GABA in the extract, which produced a dose-dependant GABAA current in hippocampal slices of mice . This suggests a likely mechanism for the anxiolytic effects by upregulating the parasympathetic nervous system activity. The anxiolytic effects of passionflower extracts have also been noted to be present without inducing sedation. .
Animal studies have shown that chrysin, a monoflavonoid from passion flower is a partial agonist of the benzodiazepine receptors , which are located on and modulate the GABAA receptors (Sieghart, W. 1994). Other studies have shown comparable benefit of passion flower extracts to diazepam on anxious mouse models .
Na+, K+, ATPase Preservation
Other research investigating the effect of passionflower on Na+, K+, ATPase activity in the hippocampus noted a protective effect in the treatment group . A reduction of this enzyme is noted to result from repeated exposure to stress hormones , resulting in atrophy and a reduction in the number of synapses in the hippocampus . The Inhibition of this enzyme is associated with excitotoxic and neuronal damage , which corresponds with the excitotoxic activity associated with anxiety .
One study demonstrated chrysins potential as a potent cardioprotective agent . These researchers determined that the effects were most likely through PPAR-γ activation, modulation of MAPKs and TGF-β inhibition.
Chemoprevention, or chemoprotection, is the use of natural or synthetic chemicals to inhibit, reverse, or delay the process of carcinogenesis . Chrysin has been the subject of multiple studies investigating these effects, and has been found to produce chemoprotective effects in the following cancer cell lines: Oropharyngeal, mammary, melanoma, anaplastic thyroid, pancreatic, liver, gastric, colon, cervical, melanoma, oesophageal, lung, colon, cervical, lung, rectal, glioma, esophageal squamous, leukemia, hepatocellular, neuroblastoma, squamous cell carcinoma, oral, and prostate .
Carcinogenesis takes place through a multistep process, beginning with a cellular transformation of normal cells into cancer cells. Which then proliferates, eventually leading to the establishment of metastatic lesions .
E. R. Kasala et al., (2015) stated that “In vitro and in vivo models have shown that chrysin inhibits cancer growth through induction of apoptosis, alteration of cell cycle and inhibition of angiogenesis, invasion and metastasis without causing any toxicity and undesirable side effects to normal cells”  (page 214). These researchers go on further to say that ”extensive research over the years has made it clear that most chronic illnesses like cancer can only be cured by multi targeted, as opposed to mono-targeted therapy”. This information, along with other research demonstrating chrysins antioxidant , and antinflammatory  effects, suggest that Passiflora spp may well be a viable option during cancer treatment. Utilizing multiple mechanisms to treat and prevent the disease.
In a time where cancer is one of the leading causes of death in both the western world, and the third world , these effects offered by Passiflora spp. may very well be the source of a new standard in cancer treatment protocols.
Contains harmane alkaloids . One study found that harmalone and other harmane alkaloids were able to inhibit calcium channels in vascular and smooth muscle tissue, preventing contraction, thus providing hypotensive effects .
The antioxidant, and antiinflammatory profiles of Passiflora spp, may also play an important role in this pathology.
The flavonoid chrysin, was noted to have neuroprotective effects through anti inflammatory, and antioxidative activity, measured through induced ischemia/reperfusion injury in mice.  The result of this study also showed strong therapeutic possibility of chrysin on the treatment of ischemic stroke, however more research is needed in this area.
Another chemical, maltol, found in Passiflora spp. and is also formed in the natural thermal degradation of starch, has been shown to provide neuroprotective effects against oxidative stress in the brains of mice .
Passiflora spp contains maltol which has documented sedative effects, as well as naturally occurring serotonin .
Since the 1960s, benzodiazepines have been one of the most widely used hypnotic drugs. However it is well known and documented that these drugs also create dependency, tolerance, and rebound insomnia in patients (K. Shinomiya et al., 2005).
The major phytochemicals contained within Passiflora spp. include Alkaloids, phenols, glycosides, flavonoids, passiflorins, polypeptides, and alpha-pyrones .
+ Summary Of Constituents
Passiflora contains: Alpha-alanine, apigenin, chrysin, citric acid (tricarboxylic acid), coumarin, cyclopassifloic acids A-D, cyclopassiflosides I-VI, diethyl malonate, edulan I, edulan II, flavanoids, glutamine, gynocardin, harmane (aka aribine), haraline, harmalol, harmine, harmol, homoorientin, isoorientin, isoschaftoside, isovitexin, kaempferol, loturine, lucenin-2, lutenin-2, luteolin, n-nonacosane, orientin, passicol, passiflorine, passifloric acid, pectin, phenolic acids, phenylalanine, proline, prunasin, quercetin, raffinose, sambunigrin, saponarin, saponaretin, saponarine, schaftoside, scopoletin, serotonin, sitisterol, and stigmasterol.
Other constituents include phenolic compounds, fatty acids (linoleic, linolenic, palmitic, oleic, and myristic acids), formic and butyric acids, coumarins, phytosterols, and essential oils . About 294 volatile compounds have been identified in several passion fruit extracts . Maltol has also been discovered in various Passiflora species, which has documented sedative effects, as well as the neurotransmitter serotonin .
Flavonoids represent 2.5% of P. incarnata with such examples as vitexin, isovitexin, orientin, isoorientin, apigenin, kaempferol, vicenin, lucenin, and saponarin . An HPTLC method has been developed by Pereira et al. (2004) to quantitatively determine the flavonoid contents in the leaves of P. alata, P. edulis, P. caerulea, and P. incarnata. . The flavonoid chrysin is of significant note (also found in propolis, and honey), and has been shown to exhibit significant anxiolytic effects , and has been the focus of many of the studies referred to in this paper, all of which have shown therapeutic value including: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-diabetic, anti-estrogenic, antibacterial, and anti-tumor effects (E.R. Kasala et al., 2015). Taylor, L. (2005)  notes that when flavonoids and glycosides were tested for sedative value separately, an opposite effect resulted. She reasons that only combined, as a whole plant do they produce sedative effects.
+ Harmane Alkaloids
Harmane alkaloids (indole) are also present which are believed to be the cause of the antispasmodic and hypotensive effects. .
+ Cyanogenic Glycosides
Passiflora contains cyanogenic glycosides as a way to defend itself against pests. These glycosides diminish in concentration as the leaves age . On the outside of the blossom, extrafloral nectar glands produce a nectar that is deposited onto the petioles and leaves of the plant. It is this nectar that attracts ants, and wasps, which is thought to be in an attempt for passion flower to defend itself against the coevolved Heliconius caterpillar . The author at this time does not know the chemical constituents of this nectar or its application medicinally.
+ Pharmacology on Dose:
Depending on what the desired effects of the manufactured extract is, various methods may provide better extraction. For example, methanol extracts were found to contain the highest antioxidant content, with high phenolic, and antibacterial properties. (S.D. Ramaiya et al.,2014), however, an infusion of Passiflora edulis was shown to have a higher total phenolic content, and condensed tannins than hydroalcoholic extracts , and even still, hydroalcoholic extracts of P. edulis had higher levels of total flavonoids .
The other factor to note is the effect of these various processes on the heat labile constituents of the plant. As an example, methanol may provide the best extraction of antioxidants, however, cannot be consumed, therefore must be evaporated before use. This process often requires heat and may therefore damage the heat labile constituents in the process, thus using a different, less efficient extraction solvent is perhaps better despite lowered extraction efficiency.
The antifungal activity provided by Passiflora spp. was increased when the living plant tissue is wounded. This is significant if the reason for using Passiflora involves needing anti-fungal properties. .
Passiflora extracts can be tailored greatly based on species choice, extraction method, aspects of how the plant was cultivated, and of course in what dose the plant is used.
Clinical Applications Of Passionflower:
Passionflower is useful for anxiety, mild depression, high blood pressure, and generalised pain. It can be used to treat insomnia, especially that which is characterised by racing thoughts before bedtime.
Passionflower is most commonly used in combination with other herbs, as a way to address any stress or anxiety that may be assciated with the condition being treated.
May potentiate the effects of sedatives including barbiturates and benzodiazepines. May potentiate the effects of SSRI and SNRI medications.
Passiflora spp. is classified by the FDA as “generally regarded as safe” . To study toxicity of this plant, researchers tested an ethanol leaf extract of Passiflora feotida, that was given to mice in doses of 2000 mg/kg with no mortality and no alteration in behaviour. .
There may be an Interaction with barbiturates, benzodiazepines with Passiflora spp. There is a possibility for it to potentiate its effects, caution should be used as it may increase sedation. This effect may actually be beneficial, but needs more clinical study. .
Commonly combined with such herbs as valerian, hops, hypericum, Melissa officinalis .
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(Updated November 2018)
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