Native Americans have another pearl in their ancient herbal pharmacy – passionflower. This plant has stunning flowers, delicious fruits, and vital health benefits. Herbalists around the world use it for anxiety, seizures, pain, sleep issues, and more. Read on to see if passionflower helps with these conditions and how it got this peculiar name.

What is Passion Flower?

Over 500 different species of passionflower (Passiflora) belong to the Passifloraceae family of herbs. The most common ones include [1]:

  • Passiflora incarnata – purple passionflower
  • Passiflora caerulea – blue passionflower
  • Passiflora edulis – “passion fruit” or maracuja
  • Passiflora foetida – “stinking” passionflower

Most species are climbing vines while some grow as shrubs or small trees. In late spring, they bloom large and beautiful flowers which last only a day.

Spanish conquistadors named this unique flower after the “Passion of Christ“; they found a complex symbolism between the numbers of flower parts and certain events from the last days of Jesus’ life. The flower also resembles a clock, and many nations call it a “clock-flower.”

Passion flowers are native to Latin America, but they grow well in any tropical area. People cultivate them for their sensational flowers and delicious fruits.

Did you know? Passionflower is the official wildflower of Tennessee. It also inspired a favorite French book for children: “La Famille Passiflore.”

People around the globe enjoy the fruit of Passiflora edulis, the famous “passion fruit” or maracuja. Native Americans also use dried leaves of passion flower for smoking.

Medicinal Uses

Purple passionflower or maypop (Passiflora incarnata) has a long history of use in traditional medicine. This evergreen vine climbs up to 6 m and tolerates urban conditions, including roadsides and waste grounds.

Native Americans have used passionflower for insomnia (sleep issues), anxiety, seizures, pain, and more. The colonists adopted this calming herb and made it an essential remedy in European herbalism.

Other traditions have used passion flower to combat muscle cramps, asthma, and even cancer. Its relaxing properties are even more popular nowadays, as a promising solution for stressful life and mental distractions [1, 2+, 3].

Snapshot of Passion Flower

PROS:

  • Relieves anxiety
  • Boosts sleep quality
  • Helps with substance dependence
  • Improves attention
  • May help with depression and brain damage
  • May prevent cancer growth
  • May cut blood sugar and cholesterol
  • May ease the pain

CONS:

  • Not well studied in humans
  • May cause weakness and digestive issues
  • Interacts with psychoactive drugs
  • Dangerous for pregnant women

Components

Although we call it passionflower, the whole herb has medicinal value. The above-ground parts contain a wide range of bioactive components, such as [1+, 4]:

  • Flavonoids: vitexin, isovitexin, apigenin, chrysin, orientin
  • Indole alkaloids: harman, harmin, harmaline, harmol
  • Phenolic acids: formic acid, butyric acid, GABA
  • Fatty acids: linoleic, palmitic, oleic
  • Cyanogenic glycosides
  • Maltol
  • Essential oils

Standardized passionflower (P. incarnata) extracts contain 3.5% or 7% of total flavonoids, expressed as vitexin or isovitexin [1+].

Components and medicinal properties vary between the species. Passiflora edulis is famous for its sweet fruit, commonly called passion fruit, but it has weak therapeutic value [1+].

Mechanism of Action

Flavonoids from passionflower can combat inflammation and free-radical damage, prevent the growth of cancer cells, block pain signals, and more [5, 6, 7].

They also activate the GABA receptors in the brain, supporting relaxation and repair. The presence of GABA in passionflower enhances these effects [1+, 8, 9].

Indole alkaloids may boost crucial molecules in the brain – dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin – by blocking an enzyme that transforms them (MAO). This effect may protect against depression and other mental disorders [10, 11].

Thanks to a unique blend of these components, passionflower works to [12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17]:

  • Relax your mind and protect your brain against damage
  • Soothe your lungs
  • Boost your metabolism and cardiovascular health
  • Prevent the growth of cancer
  • Relieve pain and inflammation

Health Benefits of Passion Flower

Note: All studies and health benefits refer to purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) unless stated otherwise.

1) Passion Flower for Anxiety

Up to 13% of people in the US suffer from anxiety, making it the most common mental disorder. Conventional treatment comes with serious challenges, such as drug dependence [18].

In a clinical trial on 36 patients with general anxiety, passionflower extract (1-month treatment) was as effective as oxazepam, an anti-anxiety drug. What’s more, patients who took the herb performed better on their jobs [12].

In 30 patients, doctors added passionflower to standard treatment with an SSRI drug, sertraline. The patients’ symptoms improved without significant side effects [19].

In a larger clinical trial (182 patients), an herbal mixture with passion flower relieved anxiety in 43% of the patients (vs. 25% placebo). Other herbs likely contributed to the results [20].

Two reviews analyzed the data from 25+ clinical trials and confirmed significant anti-anxiety effects of purple passionflower [21, 22].

Many people experience anxiety when facing surgery or dental procedure. According to clinical trials on 200+ patients, a short-term course of passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) extract can reduce anxiety in such cases [23, 24, 25, 26].

In mice, passionflower activated the GABA receptors in the brain, which relaxed the animals and relieved their anxiety [27, 8].

Passionflower extract and its flavonoid, isovitexin, showed similar action in rats. Besides relaxation, the animals’ memory improved [28, 29].

2) Passion Flower for Sleep

Anxiety and insomnia (sleep issues) often go hand in hand. Conventional therapeutic strategies for insomnia are facing similar challenges, and most drugs aren’t suitable for long-term use [30].

In a clinical trial on 91 patients, an herbal drug with passionflower (P. incarnata) extract boosted sleep quality and duration. It matched the effects of zolpidem, a common sleeping pill [31].

Passionflower tea (1 cup daily for a week) helped 41 people with mild sleep disorders [13].

According to a review of clinical trials and cell experiments, passionflower can relax you and help you fall asleep. Combinations with other calming herbs showed even better results [32].

Many animal trials have confirmed the sleep-promoting benefits of passionflower. The treated animals were less irritated and slept longer [33, 34, 35, 36].

In one study on rats, however, passionflower had no effects on sleeping time or quality [37].

3) Substance Dependence (Addiction)

Any substance that impacts mood – including tobacco, alcohol, street drugs, and medicines – can cause misuse and addiction, often with severe consequences [38+].

Flavonoids from passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) may relieve dependence on [39]:

  • Morphine and other opiates
  • Tobacco (nicotine)
  • Alcohol
  • Cannabis (THC)
  • Psychoactive medicines

Opioids

Misuse of prescription opioids in the US has increased over 3 times since 1990, threatening to become an epidemic [40].

In a clinical trial on 65 patients, passionflower extract (3 ml a day for 2 weeks) greatly reduced the physical symptoms of opiate withdrawal. When added to clonidine (standard treatment), passionflower enhanced mental recovery [41].

Nicotine

In studies on rats, passionflower extract and its flavonoids could relieve nicotine dependence. They blocked the nicotine receptors and decreased withdrawal symptoms such as weight loss, stress, and depression [42, 43, 44].

Alcohol

In mice and rats, passionflower relieved anxiety and numbness due to alcohol withdrawal [45, 46].

Benzodiazepines

Diazepam (Valium) and other benzodiazepines are sedative drugs that often cause tolerance and dependence after long-term treatment. Adding flavonoids from passionflower prevented diazepam dependence in mice [47, 48].

Cannabis (THC)

In mice, passionflower extract countered THC tolerance and reduced withdrawal symptoms [49].

4) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is on the rise among children worldwide. Wrong diagnoses have partly contributed to the stats, but many children do need medical attention and proper treatment [50].

In a clinical trial on 34 children with ADHD, passionflower was as effective as methylphenidate (Ritalin). Children who took the herb experienced fewer side effects such as anxiety and lack of appetite. A small sample size questions the validity of these results [51].

A review of 9 clinical trials (450+ children) evaluated different herbs for ADHD. The researchers found low evidence for passionflower [52].

5) Menopause

Women who enter menopause may experience a range of unpleasant symptoms due to hormonal changes. These range from flushes and headache to anger and depression [53+].

Two reviews gathered data from 20+ clinical trials and concluded that purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) could ease common menopausal symptoms [54, 55].

In a clinical trial on 59 menopausal women, passionflower extract (3 ml a day for 6 weeks) relieved hot flushes, insomnia, and mood issues [56+].

6) Cough

Uncontrolled coughing may hinder extubation (the removal of a breathing tube) and similar procedures. In one clinical trial (138 patients), treatment with 500 mg of passionflower extract prevented coughing and enabled extubation [57].

The above clinical trials with passionflower, although very promising, had notable design flaws we’ll cover in “Limitations and Caveats.”

Health Benefits With Limited Evidence

Passionflower showed the following health benefits in animal and cell studies only.

7) Seizures

In studies on rats and mice with epilepsy, passionflower (P. incarnata) extract [58, 59, 9, 36]:

  • Reduced the duration and severity of seizures
  • Enhanced the brain-protective effects of GABA
  • Maintained normal levels of serotonin and noradrenaline
  • Decreased post-seizure depression and mortality

Vitexin, a flavonoid from passionflower, strengthened the brain tissue and blocked inflammation in rats. As a result, it cut the risk of seizures [60].

Another passionflower flavonoid – chrysin – protected mice against seizures and relaxed their muscles [61].

8) Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases

The beneficial effects of passion flower on the brain don’t end there. In mice and rats, it blocked free-radical brain damage, improving the animals’ cognition and movement [62].

Another type of passionflower, P. cincinnata, prevented the progression of Parkinson’s disease in mice [63].

Vitexin and apigenin (both abundant in passionflower) showed strong protection against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease in animal and cell studies by [64, 65, 66, 67, 68]:

  • Blocking inflammation, oxidative damage, and protein deformation
  • Protecting the brain neurons from death
  • Preventing cognitive and motor impairments

Chrysin also protected the animals’ brains and cut their risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease [69, 70].

9) Depression

Passionflower contains indole alkaloids, which can boost the levels of essential neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline. This feature makes them promising candidates for the development of new antidepressants [10, 11+].

In one study, passionflower extract reduced symptoms of depression in mice [71].

Another animal trial found that passionflower (P. incarnata) boosts the anti-depressant effects of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) [72].

A type of passionflower, famous for its “passion fruit” (P. edulis), relieved the symptoms of depression in mice by raising the levels of serotonin and dopamine [73, 74].

Chrysin, found in different passionflower species, protected mice against depression by blocking brain inflammation and boosting the levels of BDNF and serotonin [75].

The lack of GABA in the brain may also trigger depression, especially in menopause. The stimulating effects of passionflower on GABA receptors could prevent these changes [76, 77, 9].

10) Cancer

Passionflower contains 2 flavonoids with potent anti-cancer effects: vitexin and apigenin. In animal studies, they prevented the growth of [78, 79, 15, 80, 6+, 81+, 82, 83]:

  • Liver cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Stomach cancer

Cell experiments confirmed the ability of vitexin to kill colon and breast cancer cells while sparing healthy ones. It also boosted the effects of chemotherapy [84, 85].

Chrysin can also kill different types of cancer cells and prevent their spreading [86].

11) Cardiovascular Diseases

Vitexin, apigenin, and chrysin reduced heart damage in animal trials by [87, 88, 89, 90, 91]:

  • Preventing cell damage (blocking lipid peroxidation)
  • Boosting antioxidant enzymes
  • Blocking inflammatory molecules (IL-1B, IL-6, NF-κB, TNF-alpha)
  • Protecting heart cells from death

In test tubes, vitexin protected blood vessels against plaque buildup (atherosclerosis) in a similar way [92].

Isovitexin can stimulate the release of nitric oxide (NO), which relaxes blood vessels [93].

12) Diabetes

More than 20 million Americans got diabetes by 2005, making it the 21st-century epidemic. People with diabetes can’t use glucose well due to impaired insulin functions [94+].

In diabetic mice, 2 types of passionflower (P. incarnata and P. suberosa) cut blood glucose levels by enhancing metabolism. They also lowered blood lipids, cholesterol, and body weight [16, 95].

Chrysin, a flavonoid in passionflower, reduced glucose levels and improved insulin function in diabetic rats. Additionally, it blocked inflammation and free-radical damage, supported fat metabolism, and fixed their memory and behavior [96, 97, 98, 99].

Vitexin and isovitexin showed similar activity in both healthy and diabetic rats [100, 101].

In another study on rats, vitexin promoted pancreas healing but didn’t boost insulin function [102].

13) Asthma

In asthmatic guinea-pigs, passionflower extract cut the risk of asthma attacks [103].

Vitexin, isovitexin, and chrysin from passionflower may also relieve asthma and protect the lungs. In studies on rats and mice, they were able to [14, 104, 105, 106, 107]:

  • Block inflammatory molecules in the lungs (cytokines, iNOS, NF-kB, COX-2, etc.)
  • Prevent oxidative damage and cell death
  • Reduce blood levels of IgE, a crucial antibody in allergic reactions
  • Cut mucus production and swelling

14) Pain

Passionflower extract eased the pain due to injuries and impaired nerve function in rats. The herb activated GABA and opioid receptors, relaxing the nerves and blocking pain signals [17, 36].

Vitexin reduced post-surgery pain in mice via the same mechanisms but couldn’t prevent it [108].

Other species of passionflower (P. foetida and P. cincinnata) relieved pain and paw swelling in rats and mice [109, 110, 111].

15) Libido

In one study, passionflower extract boosted libido in male rats and stimulated mating [112].

Flavonoids present in passionflower showed similar effects in rats and mice by raising their testosterone levels. They were able to reverse the negative impact on libido caused by alcohol, nicotine, and drugs [39, 113, 114, 115].

Limitations and Caveats

Passionflower has vast potential as an herbal remedy, but most of its health benefits lack stronger clinical evidence. The following limitations and caveats in the clinical trials prevent us from drawing reliable conclusions:

  • Small sample size [12, 24, 13, 51]
  • Invalid placebo [56, 13]
  • Lack of details about the extract [1+, 41, 19+, 12]
  • Unknown randomization technique [1+, 12, 41, 19+, 51]

Additionally, many animal trials used pure flavonoids, not a passionflower extract. Well-designed clinical trials should confirm the promising health benefits of this herb.

Passion Flower Side Effects

Passionflower was safe in all clinical trials and caused no major side effects. In some people, it may cause [19+, 13, 56+, 31+, 1, 3]:

  • Sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea

The US Food and Drugs Agency (FDA) also proclaimed it safe for human consumption [116].

One woman experienced severe vomiting, abnormal heart rhythm, and weakness after taking regular doses of passionflower for a few days. This report didn’t reveal the details about her condition or other drugs/supplements she was taking [117].

Doctors reported a case of intense allergic reaction triggered by passionflower. Obviously, people allergic to passionflower should steer clear of it [118].

In clinical trials, children of different ages took passionflower and experienced no significant side effects. That said, experts don’t recommend it for children 3 – 12 years old without medical supervision [51, 52, 11, 119].

Pregnant women should avoid passionflower. It may stimulate contractions and even inflict severe damage on newborns [3+, 120].

Drug Interactions

Passionflower has potent effects on the brain and may thus interact with psychoactive drugs.

In one patient, combining valerian and passionflower with a sedative drug, lorazepam, caused handshaking, dizziness, and fatigue [121].

In theory, passionflower may have dangerous interactions with some antidepressants because its alkaloids increase the levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. That said, patients safely combined passionflower extract with an antidepressant in one clinical trial [10, 11+, 122+, 19].

Due to its glucose-lowering potential, passionflower may boost the effects of antidiabetic drugs.

You should always consult a doctor or pharmacist before taking any drug with passionflower.

Combinations With Other Herbs

Calming herbal mixtures are quite popular as herbs enhance each other’s effects and give better results. The following combinations proved efficient in clinical trials:

  • Anxiety and stress: with hawthorn, valerian, and ballota (calming herbs), along with cola and guarana (mild stimulants) [20]
  • Insomnia and irritability: with kava, valerian, and hops [31, 123]
  • Depression: with St. John’s Wort (Hypericum) [72]

Forms of Supplementation

Different herbal mixtures for stress, anxiety, and sleep issues contain passionflower.

As a single herb, pills with dry passionflower extract (250 – 400 mg) are the most popular. Some products are standardized to 3.5% total flavonoids expressed as vitexin or isovitexin.

Tea bags (1 – 2 g of dried herb) and tinctures (liquid extracts) are also available.

How to Make Passion Flower Tea

If you have tea bags, just steep one tea bag in 150 ml of boiling water for 5 – 10 mins.

If you have loose tea (dried herb), measure up to 2 g (approx. 1 tablespoon) and use the same approach. For more details, see “Dosage” below.

Passion Flower Dosage

The following doses showed the best results in clinical trials:

  • Anxiety: 1 – 2 ml/day (tincture) or 250 – 1,000 mg/day (dry extract) for 1 month, or before intervention [12, 19, 23, 25, 124]
  • Sleep: 80 mg of the dry extract (+ other herbs) or 2 g of the dried herb for 1-2 weeks [31, 13]
  • Opiate dependence: 3 ml (60 drops) of tincture daily for 2 weeks. Requires medical supervision [41]
  • ADHD: 0.04 mg/kg of body weight for 2 months (children!) [51]
  • Menopause: 3 ml (60 drops) of tincture daily for 6 weeks [56]
  • Cough: 500 mg of dry extract before intervention [57]

Based on clinical data and traditional uses, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) suggests the following doses [119+]:

  • Infusion (tea): 1 – 2 g of dried herb in 150 ml of boiling water, 1 – 4 times daily
  • Powdered herb: 0.5 – 2 g, 1 – 4 times daily
  • Liquid extract (tincture): 2 – 4 ml (40 – 80 drops) daily

Passion Flower for Anxiety – Reviews

Most users take passion flower (alone or in different combinations) to relieve anxiety and sleep issues. A lot of them reported improved sleep quality, relaxation, increased productivity, and general wellbeing.

Some people, on the other hand, failed to achieve symptom relief and even experienced headaches, drowsiness, and digestive issues.

Many users complain about the poor product quality so make sure to buy from reliable sources.

Takeaway

Over 500 species of vines, shrubs, and small trees share a common name “passionflower.” Many of them give beautiful flowers and delicious fruits, but only purple passionflower (Passiflora Incarnata) has well-documented health benefits.

This evergreen vine is native to Central and South America but grows well in all tropical areas. European colonists have learned about the calming effects of passionflower from Native Americans and spread its use around the globe. In traditional medicine, folks use passionflower to relieve anxiety, sleep issues, seizures, pain, inflammation, and even cancer.

Clinical trials have confirmed brain-healing properties of passionflower, making it a promising candidate for anxiety, insomnia, attention disorders, and substance dependence. According to animal and cell studies, it may also help with brain damage, depression, metabolic diseases, cancer, and more.

Children between 3 – 12 years should take passionflower only under strict medical supervision. Pregnant women and allergic people should avoid it. To avoid potentially dangerous interactions between passionflower and certain drugs, make sure to consult with your doctor before taking it.

Many people use passionflower for anxiety and sleep, and most of them have reported positive experiences.

About the Author

Aleksa Ristic, MSc (Pharmacy)

MS (Pharmacy)

Aleksa received his MS in Pharmacy from the University of Belgrade, his master thesis focusing on protein sources in plant-based diets.

 

Aleksa is passionate about herbal pharmacy, nutrition, and functional medicine. He found a way to merge his two biggest passions—writing and health—and use them for noble purposes. His mission is to bridge the gap between science and everyday life, helping readers improve their health and feel better.

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