Passionflower Benefits for Sleep Support
According to Wikipedia, Passiflora incarnata, commonly known as maypop, purple passionflower, true passionflower, wild apricot, and wild passion vine, is a fast-growing perennial vine with climbing or trailing stems.
A member of the passionflower genus Passiflora, the maypop has large, intricate flowers with prominent styles and stamens. One of the hardiest species of passionflower, it is a common wildflower in the southern United States.
Passionflower is the common name of any one of the approximately 400 species of the plant genus Passiflora. Native to warm climates in North and South America, many species are now cultivated around the world for their colorful flowers and tasty fruit. Passion flower is also known for its therapeutic benefits. For hundreds of years, people used it as an herbal sedative, stress reducer, sleep aid, and many other applications.
History and Etymology
Natives of both North and South America used passion flower for food, drink, and therapeutic purposes for hundreds of years before the plant was first introduced to European explorers. By the 18th century, passion flower gained popularity in Europe as a remedy for epilepsy and insomnia. Today, the plant is cultivated worldwide.
With a name like “passionflower,” you might think the plant was traditionally used as some sort of aphrodisiac, like horny goat weed. Nothing could be further from the truth. The “passion” in passion flower actually refers to the passion of Christ. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish missionaries in Peru saw the unusual flower as a symbol of the crucifixion. The blue and white colors of the flower were thought to stand for heaven and purity, the radial filaments symbolized the crown of thorns, and the tendrils represented Roman whips.
Various Species of Passionflower
The genus Passiflora contains over 500 different species, many of which are hybrids. Passiflora incarnata is the species most appreciated for its therapeutic benefits. Also known as maypop, P. incarnata is native to the southern United States but used throughout the world.
Passiflora edulis is a South American species widely cultivated for its fruit. While many species of Passiflora bear edible fruit, P. edulis is the one that bears “passion fruit.” Passion fruit comes in two forms—the standard purple fruit and a yellow variety.
Passiflora alata, also known as wing-stem passion flower or fragrant granadilla, is another South American species. It’s known for its therapeutic applications and prized for its fruit. It’s earned the British Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, a prestigious distinction of excellence in the gardening world.
Passiflora quadrangularis, also known as giant granadilla, produces the largest fruits (about the size of a football) of all Passiflora. These fruits are used in desserts, juice, and medicine. The leaves are made into tea and poultices.
Promotes a Balanced Mood
Passion flower is best known for its relaxing and calming effects. Multiple human and animal studies have confirmed it’s effective at supporting a balanced mood without harmful side effects. Studies have found that while prescription medications work faster, they also produce problems, including dizziness and job-related impairment. Passion flower is far more gentle.
Combining passion flower with other calming herbs can increase its potency. A randomized, placebo-controlled study revealed that a combination of passion flower, valerian, and St. John’s wort had positive effects on mood without causing cognitive impairment.
Promotes Restful Sleep
Passion flower is commonly used to support restful sleep and the evidence to support this use isn’t just anecdotal. Multiple studies confirm the plant’s ability to help you get a good night’s rest. In 2011, a double-blind investigation found that participants who drank passion flower tea reported better sleep quality than the placebo group.
Effect on Involuntary Muscle Contractions
Some studies have found that passion flower extract delays the onset and decreases the duration of involuntary muscle contractions. Interestingly, it also seems to reduce unhappy feelings after involuntary muscle contraction episodes whereas standard treatments tend to increase them. No conclusions can be drawn at this time but further research could uncover hope for those who suffer from involuntary muscle contractions and irregular electrical activity in the brain.
May Ease the Symptoms of Withdrawal
Passion flower may provide gentle relief for symptoms of withdrawal. A double-blind, randomized study found that a daily serving of passion flower extract helped address both physical and mental symptoms of withdrawal. What’s more, the extract had no detrimental side effects.
Many smokers start and fail cessation programs because they can’t overcome the nicotine withdrawal. Can passion flower help? Animal studies have found that administration of passion flower extract reduces nicotine withdrawal symptoms. More research is necessary to determine if these effects carry over to humans.
Passion Flower Active Components
Different species of passion flower contain similar, but chemically distinct, compounds. With so many species, identifying the exact components that account for passion flower’s health benefits can be somewhat difficult. And, despite intense investigation, the source of its calming properties is still up for speculation.
One theory attributes credit to a particular alkaloid compound in the plant. The many species of Passiflora contain many different alkaloid compounds and the most studied is harmine.
Harmine is a beta-carboline alkaloid known to possess a variety of pharmacological effects. It helps slow the breakdown of neurotransmitters, improves insulin sensitivity, relaxes blood vessels, encourages bone health, and supports a balanced mood.
"Passionflower is also host to several flavonoids including apigenin, orientin, swertiamarin, quercetin, kaempferol, vitexin, and chrysin. Any one of, or combination of, these phytochemicals could contribute to the plant’s therapeutic effects. Flavonoids are a large group of phytochemicals that have been analyzed for neuroprotective activity. They also exhibit soothing, equilibrium-seeking effects," writes the Global Healing Center regarding passionflower.