Herbal Nerd Society Exclusive Article

Passion Flower is the general name for a variety of Passiflora species. Passiflora incarnata is the one most often used by herbalists, although P. edulis is the one that’s most commonly known for its fruits, Passionfruit. The tops of either can be used as herbal medicine as can that of P. quadrangularis, P. foetida, P. tetranda, P. carulean, and P. mollissima. For most purposes, though, it’s safe to assume that when an herbalist refers to Passionflower, he or she is talking about P. incarnata.

Passionflower is a North, South, and Central America native climbing vine with big, showy flowers that draw a variety of beneficial or semi-beneficial insects to the garden. Like Peony, Passionflower is a particular favorite with ants and several varieties of butterflies. Ants love the sweet nectar produced by Passionflower’s extraflora nectaries while caterpillars and butterflies prefer Passionflower’s crunch leaves. (For a truly terrific look into the relationship between ants, butterflies, caterpillars, and Passionflower, see Chestnut School of Herbalism’s article on Passionflower.)

What distinguishes Passionflower from other Sedative Herbs?

Many sedative herbs relax the nervous system to the point of causing drowsiness, sometimes leading to good or normal sleep and sometimes less so. Passionflower is distinctive as a sedative because it works to calm the mind and nervous system without suppressing it. Rather than dulling the senses or tamping the internal fire, Passionflower relaxes the neurons and accompanying systems. The result is a quieted and more focused mind without drowsiness; You can take Passionflower by day or night to help soothe jumbled up or chattering, twisting, repeating thoughts just as you’d apply Polygonatum or Solomon’s Seal topically to ligaments to loosen them. It’ll help release the tension that keeps those thoughts bound up and swirling around without inducing drowsiness.

Beyond use as a sedative, P. incarnata has been used as an antioxidant and to ease anxiety. Research shows a promising level of antimicrobial, analgesic, and anti-tumor activity in the Passiflora species, including p. incarnata, supporting many traditional uses of this herb. Traditional uses for P. incarnata include menopausal symptoms (particularly insomnia, hotflashes, and anxiety), heart disease (often paired with Hawthorn), a variety of fungal and bacterial conditions, as well as epilepsy, diarrhea, and dysentery.

Get Growing with Passiflora incarnata

If you’re living in a tropical or semi-tropical region, P. incarnata will likely grow with ease. The vines may take a year or two to establish, but once they do they’ll grow as much as 30 feet in length or more. You’ll need a sturdy support, such as a wall, trellice, or fence to support the weight of the vines. A support as sturdy as or nearly as sturdy as one you’d use for Grapes will suffice.

Runners will help the vine to colonize, spreading easily 10 feet or more if the conditions are right. As a perennial, P. incarnata will come back annually, although some folks have reported that after some years the entire colony can vanish inexplicably. If you love your Passionflower vines, it’ll pay to gather seeds annually and know how to get them started should such an event strike your garden. Be aware, though, that seed germination with P. incarnata is a little erratic and can be tricky. (Chestnut Herb School has a terrific how-to on germinating P. incarnata seeds.)

Passiflora incarnata likes full sun to partial shade. You’ll get stronger growth and more potential tops and flowers or fruits with a sunnier location. Temperatures dipping as low as -10 F (-23 C) or Zone 6 in the USA are comfortable for P. incarnata, especially when the soil is rich, loamy, and relatively dry. Passionflower is fairly drought, cold, and heat resistant, making it a surprisingly easy herb to add to the garden even for beginners.