Passionflower (Passifloraceae) is a perennial creeping vine, native to the tropical and semi-tropical Americas from a family with over 500 different species. Common species include P. incarnata, P. edulis, P. alata, P. laurifolia, and P. quadrangularis. Those with edible fruit include P. incarnata, P. edulis, and P. quadrangularis, the latter being one of the major species grown commercially for its fruit. Passionflower was first cultivated by Native Americans for its edible fruit. Spanish conquerors first learned of passionflower from the Aztecs of Mexico, who used it for centuries as a sedative to treat insomnia and nervousness. The plant was taken back to Europe where it became widely cultivated and introduced into European herbal medicine. It is now a plant that grows throughout the world.

Its traditional uses in Native American medicine (by the Cherokees of the southern Allegheny mountains, the Houmas of Louisiana, and the Aztecs of Mexico) are well documented and predate its entry into conventional American and European medicine. It was introduced into North American conventional medicine in the mid-1800s, from Europe, or through native or slave use in the South. Today, passionflower is officially in the national pharmacopeias of Egypt, France, Germany, and Switzerland, and also monographed in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia and the British Herbal Compendium, the ESCOP monographs, the Commission E, the German Standard Licenses, the German Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia, and the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States.

Growing up to a length of ten meters the vine gently attaches to other trees without harming them. The unique, elaborate flowers arise singly from axils, the floral parts purplish blue, pink, and white, fringed. Leaves alternate, deeply 3- or occasionally 5-lobed, on stalks up to 3 inches long. Two small glands are located near the top of the leaf stalk. Fruit fleshy, egg-shaped or nearly spherical, up to 2 inches long, green, becoming yellow at maturity, edible with a sweet pulp like citrus. The unusual construction of its whitish violet flowers caused Spanish missionaries to name this plant with reference to elements of the passion of Christ. Its coronal threads were seen as a symbol for the crown of thorns, the curling tendrils for the cords of the whips, the five stamens for the wounds, the three stigmas for the nails on the cross, the ovary for the hammer, and the five petals and five sepals of the flower for the ten 'true' apostles.

The passion flower fruit is prized for its delicious flavor. It is important to consume the fruit when it is ripe (yellow/orange), as it is toxic when it is green. Unripe fruit can contain poisonous cyanogenic glycosides. Ripe fruits are edible raw or made into jellies. However, it is recommended to only eat ripe fruit from commercial sources like shops and markets.

Ripe Passionfruit

Ripe Fruit

Unripe Passionfruit

Unripe Fruit

Phytotherapeutic Properties and Uses

The approved modern therapeutic applications for passionflower are supportable based on its history of use in well-established systems of traditional and conventional medicine, pharmacodynamic studies supporting its empirically acknowledged sedative and anxiolytic effects, and phytochemical investigations. The properties in passionflower are thought to promote calming effects by increasing the levels of the chemical gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which reduces the activity of some neurons that cause anxiety.

The German Commission E approved the internal use of passionflower for nervous restlessness, mild disorders of sleeplessness, and gastrointestinal disorders of nervous origin.

The British Herbal Compendium indicates its use for sleep disorders, restlessness, nervous stress, and anxiety. Other uses include neuralgia and nervous tachycardia. The available pharmacodynamic studies generally support the empirically accepted central nervous system sedative and anxiolytic effects. The specific constituents responsible for these actions remain unclear and it is possibly a synergy of multiple constituents instead.

The German Standard License for passionflower tea indicates its use for nervous restlessness, mild disorders of sleeplessness, and gastrointestinal disorders of nervous origin. It is frequently used in combination with valerian and other sedative plants.

European Scientific Coope