Passionflower, or passiflora, is a genus of plant that includes more than 550 species, including Passiflora edulis, from which we get passion fruit. This family of plants has been prized for its medicinal properties since antiquity and extracts can still be found in many modern herbal remedies.
The Health Benefits of Passionflower
The Native Americans are said to have been big fans of the passionflower. We’ve looked at some of the claims made about Native American practices in the past, including the fallacy that the practice of burning sage was rooted in their spiritual beliefs, but in this case, it seems like they really did use this herbal remedy.
And they weren’t alone; evidence exists suggesting this herb was also used by other cultures in Central and South America. It was also adopted by Europeans, with most of its use entered around its apparent sedative properties, as discussed below.
1. It Could Help with Anxiety and Insomnia
A number of herbs can apparently induce feelings of calm, but only a handful of those claims can be backed by actual science. The camomile flower is one such herb, promoting feelings of calm and potentially helping with anxiety and stress. Valerian is another and its root could help combat insomnia.
Passionflower can also be added to this list. In fact, its main use in traditional medicine was as a sedative, and it continues to be used for this purpose. Studies on passionflower extracts have led to a marked improvement in the subject’s quality of sleep, as well as a reduction in the amount of time it takes them to fall asleep.
It may also help increase the levels of GABA, which in turn could help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress while potentially acting as an anticonvulsant. (1)
2. It Contains a Number of Antioxidants
Many plants and roots contain an abundance of antioxidant compounds. These compounds can help scavenge free radicals and reduce inflammation in the body, which in turn could reduce a person’s risk of developing a chronic disease. Of course, a few antioxidants will not reverse the damage done by an unhealthy diet and lifestyle, but they can help you live healthily and cleanly.
Some of the antioxidant compounds found in passionflower include quercetin, which is fairly common and can be found in the Indian plant moringa and in ginkgo biloba, as well as in a host of fruits and vegetables, and apigenin, which is present in camomile flowers and is abundant in the herb parsley.
These antioxidants may help support the brain and body in a number of ways. Passionflower is probably not the best herb to consume on a regular basis to get these benefits, simply because it might make you sleepy if consumed throughout the day (as opposed to herbs like sideritis and green tea, which are not psychoactive, have few side effects in large doses, and contain a higher concentration of antioxidant compounds) but it’s good to know that you’re consuming these healthy compounds while you use this herb to tackle insomnia or anxiety.
3. It Soothes the Stomach
Passionflower may also help calm the stomach and has shown to be effective in combating a number of digressive ailments, including ulcers. (2) This is a very promising field of research, but to date, all interesting studies have been conducted on rodents and there have been no conclusive human trials.
If this field of research excites you, take a look at the Greek resin mastic, which could help cure a number of stomach complaints and has a number of human studies behind it.
The Side Effects of Passionflower
Passionflower is considered safe for moderate consumption, but as with everything, you should avoid consuming an excessive amount, stop taking it immediately if you experience adverse reactions, and consult a doctor first if you are taking a lot of medication or have a preexisting illness.
The fact that side effects can also include drowsiness and sleepiness (often a desired effect) means it’s best to consume in the evening and should not be taken prior to operating heavy machinery. You should also consult a medical professional if you are taking any medications that have a sedative effect, as this could be amplified by the passionflower in large doses.
Some of the other common side effects of passionflower include:
- Changes in heart rhythm
- Changes in blood pressure
It’s also best to give this one a miss if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. As with most herbal remedies, it’s more about what we don’t know than what we do know, and it’s always best to be on the safe side. Some herbal remedies, including red raspberry leaf, are recommended for use in pregnancy and seem to be predominantly used during this stage with few reports of adverse reactions, but even in those cases, caution is advised.
Passionflower and MAOIs
A number of passiflora species contain monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), which is one of the biggest issues concerning the use of this herbal remedy. MAOIs have been used extensively as antidepressants, but they are not as common as they once were because they cause a number of potentially dangerous drug interactions.
They can interact with a host of prescription medications, herbal remedies, and recreational drugs. If you are taking any of these medications, prescribed or otherwise, then you may want to consult your doctor before taking passionflower and passionflower extracts.
Generally speaking, however, this is an issue that few people will encounter, as the level of MAOIs in the average dose of passionflower extract is very low and therefore unlikely to cause an adverse reaction. But the risk increases with large doses and with the introduction of other specific circumstances, which is why moderation is essential and caution is advised.
Dosage and Method of Consumption
Passionflower is often consumed as an extract, one that can be made into a tea or taken as a tablet. It can also be purchased as a tincture. The dosage instructions should be listed on the pack and it’s important to follow these closely because different extracts and preparations can lead to drastically different dosages.
Passionflower pills and liquids may also include additional herbs to increase the potency and get more of the desired effects. Pay close attention to the label and make sure you know what you’re taking. You may also want to start with a small dose just to assess tolerance and err on the side of extreme caution.