February is a month of passion, and thus we have chosen Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) as our Herb of the Month. Revered by many groups of people throughout history, Passiflora’s cross continent adventures have brought healing in the areas affected by colonization and beyond.

Passionflower is native to Central and South America and was first cultivated for its edible fruit. Spanish missionaries invaded the new world and learned of the plant from the Aztecs, who used it for insomnia and nervousness. The unique form of Passiflora’s whitish, violet flowers and three pronged leaves inspired Spanish colonizers to name it in reference to the passion of Christ: the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The plant was then introduced into the European herbal medicine compendium and became popularized.

Ethnobotanical literature cites the use of the plant’s roots, while modern herbalism utilizes the flowers, leaves, and stems. The leaves and stalks are used as a tea, can be smoked, or made into capsules or tinctures. The plant is a prime example of ecological mutualism. Passionflower’s sweet, pineapple-like scent attracts ants. The ants in turn defend the plant from bugs and animals that would eat it otherwise.

Dried passionflower leaves

Passionflower is mildly bitter, and slightly cooling and drying within the body. The chemical constituents of Passiflora have calming, sleep inducing, and antispasmodic effects. Rather than forcing sleep, passionflower works on the central nervous system to encourage rest that may have been disrupted due to stress, muscle spasms, circular thinking, or other discomforts. Passionflower is the most sedative of the nerve calming herbs (nervines). However, it is well suited for daytime use, and doesn’t cause grogginess the next day. On an energetic level, passionflower can ground the user and open the heart to encourage a deeper connection with others. The tea can be used externally for burns, pain, inflammation, and hemorrhoids.

More investigation is required to discern which of the plant’s many active ingredients contributes to its health benefits. There is evidence that Passiflora extracts increase the effect of the nerve neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain. GABA plays an important role in cognition, behavior, and the body’s response to stress. A deficiency in GABA can lead to tension and restlessness. The cannabis constituent cannabidiol (CBD) has been found to reduce anxiety by changing the shape of the GABA-A receptor in a manner that boosts the neurotransmitter’s natural calming effect. While further research is needed, some users have reported that passionflower potentiates the stress relieving and pain reducing properties of cannabis. Some people have made herbal smoking blends with cannabis and passionflower to experiment with effect.

When smoked, passionflower produces a short lasting, tranquilizing high. The herb may also be beneficial for interrupting nicotine withdrawals. Passionflower can act as a safe, short-term MAO inhibitor in larger doses. The plant’s benefits are believed to be more potent when used in combination with other botanicals. Several clinical studies have shown the efficacy of passionflower in conjunction with Valerian, Hops, Lemon Balm, St. John’s Wort, and Lavender for sleep disorders and anxiety.

Conditions the herb has been used for: ADHD, asthma, anxiety, diarrhea, depression, hyperactivity, high blood pressure, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, narcotic drug withdrawal, nicotine cravings, menstrual cramps, menopausal symptoms, nervousness & excitability, neuralgia, pain relief, Parkinson’s disease, seizures, stress.

Usage instructions: As a tea, steep 1 tsp. of the herb in one cup of water. Drink 3-4 times a day. The herb can be smoked for cigarette cravings, stress, or before bed to induce sleep.

Written by Sarah Russo