Monday, February 10, 2014

Herb Profile: Passionflower

The Passionflower is a common roadside weed, found throughout many areas of the Southeastern United States where it often grows in large masses in ditches and open fields. It is actually the state flower of Tennessee! 

Passiflora incarnata derived the early common name of Maypop from the way it just seems to 'pop' out of the ground in May. Maypops were eventually renamed as the Passion Flower by missionaries in the early 1500s.

Passiflora (which is also the homeopathic name for the preparation of this plant), known also as the passion flowers or passion vines, is actually a genus of about 500 species of flowering plants, the namesakes of the family Passifloraceae. (They are mostly vines, with some being shrubs, and a few species being herbaceous.) Nine species of Passiflora are native to the USA, found from Ohio to the north, west to California and south to the Florida Keys.

Passionflowers are considered to be hardy in USDA zones 5-9, but they should be planted in a protected location and mulched heavily if severe cold threatens. Only the top growth is killed back by frost, but your Passion Flower will pop back to life (Maypop!) in the spring.
Passion Flowers are easy to grow. They need partial to full sun, and will adapt themselves to most well-drained soils. During the growing season, the soil should be kept evenly moist, to ensure good flowering and growth. Passion Flower vines should be planted in early spring. They benefit by the addition of compost.

Passionflowers can be propagated by softwood cuttings taken from mature wood in early summer.
Softwood cuttings will take 3 months or longer to root. Passion Flowers can also be grown from seed.
The seeds must be soaked in warm water for 12 hours, before sowing indoors in early spring.
Germination may take up to a year (so be patient!). It is probably a good idea to keep the young plants indoors until the following spring, and then plant them outdoors in their permanent homes.
Passion flowers make excellent container grown plants in the home. Indoors, grow Passion Plants in bright light but never full sun.

Harvesting for Medicinal Use:
Strip leaves from the plant in fall and dry them in a dehydrator, on a drying screen or outdoors in a paper bag (a single layer of leaves at a time). Place dried leaves in an airtight container and keep in a cool, dark spot.

Eating them:
The fruit produced by the Passionflower is an oval berry, a little smaller than a kiwi fruit.
Passionfruit is edible, but it is pretty seedy. Good for jams and the like.

Medically Classified as:
Anodyne, antispasmodic, anxiolytic, aphrodisiac, aromatic, narcotic, sedative.

Medical Uses:
The aerial parts of the plant are used in herbal medicine. You can use it as a tea, in a tincture, or smoke the herb.

Passionflower has a long history of medical use with native Americans: The Houma tribe added it to drinking water as a tonic, and in the Yucatan, it was a remedy for insomnia, hysteria and convulsions in children.  Other tribes used it in poultices to heal bruises, and the early Algonquians brewed passionflower in a tea to soothe their nerves.  In 1783, a visiting European doctor described its use as a remedy for epilepsy, and other early physicians prescribed the fruit juice as a wash for sore and tired eyes.  The plant was largely ignored in conventional North American medicine until the late 1800s, when it became a popular nineteenth-century remedy for insomnia.

Its use was adopted by the European colonists. The fresh or dried leaves of maypop are used to make a tea that is used to treat insomnia, hysteria, and epilepsy, and is also valued for its analgesic properties.

It finally received official recognition in the United States National Formulary from 1916 to 1936.

Passionflower is very useful in the treatment of modern ills such as anxiety, depression, and patients trying to wean themselves from synthetic sleeping pills and tranquilizers.  Despite the dearth of research into Passionflower in the United States (what else is new), the herb is frequently prescribed in Europe to  calm the nerves and ease tension, restlessness, irritability and mild insomnia.

Passionflower has been used to treat sleep disorders and historically in homeopathic medicine to treat pain, insomnia related to neurasthenia or hysteria, and nervous exhaustion. Passionflower is nature's tranquilizer. Many European herbalists prescribe passionflower for insomnia, nervous anxiety and relief of pain and neuralgia. I am personally looking forward to trying it with some fibromyalgia sufferers that I know, in combination with a few other herbs.

Passionflower is a very gentle (but effective) herbal sedative that has a depressant effect on the central nervous system.  The alkaloids and flavonoids are believed to be effective and work as a non-addictive sedative, which promotes restful, sound sleep, particularly in cases of nervous insomnia.  It is one of nature's best natural tranquilizers and has been used for centuries as a reliable remedy for nervous, menopausal and premenstrual tension, irritability, fatigue and tension headaches.

It is said to gently shift moods, alter perception and aid concentration, and the alkaloids are thought to act in a similar way as MAO inhibitors, which may be of some help in cases of depression.  In Italy, passion flower is used to treat hyperactive children.

Its relaxing qualities appear to extend to relaxing spasms and other manifestations of extreme anxiety. As a muscle relaxer, passion flower helps to relieve muscle tension, which may be quite beneficial for restless leg syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Considered a fine herbal pain reliever, passionflower works as an anodyne to alleviate pain, and as such, is used to relieve headache and nerve pain, the pain of shingles and dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation).

Passionflower is thought to relieve hypertension and lower blood pressure.  Some tests claim that it relaxes the walls of the arteries, which may be useful for increasing circulation and maintaining good heart health.

It has been studied in relieving symptoms related to narcotic drug withdrawal, when used in combination with a medication called clonidine. This combination seems to be effective in reducing symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, sleep problems (insomnia), and agitation.

In laboratory tests, passionflower was able to stop the growth of certain kinds of thyroid malignancy, and further research may, hopefully, bring positive results in this area.

There are reports that passionflower stops chemical reactions that cause nausea and vomiting as a result of withdrawal from cocaine, heroine or opiate painkillers, and this may prove useful for those patients trying to withdraw from such substances.  A bitter principle in passionflower is thought to be beneficial for functional digestive problems as well.

Passionflower may help a diminished sex drive. The herb is a source of an antioxidant chemical known as chrysin, which helps the body conserve testosterone.  It does not cause the body to produce more of the hormone, but by conserving it, the action has a direct effect of increasing testosterone levels, which may boost sex drive.

It is often blended with valerian, chamomile, lemon balm, skullcap, St. John's wort, or other relaxing herbs. In tea, it has a pleasant, very mild but unusual taste, much like its fragrance, that is hard to describe. The color of the infusion is a very pale green, lighter in color than most herbal teas. The taste is not at all overwhelming so it could blend well with most any herb or iced tea.

No adverse effects of passion flower have been reported. Avoid use during pregnancy (passion flower is a known uterine stimulant). Since it may cause sleepiness, it should not be used before driving or operating machinery.  Children should never be given this herb in any form, and older adults and older children (twelve) should take low dosages (preferably in consultation with a physician).  Do not use Passion Flower if you take MAO inhibitors, and it should not be taken with other prescription sedatives or sedative herbs or alcohol, as it increases their sedative effects.  Passion Flower may have additive anticoagulant effect.

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