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P For Passionflower

Posted by Manuela Boyle on 19 April 2022
P For Passionflower

Spanish conquerors of the Americas first learned of passion flower from pre-colonial (before 1492) people who traditionally used it as a sedative to treat insomnia and nervousness. They took passion flower to Europe where it became widely cultivated and was introduced to European folk medicine.  It became a popular traditional botanical medicine, as well as a homoeopathic remedy, for the relief of mild symptoms of mental stress, anxiety and mild sleep disorder.

A number of species, including Passiflora edulis, are grown for their edible fruits, while many others are raised as ornamentals for their unusual and often spectacular flowers. Several species have a history of use as traditional herbal medicines, including P. incarnata, which is widely used in contemporary Western phytotherapy.

Passion flower is not a reference to earthly passions but rather the word Passiflora is derived from passio, the Latin for suffering. Flora comes from the Latin name of Flora, the goddess of plants, flowers and fertility in Roman mythology. Incarnata means “in the flesh”. Passio has been used to describe the sufferings of Christ between the night of the Last Supper and his death. Spanish missionaries in South America in the 1500s saw in the plant, and flower, symbols of Jesus’ scourging, crowning with thorns and crucifixion. The three pistils of the stigma became the nails of the cross; the five petals and five sepals became the 10 apostles (omitting Peter, who denied Christ, and Judas the betrayer), the anthers were the five wounds and the purple corona of filaments was the crown of thorns. It was known by the Spanish as ‘La Flor de las Cinco Llagas’ or the ‘The Flower With The Five Wounds’.

A recent systematic review confirmed the traditional uses of passion flower. It concluded that passion flower seems to be an effective and safe treatment to reduce stress sensitivity, insomnia, anxiety and depression-like behaviours. This review evaluated the effects of passion flower in neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder, major depressive disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Academic interest in these disorders has been growing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the related upsurge in anxiety and depression. Nine clinical trials were included in the paper. The reviewed studies analysed the effects of passion flower on anxiety levels experienced by patients during medical interventions, including spinal anaesthesia, dental procedures or surgery, as well as on sleep quality and cognitive functions. In eight papers the study subjects were healthy and, in one, passion flower was given to patients with a diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder. The reviewers concluded that passion flower has the potential to alleviate some symptoms of neuropsychiatric origin and the anti-anxiety effect is comparable to drugs such as oxazepam (a benzodiazepine used for anxiety and insomnia) or midazolam (a benzodiazepine used for mild sedation, trouble sleeping and severe agitation).

Christine Thomas
Herbalist and Technical Writer

Author:Manuela Boyle
Tags:NewsEvidence Based ResearchCancerHerbal MedicineWellness


  • The Institute for Functional Medicine
  • Society for Integrative Oncology
  • Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia
  • Australian Traditional-Medicine Society
  • British Naturopathic Association