The Power of Passionflower

The Power of Passionflower
by Jake Stone, Clinical Intern

Passionflower has dozens of variations in its family, but the one most commonly discussed in terms of medicinal power is Passiflora incarnata. Passionflower is native to southeastern parts of the Americas and is now grown throughout Europe. The above-ground parts (flower, stems, and leaves) of the passionflower are used for medicinal purposes and have been since at least the 1500s. It previously has been used by Native Americans for boils, wounds, earaches, and liver problems, but has more recently been shown to have powerful effects on anxiety and insomnia. P. incarnata has been shown in several studies to help people with generalized anxiety disorder treat symptoms as well as oxazepam. While passionflower takes a few more days to kick in, it produces less impairment on job performance than oxazepam. Another study demonstrated the benefits passionflower had on anxiety for subjects before going into surgery, which were statistically significantly more than the placebo. 

Passionflower’s anti-anxiety and sleep benefit effects can be attributed to its production of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) and some amounts of dopamine. GABA lowers the activity of some brain cells making you feel more relaxed. This is how barbituates, benzodiazepines, and quaaludes function as well.

Minimal research has also shown the potential for P. incarnata to reduce menopause symptoms including headache, depression, insomnia, and anger in comparison to a control group after taking it for between 3 and 6 weeks. Additionally, other members of the Passiflora family might help treat stomach problems. For example, Passiflora foetida and Passiflora serratodigitata both have potential to treat stomach ulcers, as they were shown to do in studies on rats.

Potential side effects include sleepiness, dizziness, and confusion. Passionflower should not be taken with sedative medications as they may amplify their effects.Similarly, it should not be taken alongside antiplatelets or anticoagulants as it may increase blood-thinning, nor should it be taken with MAO inhibitors because it can increase their effects and side effects. Finally, pregnant people and people breastfeeding should not take passionflower, as it has shown to induce contractions if pregnant and impact breast milk production. Best practice for taking any medication, including herbal remedies, involves discussing it with a doctor beforehand. 

To take passionflower, there are four primary ways to ingest it and recommended doses for each. With infusions, use 2.5 grams, 3 or 4 times per day; with teas, use 4-8 grams of dried herb daily; with liquid extract, use 10-30 drops, 3 times per day; and with tinctures use 10-60 drops, 3 times per day. One final note of caution: no research has been done on the use of passionflower in kids, as such it is recommended not to use it unless discussed with a pediatrician. Also, discuss taking any herbal remedies with your OBGYN if you are pregnant or nursing, to be safe.