A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.
The charming passion flower is known by numerous names, some of them being maypop, and apricot vine. The name ‘passion flower' can be extremely misleading; this flower has nothing to do with passion. The name was bestowed on the flower by Spanish explorers and missionaries, who felt that the flower resembled closely the crown of thorns worn by Christ during Christ's passion. Described as a fast growing perennial vine, the Passiflora incarnata L. belongs to the family Passifloraceae. The passion flower was initially introduced into the field of medicine during the early years of the 1840's by Dr L. Phares of Mississippi. The vine grows rapidly in areas from Virginia to southern Illinois and southeast Kansas, and from south to Florida and Texas. It was not until Prof. I. J. M. Goss of Atlanta, Georgia reintroduced the passion flower and its secret recipes from the depths of obscurity into which it had been buried, into the practice of eclectic physicians during the latter half of the nineteenth century that the passion flower gained in popularity and fame. This fast climbing vine with its dried flowers was listed in the National Formulary from 1916 to 1936 but fell into disuse in the United States, although it was renowned for its calming and its sedative properties even at that time. The FDA has not yet recognized the passion flower for its sedative properties, because of lack of evidence for the same, and this means that the flower is not considered to be either safe or effective since 1978. However, in Romania, a chewing gum with the sedative properties and vitamins of the passion flower, in other words, passiflora extract was patented in 1978 and this was widely accepted in that country.
The pharmacological activity of the passion flower has interested researchers through the years, and this is an ongoing process even today. The vine may contain one or more harmala alkaloids, but the number and their real identity are not clear at all, especially because of the fact that such alkaloids generally act more as a stimulant than as a sedative. In Poland, researchers submitted a report that an alkaloid fraction and a flavonoid pigment fraction produced sedative effects in mice, and this caught the attention of Japanese researchers, who subsequently successfully isolated small amounts of the pyrone derivative maltol from an alkaloid-containing extract of the vine, and found that maltol induced depression and produced a sedative impact on the mice. The conclusion was that that the depressant effects of maltol were able to counteract the effects of the stimulant action of the harmala alkaloids, but at the same time, they were not strong enough to state why the plant extract had the sedative effect. Researchers have been able to find certain flavonoids, including vitexin, isovitexin, isoorientin, schaftoside, and isoschaftoside in the passion flower extracts, and they feel that these may in fact contribute to biological activity. However, nothing is clear as yet, and plenty of research may be necessary before the various active principles of the passion flower can be found.
As mentioned earlier, the passion flower has a wonderfully calming and sedative action, and it also acts as a muscle relaxant. When one uses passion flower extract before going to sleep, one can wake up feeling completely refreshed and alert as never before. This is because passion flower has a sedative and antispasmodic action, and this relaxes spasms and tension if any in one's muscles. This in turn calms the nerves and lessens pain, and also lessens anxiety, tensions, and any other type of physical pain that is closely associated with stress, such as colic and asthma, and high blood pressure. Passion flower can also be used in the treatment of neuralgia, sciatica, shingles, muscle pain, Parkinson's disease, and muscle twitching. The extract has also been proved to be useful in various disorders related to tension, anxiety and stress, and can be added to the regular drug prescription, like for example, for treating hot flashes, headaches, migraine, abdominal pain, at times for convulsions, and for a persistent and tickly cough.
The magic of the passion flower can be observed in how it works. Passion flower works on the nerves by toning the sympathetic nerve, and also by improving the blood circulation and the nutrition that the nerves receive. The flower works gently, and sedates a person smoothly, and reduced the symptoms of over-activity and panic in a person, thereby making it a mild, non-addictive herbal tranquilizer. Perhaps this is why the flower is often compared to the valerian (Valeriana officinalis). The painkilling properties of the passion flower are utilized when it is prescribed for relief from headaches, period pains, toothaches. Conditions that are caused or offset by nervous anxiety, like asthma, heart palpitations, muscle cramps, and high blood pressure are relieved by the passion flower. Its anti-spasmodic effect and its tranquilizing properties make the passion flower extremely useful to a person, especially when he is anxious and over-active.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
Although the passion flower is native to the United States, especially in Virginia, Texas and Tennessee, it is found growing in areas as diverse as Central and South America, and is today extensively cultivated in Europe, and especially in Italy. Propagation starts as a seed, and the flower needs plenty of sunshine for it to thrive. Its aerial parts can be collected when the herb is flowering, or is in fruit.
Although the passion flower has been well researched, its impact and effects on the central nervous system are yet to be analyzed and studied. Similarly, although it has been proven that the aerial parts of the flower do cause sedation and have mild tranquilizing effects, the actual constituents that cause these symptoms have no been identified yet, and whether the passion flower contains indole alkaloids has not been ascertained yet.
Take 4-8 grams of the dried passion flower herb thrice daily. To make a herbal tea, use 0.5-2.5 grams of passion flower, steep this with boiling water for ten to fifteen minutes. Drink this herbal tea 2 - 3 times daily. On the other hand, you can use 2-4 ml of passion flower tincture. This can be taken everyday. In Europe, the passion flower is usually combined with other sedative herbs, so that the user can find immediate relief from mild to moderate anxiety.
Side effects and cautions
The passion flower extracts and tinctures have to be taken in the dosages advised above, so that it does not interfere with other sedatives that the patient may be taking already. Therefore, it would be a wise idea, according to experts, not to take passion flower with MAO- inhibiting antidepressants. In the same way, the safety of passion flower during pregnancy and lactation has not been proven yet.
How it works in the body
Passion flower is a sedative which acts on the central nervous system, through the combined actions of the flavonoids, alkaloids, and the 8-pyrone derivatives, although it is a fact that the research on the mechanisms on which it works has not been concluded with satisfaction yet. Patients suffering from epilepsy, neuralgia and acute anxiety have been given passion flower with good effects, and patients who suffer from sleeplessness have also found the herb to be useful. The flavonoid apigenin found in the passion flower has an antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory action, and this has been used in the cardiovascular system to treat ailments like blood pressure, muscle spasms and mild palpitations.
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