Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a perennial climbing vine that grows up to 10 meters in length. It is decorated by one of nature’s most graceful and magnificent flowers, which boast white petals and blue/magenta sepals. The plant is native to the southeastern regions of the Americas, however it is now cultivated throughout Europe, where it is commonly used as a calming herb for conditions such as anxiety and insomnia. Though not technically a sedative, it has a calming effect, and is used in a manner that is similar to herbs like valerian and kava. Passionflower is also used for an array of other conditions, which include seizures, hysteria, asthma, menopause, ADHD, nervousness, high blood pressure, and pain relief.
This gorgeous expression of Mother Nature’s fine art may have the potential to bring relief to a portion of the 40 million adults in the United States suffering from anxiety disorders. An article published by the University of Maryland Medical Center states that, “Scientists believe passionflower works by increasing levels of a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA lowers the activity of some brain cells, making you feel more relaxed.”
A paper detailing a study performed at VivaCell Biotechnology in Germany notes that passionflower is an important herbal medicine for the treatment of anxiety, nervousness, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and insomnia. Since it’s increasingly understood that dysfunction of the GABA system is present in many neuropsychiatric conditions, including anxiety, the researchers decided to investigate the effects of passionflower on the GABA system. Upon testing extracts from the plant on rats, it was discovered that passionflower could be classified as an antagonist of the GABA(B) receptor and that the plant’s pharmacological effects take place due to modulation of the GABA system.
Another interesting study was conducted at the Dr. Ali Shariati Hospital in Iran to explore the anxiety reducing power of passionflower in patients about to undergo surgery. 60 patients were separated into two groups and received either 500 mg of oral passionflower or a placebo as premedication 90 minutes prior to surgery. The patients’ level of anxiety was then assessed at different intervals after administration using a numerical rating scale. The study concluded that, “In outpatient surgery, administration of oral Passiflora incarnata as a premedication reduces anxiety without inducing sedation.”
Further research out of the Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran compared the efficacy of passionflower and oxazepam — a pharmaceutical belonging to a group of drugs called benzodiazepines that are used to treat generalized anxiety disorder. These drugs are known to cause birth defects, confusion, and jaundice, so a less potentially harmful alternative is highly desirable. The results of the Tehran University study showed that although it had a slower onset, passionflower extract was just as effective in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder, and provoked no impairment of job performance, as was the case with oxazepam.
Reset contacted naturopathic practitioner, holistic real food nutritional consultant, and blogger, Melissa Malinowski of Integrative Nutritional Therapies, to find out more about how passionflower can help those with anxiety and other mental health disorders.
“Passionflower is one of my absolute favorite herbs,” Malinowski enthuses. “It provides great stability for the nervous system.”
She continues, ”GABA is considered the calming or braking neurotransmitter. Passionflower acts as a GABA precursor. You may be low in the neurotransmitter GABA if you experience muscle tension (especially in the neck, jaw, shoulders, and chest), restlessness, anxiety, depression, feelings of dread, worry, fear, insomnia, irritability, ups and downs in mood, inability to focus, OCD, phobias, acid reflux, IBS, constipation or diarrhea, chronic pain, addiction, PMS or excessive sweating.
“I recommend using passionflower in lower to medium doses for calming and focus, and in higher doses for insomnia or panic. It’s great for pain too as it helps relax muscles as well as your mind. I actually use Valerian Complex, which is a combination of valerian root and rhizome, passionflower, and jujube seed, which I find to be very effective. Drinking passionflower tea morning, afternoon or night is a great way to calm the sympathetic nervous system.”