scientific name: Passiflora incamata
other common names: Passionflower, maypop, pas-sionaria, maracuya
growing areas: Native to Central and South America and parts of the southern United States; cultivated in Europe and North America
physical description: It is a climbing vine that can grow close to 30 feet long. Maracuja, or passionflower, as it is commonly called, has a three-lobed leaf that resembles a trident. Its flower is distinctive and has five stamens.
traditional uses: Legend has it that following the conquest of the Incas by the Spaniards, a priest, looking for a divine sign that Spain's action was proper, discovered a flower on a vine in the Andes that symbolized the crucifixion of Christ. The flower's five stamens have come to symbolize the five wounds of Christ on the cross, and its three styles stand for the three nails used in the crucifixion.
After its discovery by the priest, passionflower was imported to Europe as a tea and was used as a sedative. In the United States it has been used as a sedative and to treat insomnia, anxiety, and panic. Experts also report that it is used to relax muscles and can relieve the discomfort of menstruation. By reducing anxiety, passionflower may also have other collateral effects on the body, such as lowering high blood pressure.
While passionflower was considered a sedative for many years in the United States, it was reported that the Food and Drug Administration removed it from the list of herbs generally considered as safe in 1978 because it was not proven effective as a sleeping aid. However, in Europe it- is considered safe and useful in treating nervous restlessness.
availability and dosage: It is available as a dried herb, liquid extract, and tincture. Dosages vary. Some herbalists recommend dosages for tea ranging from 0.5 grams to 2.5 grams of the herb in boiling water up to three times daily. Commission E recommends 4 to 8 grams in a preparation. Herbal experts recommend a teaspoon of crushed leaves steeped in a cup of boiling water for about ten minutes to help with insomnia.
contraindications: It has been reported that in Norway a number of patients admitted to a hospital with altered states of consciousness had taken an insomnia remedy that was derived from passionflower. It was believed that the product may have interacted with other drugs to cause an intoxicating effect. Some experts also believe it is contraindicated for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.
Since passionflower appears to act on the central nervous system, it may interact with other depressants. It may also contain a uterine stimulant.
medical research: A series of experiments with mice who received injections of passionflower extracts has shown that the plant contains chemicals that act as a central nervous system depressant. In one French study, mice showed reduced activity when treated with a water extract. In addition, the extract caused the mice to go to sleep when it followed a dose of phenobarbital. But the strength of the tranquilizer seems to depend on the solvent used to prepare the extract. For instance, when an extract was prepared with a water and alcohol agent, the mice appeared to show more activity, not less. Other studies with rodents show general sedative activity of the passionflower extract, including an instance when rats showed diminished activity when they were kept for a three-week period on oral doses of passionflower.