What is passionflower?
Passiflora incarnata, commonly known as maypop. Passionflower is a plant that has been used for centuries in traditional herbal medicine.
In 19th-century Europe, passionflower was first used in the treatment of anxiety and insomnia (1).
Western Europeans then used passionflower in the treatment of anxiety, sleep disorders, and restlessness (2)
Passionflower has also been used as a sedative throughout North America (3).
So, where can you find passionflower? Most of it grows in central and South America, though it can also be found in North America, Southeast Asia, and Australia in rare occurrences (4).
How does passionflower work?
Passionflower is known for its anxiolytic properties, meaning that it simply helps to ease anxiety. Passionflower has sedative properties as well (5).
What is it that gives passionflower these medicinal properties? Extracts of passionflower root contain saponins. Extracts of the passionflower leaf contain both saponins and flavonoids (6).
One study found that butanol and chloroform extracts were what exhibited the strongest effects, followed by ethyl acetate. What this demonstrates is that there are several different metabolites that contribute to the anxiolytic effect of passionflower (7).
Passionflower also has other active ingredients, such as: oleamide, palmitic acid, and something called 3-hydroxy-dodecanoic acid. What these constituents do is work on GABA receptors. GABA receptors help us to adopt a more relaxed state of mind (8).
Is there evidence to show that passionflower works?
In one study, researchers interviewed participants to ask about their experience after taking passionflower. What they discovered was that participants described moving from a performance orientation to resetting priorities and adopting calmness (9).
One systematic review looked at various herbal medicines and their effectiveness in psychiatric disorders. They found that there was high-quality evidence for passionflower’s use in anxiety disorders (10).
Another study compared the use of passionflower as compared to placebo. Researchers found that subjects who took passionflower had reduced anxiety compared to the control group (11).
Researchers decided to look into how passionflower would work in combination with some other herbs: valerian, lemon balm, and butterbur. This study looked at 72 healthy male participants and found that those taking this combination supplement had significantly better responses in anxiety-provoking situations compared to the placebo group (12).
One situation in which anxiety is often present is before a patient goes into surgery. One group of researchers looked at the use of passionflower before an operation compared to melatonin. Patients were given either 1000 mg of passionflower or 6 mg of melatonin one hour before surgery. The average score of pain was higher in the melatonin group compared to the passionflower group. The anxiety scores in the passionflower group were significantly lower in the passionflower group compared to melatonin (13).
Similar to surgery, another situation that causes anxiety in a lot of people is dental work. One study compared passionflower to the anxiety medication midazolam, 30 minutes before surgery. With midazolam, 20% of the participants reported amnesia, whereas passionflower didn’t interfere with memory at all. Passionflower showed an anxiolytic effect similar to midazolam, and was safe as well as effective for sedation (14).
Not only can passionflower treat anxiety effectively, but it can do it safely as well. Passionflower’s active ingredients make it useful as both an anxiolytic and a sedative. With anxiety being such a pervasive health problem in our society, passionflower can be useful today to help people maintain a sense of calm and get a better night’s rest.