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passion flowers

Discover the power of Passionflower (Passiflora Incarnata) to help reduce excess nervous energy

Passiflora incarnata is the botanical name for the flowering plant, simply known as ‘Passion flower’. Common names of Passion flower include passion vine, apricot vine, maypop and may apple. In French, it is named ‘fleur de la passion’ and similarly in Italian, ‘fiore della passione’.

It belongs to the Passifloraceae family, where it is the largest genius in the plant family, consisting of over 500 Passiflora sub-species. It is native to tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world such as southern United States, Mexico, South and Central America, and is one of the few Passiflora sub-species that extends to eastern parts of North America, where the Passiflora incarnata plant is indigenous. The flowers are now often cultivated in tropical India and Guatemala.

Active constituents found within the plant are chemical compounds that provide therapeutic health benefits. Some of the constituents found in Passion flower include flavonoids, phytosterols, alkaloids, phenols, glycosides, polypeptides, and in smaller amounts, essential oils. There is also a unique constituent found in this species named passiflorin.

Passion flower is an evergreen, perennial wild flowering herb that grows as a creeping, climbing vine.

There are herbaceous shoots and the stems are thin and woody, yet sturdy, and have endings with spiralled coils. The leaves grow as long as they are broad, between 6-15 cm each, are ovate in shape and have finely serrated edges. Each leaf has an average of three lobes, however in wild variations, up to five lobes have been found. The leaves grow in an alternating pattern along the stem.

There are long, curling tendrils that radiate from the flower intelligently climbing up neighbouring trees or other upright surroundings. The plant can grow up to approximately 10 metres long. The flowers are vibrant, large and solitary, approximately 5-9 cm in diameter. The long peduncles support the flowers, which have five elongated petals. Petals are green on the outside and the colour variations are many, and can be unique to different sub-species. Petals are usually white, with hues of purple and violet, pink or pale red to red – regardless of the colour combination, they are striking and sure to catch the attention of the eye. The upper surface of the flowers have horn like extensions, which are green or yellow in colour and feature hairs along the stigmatic branch. Inside the petals a secondary corolla of petals is found, composed of four threaded wreathes, arranged in a way that forms rays surrounding the axis of the flower. The flowers are distinctively coloured and have a characteristic structure, and in addition to their beautiful appearance, they also carry a lightly sweet fragrance.

Spanish missionaries initially named the plant with reference to the Passion of the Christ due to its striking resemblance to Catholic religious elements symbolising the suffering of Jesus Christ. In Latin, ‘passio’ from ‘pati’ means “to suffer”. The corona is the layer of threaded filaments, which lay above the petals. They are thought to symbolise the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during his crucifixion. The tendrils are curling vines that help the plant to climb and resemble the cords of the whips. The five stamens are the male pollen producing structures, also known as the anthers, and align with the five major wounds of Christ. Above the stamen the female structure is found, known as the ovary, this resembles the hammer which was used. The three stigmas which rise from the ovary signify the nails on the Holy Cross. In addition, the five petals and five sepals combined represent the ten ‘true’ apostles.
The Passion flower plant also has numerous fruiting berries, which we know as Passionfruit. The berry is oval and has many flattened seeds with a yellow to brown covering in the centre. Once the fruit ripens to berries, they turn an orange colour and a yellow coloured pulp can be found inside which is edible and sweet in taste. Overall, it is a deciduous plant, meaning that at the point of maturity it tends to shed its leaves, which happens seasonally after flowering and this is to reveal the fruit which carry its seeds.

The prehistoric uses of Passion flower date back to 8000-2000 B.C., during the late Archaic period in North America. It was first cultivated by Native Americans for its edible fruit. The Aztecs of Mexico had used Passion flower for its health benefits, during the 16th century the explorers of South America first learned of its benefits from the Aztecs. In Peru, a Spanish doctor named Monardes had developed an admiration for the plant, not just for its beauty in the flowers but also the representation of Christ’s passion. He also learned about the uses of Passion flower from the indigenous people and he brought it back to Europe during the 16-17th century, where it became widely cultivated. It was then introduced into European Folk Medicine where it was used for many health conditions. During the mid 1800’s, Passion flower entered North American Medicine.

Passion flower is a plant that has been used for hundreds of years in various traditional paradigms such as Ayurvedic, Unani, Siddha, Native American medicine systems. Predating the entry into European and American conventional medicine, Passion flower has roots as a traditional medicine used as by various cultures, including the Cherokees of Southern Allegheny Mountains, the Houmas of Louisiana, the Aztecs of Mexico and also in American aboriginal medicine, which have all been well documented.

In traditional Western Herbal Medicine, Passion flower is used as a nervous system relaxant. The calmative effects help to decrease excess nervous energy and reduce the symptoms of mild anxiety. Passion flower was also traditionally used in traditional Western Herbal Medicine to assist with relieving feelings of restlessness and sleeplessness, helping to reduce the time to fall asleep while also decreasing disturbed sleep.

Today, Passion flower is recognised in traditional Western Herbal Medicine, mentioned in various official pharmacopeias including those from Germany, France, Switzerland and Egypt and is also included many in monographs, Materia Medica works, established documents, scientific studies and recognised across various official complementary medicine bodies throughout the world.

Commercial Passion flower is available from both wild and cultivated plants. In both traditional and modern times, plant parts including the stem, leaves, flower, fruit and juice have been used, however with further research, the aerial plant parts have shown to be of most therapeutic value. Preparations can be made of fresh and dried plant parts. Common dosages include tablets and capsules, powders and liquids, tinctures, infusions and herbal teas. Passion flower also makes a great garden plant. They are easy to grow in garden soil or potting mix accompanied by an aid for which to climb. They produce fruit that can be harvested and not to forget, they have vibrant, beautiful flowers that also carry a gentle, sweet fragrance. Based on the benefits used in traditional Western Herbal Medicine, Passion flower can be used to help relax the nervous system and reduce excess nervous energy, which can be great to reduce nights of disturbed sleep. Its calmative effects can help to relieve symptoms of mild anxiety and feelings of restlessness.

References available on request

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