Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

Passionflower, or Passiflora incarnata in Latin, is a flower and herb that you only need to see once to recognize again and again.  It’s distinct looks set it apart from any other botanical.   Each flower has five petals and and five sepals of varying colors from magenta to blue.  Folklore has it that its corona resembles the crown of thorns worn by Christ, and the spiral tendrils were said to represent the lashes He endured, while the central flower column represented the pillar of scourging.

Early explorers felt that the passion flower had a special purpose to promote the spiritual life among the people where it grew,” wrote Patrick Jesse Pons-Worley, author of The Passionfruit Cookbook. “The spiraled tendons of the plant, he notes, were taken as symbols of the lashes Christ endured, and the central flower column as the pillar of the scourging. The 72 radial filaments of the flower were seen as the crown of thorns; the three stigmas as symbols of the nails used in the crucifixion, as well as the holy Trinity; the five anthers, as the five wounds of Christ; and the style as the sponge doused in vinegar used to moisten Christ’s lips. Taken together, the five petals and five sepals were used to refer to the ten apostles who did not either betray or deny Christ. The fragrance of the flower, continued Pons-Worley, helped recall the spices used to embalm the body of Christ. Finally, its globular egg-size fruit was taken as a symbol of the world that Christ saved through his suffering.

Passionflower is a good source of Vitamin A and potassium, passion fruit is available throughout the year from various regions.  Keep this in mind when looking to grow passionflower yourself:

  • Purple-skinned varieties are most common; but you may also see yellow-skinned passion fruit. The flesh of the purple types is usually sweeter.
  • “Wrinkled fruits are more ripe than non-wrinkled fruits,” noted Jonathan Crane, a tropical fruit specialist with the University of Florida. “If you want to use it right way, get a wrinkled one.” If none of the fruit is wrinkled, leave it out on your counter for a few days.
  • Darkening is another sign of ripening.
  • The fruit’s seeds are edible (and provide a good dose of fiber). If you prefer not to eat the seeds, strain them out by placing the flesh in a strainer and pushing on the pulp with the back of a spoon.
  • Passion fruit may be marketed under several Spanish names. These include labeled chinola, granadilla, maracuja, parcha, and parchita.   (Hubbs-Kreft, 2012)

I use passionflower, however, in teas, infusions and capsules.  It has a sedative action which is used as a sleep aid.  Scientists believe it works by increasing GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) in the brain.  GABA is the chemical in your brain that signals the body “Lights off! TV off! Computer off! It’s time for sleep!”

Studies of people with generalized anxiety disorder show that passionflower is as effective as the drug oxazepam (Serax) for treating symptoms. Passionflower didn’t work as quickly as oxazepam (day 7 compared to day 4). However, it produced less impairment on job performance than oxazepam. Other studies show that patients who were given passionflower before surgery had less anxiety than those given a placebo, but they recovered from anesthesia just as quickly.  (University of Maryland, 2014).

The University of Maryland advises precautions and possible drug interactions.


No studies have examined the effects of passionflower in children, so do not give passionflower to a child without a doctor’s supervision. Adjust the recommended adult dose to account for the child’s weight.


The following are examples of forms and doses used for adults. Speak to your doctor for specific recommendations for your condition:

  • Tea: Steep 0.5 to 2 g (about 1 tsp.) of dried herb in 1 cup boiling water for 10 minutes; strain and cool. For anxiety, drink 3 to 4 cups per day. For insomnia, drink 1 cup an hour before going to bed.
  • Fluid extract (1:1 in 25% alcohol): 10 to 20 drops, 3 times a day
  • Tincture (1:5 in 45% alcohol): 10 to 45 drops, 3 times a day


The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.

Do not take passionflower if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

For others, passionflower is generally considered to be safe and nontoxic in recommended doses and for less than 2 months at a time.

Possible Interactions

Passionflower may interact with the following medications:

Sedatives (drugs that cause sleepiness) — Because of its calming effect, passionflower may make the effects of sedative medications stronger. These medications include:

  • Anticonvulsants such as phenytoin (Dilantin)
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium)
  • Drugs for insomnia, such as zolpidem (Ambien), zaleplon (Sonata), eszopiclone (Lunesta), ramelteon (Rozerem)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil), amoxapine, doxepin (Sinequan), and nortriptyline (Pamelor)

Antiplatelets and anticoagulants (blood thinners) — Passionflower may increase the amount of time blood needs to clot, so it could make the effects of blood thinning medications stronger and increase your risk of bleeding. Blood thinning drugs include:

  • Clopidogrel (Plavix)
  • Warfarin (Coumadin)
  • Aspirin

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAO inhibitors or MAOIs) — MAO inhibitors are an older class of antidepressants that are not often prescribed now. Theoretically, passionflower might increase the effects of MAOIs, as well as their side effects, which can be dangerous. These drugs include:

  • Isocarboxazid (Marplan)
  • Phenelzine (Nardil)
  • Tranylcypromine (Parnate)

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