Passion Flower Benefits

by Dr. Joseph Esposito, D.C., C.C.N., C.N.S., C.T.N., D.A.B.C.N, C.C.S.P.
January 30, 2019

Passion Flower is a beautiful flower, which can be found in both wild and cultivated varieties. It is a powerful nervine, sedative and analgesic, making it a prime herb used to address pain, nervous disorders, and sleeplessness.

What is Passion Flower?

Passion Flower is a flower that is most commonly found in the warmer climates of North, South and Central America. While some of its 400 species are found in cooler climates, it is primarily a tropical plant. Passiflora incarnata is one of three species hardy enough to grow in more temperate climates, and of the many species, roughly 30 of them have edible fruits.

The name “Passion Flower” finds its roots in religious symbolism. The fringed corona which lies beneath the flower body is said to represent the crown of thorns that Christ wore.

Passion Flower is considered an herb and the cultivated forms can be found in most herb gardens.

How Does it Work?

Passion Flower contains large amounts of GABA.

GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and its receptors are distributed throughout the brain, primarily in the basal ganglia and the cortex. GABA is responsible for calming excitatory action in the brain by buffering the neurotransmitter glutamate. When found in appropriate levels in the brain, GABA has muscle relaxant effects.

GABA also reduces hyperexcitability in the brain cells. This is directly correlated with the action of Passion Flower, because this excitability is responsible for such things as muscle cramps, seizures, anxiety, insomnia and other psychiatric disorders.

Passion Flower also contains many other active constituents including flavonoids, harmala alkaloids, maltol, lycopene, and certain flavonoid glycoside components. In addition to the GABA, these flavonoid glycoside components are credited with the sedative, analgesic and anxiolytic effects.

 

Health Benefits of Passion Flower

  1. A Mild Sedative 

    Passion Flower is both a sedative and anxiolytic. To clarify, not all sedatives have significant effects on anxiety. Passion Flower’s sedative effects mediate both anxiety and sleeplessness. This means that while it has calmative and sleep-inducing effects, it is also effective at reducing anxiety.  Due to its sedative properties, it is primarily given to help with nervous restlessness (Passion Flower, 2019). Because it is not a narcotic, but rather a nervine, its effects are generally slower, but work specifically on the nervous system (Foster, 2018). Two human trials have shown the sedative effects of Passion Flower to be equivalent to that of benzodiazepine drugs (Taibi & Landis, 2009, as cited in Passiflora, 2019).

  2. Reduces Anxiety

    Multiple studies have been conducted which indicate Passion Flower is effective at controlling symptoms of anxiety. One study found it to have similar effects to the drug Oxazepam, though with fewer side effects. It has not been studied in children or adolescents [for anxiety], however it shows promise for these groups as it is generally regarded as safe, and side effects are rare (Kapalka, 2010). The mechanism of action is thought to be the GABA content (Ehrlich, 2017). 

  3. Controls Pain and Reduces Inflammation

    In a study using mice, a species of Passion Flower (P. foetida) was used to look at the pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects. Both the leaf extract, and the ethanol extract showed significant pain reduction and anti-inflammatory effects. It is recommended for neuralgia-type pain. (Sasikala, Saravanan & Parimelazhagan, 2011).

  4. Muscle Relaxant

  5. Traditional-use data supports its action as an antispasmodic, meaning that it reduces spasms in the smooth muscles. This is partly due to its relaxant effects on the nervous system (Whelan, 2011). Muscle-relaxant effects are listed in the traditional use data and are likely due to the harmaline content (Natural Standard, 2018).

  6. Combats Insomnia
  7. Rat studies have found Passion Flower to be a significant sleep-inducer, and the study showed an increase in sleep time increments (Guerrero & Medina, 2017). 

  8. Fights Neuralgia and Seizures

    Trials that induced seizures in mice found that a specific extract of Passion Flower (Pasipay) delayed seizure onset and reduced the duration of seizures. (Nassiri-Asl
    ,Shariati-Rad &Zamansoltani, 2007). The flavonoid Chrysin, which is found in Passion Flower has depressant action on the central nervous system, which contributes to its relaxant action on the nerves. In another mouse study, the hydroethanolic extract of Passion Flower was found to significantly reduce seizure severity compared to the other groups (diazepam and placebo). Furthermore, Passion Flower was found to retain the levels of noradrenaline and serotonin in the brain, in addition to ameliorating the post-ictal depression that is a common post-seizure occurrence (Singh, Singh & Goel, 2012)

  9. May be effective for ADHD

    In a small study done with children and adolescents with ADHD, Passion Flower was found to be just as effective as the drug methylphenidate at controlling ADHD symptoms, however methylphenidate was observed to cause side effects such as loss of appetite, anxiety and nervousness. Passion Flower did not demonstrate these side effects in as much frequency, leading the researchers suggest Passion Flower as a potential treatment for ADHD (Akhondzadeh, Mohammadi & Momeni, 2005).

  10. Mediates the Symptoms of Opiate Withdrawals

    In one double blind study, opiate withdrawal treated with clonidine was supplemented with Passion Flower extract. Clonidine used alone for opiate withdrawal lacks efficacy in relation to mediating mental symptoms, [drug craving, anxiety, irritability, agitation, and depression]. When Passion Flower was added as an adjuvant, the efficacy for treating the physical symptoms of opiate withdrawal was equivalent to Clonidine, but with the added benefit of mediating mental symptoms (
    Akhondzadeh, et al., 2002).

  11. Acts as a Cardiac Tonic

    Passion Flower, used in combination with Hawthorn has shown enhanced exercise capacity in those with Congestive Heart Failure, and improvement in symptoms in individuals who have taken the combination extract. It is unknown whether the effects are attributed to Passion Flower or Hawthorn. Passion Flower is usually used in combination with other herbs, so the effects are often considered synergistic by herbalists. Passion Flower has yet to be assessed independently in high quality trials for its effects on the heart (Passion Flower, 2018a)

  12. Balances the Symptoms of Spasmodic Asthma
    Traditional-use data supports the use of Passion Flower to help alleviate the symptoms of spasmodic asthma. The nervine action and influence on GABA receptors from Passiflora are likely the mechanisms behind its soothing action on asthma symptoms. There is a direct relationship between stress, anxiety, and asthma symptoms. When stress and anxiety is mediated, asthma symptoms have been shown to decrease (Goodwin, 2003; Morgan, 2012).

Passion Flower Dosage

Typical adult dosage ranges are as follows:

  • 0.75 to 6 g/day of dried aerial parts of the plant, or prepared as an infusion.
  • 1.5 to 3 mL/day of a 1:1 liquid extract.
  • 3 to 6 mL/day of a 1:2 liquid extract or equivalent capsule/tablet form.
  • 1.5 to 6 mL/day of a 1:8 tincture

Pregnancy safety data classifies the herb as Category B1, meaning there have been no increase in the frequency of malformations to the fetus, nor have there been increased frequency in other harmful effects on the fetus. This data is based in limited use in women. Animal studies have not demonstrated any increase in fetal damage. In rat studies, no teratogenic effects were observed.

Lactation Category C: Compatible with breastfeeding (Mills & Bone, 2005).


Side Effects

Most observed side effects appear to be idiosyncratic in nature, and therefore difficult to quantify. Allergic responses have been observed on occasion.

Some anecdotal cases have listed cardiac, gastrointestinal and dermatologic side effects, but those were isolated individuals.

Severe side effects can occur with overdosing.

Reported side effects have included: Sedation*, dizziness, confusion, ataxia, muscle relaxation*, drowsiness*, allergy symptoms, and epistaxis.

*While the above have been listed as side effects, it should be considered appropriate to experience sedation, muscle relaxation and drowsiness, considering that Passion Flower is a nervine herb with muscle-relaxant properties and is traditionally given as a sleep aid.

A specific herbal product called “Relaxir” is prepared mainly from the fruit of Passion Flower rather than the aerial parts of the herb, and is associated with more severe side effects such as vasculitis.

Other species of Passiflora contain cardiac glycosides, and may result in cardiac side effects. Most medicinal preparations do not utilize these species, however adulteration can occur. If cardiac side effects occur discontinue use and contact a physician.

(Mills & Bone, 2005; Passion Flower, 2018a).

Interactions

Use caution for the following:

  • Barbiturates
    This combination may potentiate sleep. Passion Flower may increase the effects of these medications.

  • CNS depressants
    Because Passion Flower has sedative properties, it may have additive effects when taken with other substances that cause sedation. Use caution if taking with: opiates, benzodiazepines, and alcohol. Other sedative drugs that may see an increase in sedation when used concomitantly with Passion Flower include: phenobarbital (Luminal), secobarbital (Seconal), clonazepam (Klonopin), zolpidem (Ambien), pentobarbital (Nembutal), etc.

  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
    In one case a man taking this medication in combination with Passion Flower and Valerian developed palpitations, shaking, dizziness, and excessive sedation. The symptoms resolved when the herbs were discontinued.

(Passion Flower, 2018a; Passion Flower, 2018b).

Limitations

Many of the clinical studies on Passion Flower are animal studies, and the human studies have small test groups. Beyond relying on traditional use data, more studies are called for to establish the medicinal use in the larger population. Additionally, Passion Flower lends itself to powerful medicinal action when used in combination with other herbs. Combinations have yet to be studied at large. Traditional use supports the combined preparations, but more clinical trials are needed.

Passion Flower is indicated for mild to moderate anxiety, but not for severe disorders.

  

References

  1. Akhondzadeh, S., Kashani, L., Mobaseri, M., Hosseini, S. H., Nikzad, S., & Khani, M.(2002). Passionflower in the treatment of opiates withdrawal: a double-blind randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 26(5), 369–373. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2710.2001.00366.x

  2. Akhondzadeh, S., Mohammadi, M., & Momeni, F. (2005). Passiflora incarnata in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents. Therapy, 2(4), 609–614. https://doi.org/10.2217/14750708.2.4.609

  3. EBSCO Publishing. (2019). Passionflower. Retrieved January 9, 2019, from https://centennialheart.com/hl/?/21836/Passionflower

  4. Ehrlich, S. D. (Ed.). (2017). Complementary and Alternative Medicine - Penn State HersheyMedical Center - Penn State Hershey

  5. Elsas, S., Rossi, D., Raber, J., White, G., Seeley, C., Gregory, W., . . . Soumyanath, A. (2010). Passiflora incarnata L. (Passionflower) extracts elicit GABA currents in hippocampalneurons in vitro, and show anxiogenic and anticonvulsant effects in vivo, varying with extraction method. Phytomedicine: International Journal of Phytotherapy andPhytopharmacology, 17(12), 940-949. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phymed.2010.03.002

  6. Foster, S. (2018). Passiflora incarnata - Herb n' Food. Retrieved January 9, 2019, from http://www.stevenfoster.com/herbalblog/?tag=passiflora-incarnata
  7. Passion Flower | Michigan Medicine. (2019). Retrieved January 10, 2019, from| https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2142002

  8. Goodwin, R. D. (2003). Asthma and anxiety disorders. Advances in Psychosomatic Medicine,24, 51-71. Retrieved January 11, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14584347.

  9. Guerrero, F. A., & Medina, G. M. (2017). Effect of a medicinal plant (Passiflora incarnata L)on sleep.Sleep science (Sao Paulo, Brazil),10(3), 96-100. Retrieved January 13, 2019from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5699852/

  10. Kapalka, G. (2010).Nutritional and Herbal Therapies for Children and Adolescents: A Handbook for Mental Health Clinicians: A volume in Practical Resources for the Mental Health Professional. Retrieved January 13, 2019 from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/passiflora.

    Annotation: The above book contained a chapter on the anti-anxiety effects of Passiflora, and contained a brief literature review where it cited the studies which had looked at the anti-anxiety effects of the plant.

  11. Karaki, H., Kishimoto, T., Ozaki, H., Sakata, K., Umeno, H., & Urakawa, N. (1986). Inhibition ofcalcium channels by harmaline and other harmala alkaloids in vascular and intestinal smooth muscles. British journal of pharmacology, 89(2), 367-375.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3779216

  12. Mills, S., & Bone, K. (2005). The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety. Philadelphia, PA, USA: Churchill Livingston.  

  13. Morgan, S. N. (2012). The Emotional Body: Correlations between traditional chinese medicine and psychosomatic ailments (Master's thesis, Rochester College).

  14. Unpublished. Retrieved fromhttps://www.researchgate.net/publication/330401665_The_Emotional_Body_psych_sem_3_pdf

  15. Nassiri-Asl, M., Shariati-Rad, S., & Zamansoltani, F. (2007). Anticonvulsant effects of aerialparts of Passiflora incarnata extract in mice: Involvement of benzodiazepine and opioidreceptors. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 7(1).https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-7-26  

  16. Natural Medicines. (2018a). Passion Flower [Monograph]. Natural Standard ProfessionalMonograph.Retrieved fromhttps://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=871

  17. Passion Flower. (2018b). Retrieved January 9, 2019, from https://publix.aisle7.net/publix/us/assets/nutritional-supplement/passion-flower/%7Edefault

  18. Peterson, D. (2016). Passion Flower. Advanced Herbal Materia Medica II. HERB 503.(pp.225-233). Portland, OR, USA: American College of Healthcare Sciences.

  19. Ruhoy, I. (2018). GABA: Here's How It Works In Your Brain + Why It's So Important.Retrieved January 9, 2019, fromhttps://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/gaba-what-is-it

  20. Sasikala, V., Saravanan, S., & Parimelazhagan, T. (2011). Analgesic and anti–inflammatoryactivities of Passiflora foetida L.. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine, 4(8),600–603. https://doi.org/10.1016/s1995-7645(11)60155-7

  21. Singh, B., Singh, D., & Goel, R. K. (2012). Dual protective effect of Passiflora incarnata inepilepsy and associated post-ictal depression. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 139(1),273-279. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2011.11.011

  22. Taibi, D.M. and Landis, C. A. (2009). Complementary and Alternative Therapies and theAging Population. Elsevier. Retrieved January 13, 2019 fromhttps://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/passiflora

  23. Whelan, R. J. (2011). Passion Flower. Retrieved January 15, 2019, fromhttps://www.rjwhelan.co.nz/herbs%20A-Z/passionflower.html
Dr. Joseph Esposito, D.C., C.C.N., C.N.S., C.T.N., D.A.B.C.N, C.C.S.P.
Dr. Joseph Esposito, D.C., C.C.N., C.N.S., C.T.N., D.A.B.C.N, C.C.S.P.



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