Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) was used in traditional remedies
as a "calming" herb for anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and hysteria. During the
early twentieth century, this herb was included in many over-the-counter
sedatives and sleep aids. In 1978, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
banned these preparations due to a lack of proven effectiveness. In Germany,
however, passionflower is available as an over-the-counter sedative (in
combination with other calming herbs such as valerian and lemon balm). It is
also used in German homeopathic medicine to treat pain, insomnia, and nervous
restlessness. Today, professional herbalists use passionflower (often in
combination with other calming herbs) to help treat insomnia, tension, and other
health problems related to anxiety and nervousness.
Native to the southeastern regions of North America, passionflower is now
grown throughout Europe. It is a perennial climbing vine with herbaceous shoots
and a sturdy woody stem that grows to a length of nearly 10 meters. Each flower
has petals varying in color from white to pale red. Inside the petals are
wreaths that form rays and surround the axis of the flower. According to
folklore, the passionflower was given its name because its corona resembles the
crown of thorns worn by Jesus during the crucifixion. The passionflower's ripe
fruit is an orange-colored, multi-seeded, egg-shaped berry containing an edible,
sweetish yellow pulp.
The above-ground parts (flowers, leaves, and stems) of the passionflower are
used for medicinal purposes.
Medicinal Uses and Indications
Although the safety and effectiveness of passionflower have not been
thoroughly investigated in scientific studies, many professional herbalists
report that this herb is effective in relieving anxiety, insomnia, and related
nervous disorders. Also, there are some over the counter remedies for attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that contain passionflower along with
valerian, kava, and lemon balm. The safety and effectiveness for these
combination remedies for ADHD is not known, particularly since there have been
case reports of hepatitis from kava.
One recent study including 36 men and women with generalized anxiety disorder
found that passionflower was as effective as a leading anti-anxiety medication
when taken for one month. A second study including 91 people with anxiety
symptoms revealed that an herbal European product containing passionflower and
other herbal sedatives significantly reduced symptoms compared to placebo. An
earlier study, however, failed to detect any benefits from an herbal tablet
containing passionflower, valerian, and other sedative herbs.
Passionflower may also relieve anxiety in people who are recovering from
heroin addiction. In a recent study including 65 heroin addicts, those who
received passionflower in addition to a standard detoxification medication
experienced significantly fewer feelings of anxiety than those who received the
Passionflower preparations are made from fresh or dried flowers and other
above-ground parts of the plant. Both whole and cut raw plant materials are
used. Flowering shoots, growing 10 to 15 cm above the ground, are harvested
after the first fruits have matured and then either air-dried or hay-dried.
Available forms include the following:
How to Take It
Adjust the recommended adult dose to account for the child's weight. Most
herbal dosages for adults are calculated on the basis of a 150 lb (70 kg) adult.
Therefore, if the child weighs 50 lb (20 to 25 kg), the appropriate dose of
passionflower for this child would be 1/3 of the adult dosage.
The following are recommended adult doses for passionflower:
Infusion: 2 to 5 grams of dried herb three times a day
Fluid extract (1:1 in 25% alcohol): 10 to 30 drops, three times a day
Tincture (1:5 in 45% alcohol): 10 to 60 drops, three times a day
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and
treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger
side effects and that can interact with other herbs, supplements, or
medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, preferably
under the supervision of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical
In general, passionflower is considered to be safe and nontoxic. However,
there are isolated reports of adverse reactions associated with this herb.
Nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and rapid heartbeat are among some of the adverse
Do not take passionflower if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Sedatives An animal study has demonstrated that passionflower
enhances the effects of pentobarbital, a medication used to promote sleep and
for seizure disorders. Caution is advised when taking passionflower with
sedatives because the herb may increase the effects of these substances.
Additional examples of medications with sedative properties include certain
antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine and hydroxyzine; drugs for anxiety, like
a class called benzodiazipines including diazepam and lorazepam; and other
medications used to treat insomnia. Interestingly, passionflower appears to work
similarly to benzodiazipines.
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Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Jacqueline A. Hart, MD,
Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University
and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh
(Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven
Ottariono, RPh, Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; David
Winston, Herbalist (September 1999), Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington,
NJ. All interaction sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts
including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works,
Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown,
CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant
Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; President, Your
Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; R. Lynn Shumake, PD (March 2000),
Director, Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary &
Healing Arts, University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; Ira Zunin,
MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for
Integrative Medicine, Honolulu, HI.
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guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information
provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare
practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts)
regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed