The passionflower, also known as passiflora or passion vine, or separately spelled passion flower, is a flowering plant rich in virtues. It’s a plant that serves various purposes, including ornamental, therapeutic, and for fruit consumption. It belongs to the botanical family Passifloraceae, which comprises over 600 species, with 350 belonging to the Passiflora genus. Its scientific name has clear Latin origins and is derived from the combination of the words passio (passion) and flos (flower). It was given this name in the 1600s by Jesuit friars who saw a resemblance between the plant and the flower with religious symbols of Christ’s passion.
Today, let’s get to know the main species of passiflora cultivated in our country. We’ll also explore its properties and uses in the field of phytotherapy.
Before delving into the main properties and virtues of various passiflora species, let’s take a look at the common characteristics of the plant. Passionflower is a climbing plant with some herbaceous and some woody parts. It anchors itself to the ground or a support using tendrils located at the leaf axils.
The leaves are arranged alternately and are deep green in color, with surfaces ranging from smooth to hairy depending on the species. In our temperatures, they are deciduous and have a long petiole with two large dark-colored nectar glands located at their upper end.
The flowers, the most beautiful part of this plant, have symmetrical ray-like forms. They are solitary and found in the leaf axils. Each flower has a long peduncle to which three oval acuminate bracts are attached. These bracts bear one or two large lateral glands at their base. The flower receptacle is bell-shaped and consists of a calyx with five sepals, a corolla with five petals, and a multicolored crown made up of numerous filaments arranged in several series.
Flowering occurs in the summer, attracting bees due to the copious nectar in the flowers.
The fruits of the passiflora are oval and elongated berries covered with a light skin. Upon full ripening and depending on the species, the skin color ranges from purple, blue, yellow to black. Inside the fruit, there’s a gelatinous pulp that covers the small seeds, which are flattened, dark, and hard.
Fruiting occurs after flowering, usually in autumn.
Passionflower is a tropical plant and thrives in warm conditions. It has adapted well to the temperatures in our Central and Southern regions. It prefers soils that are not overly rich in organic matter but have good drainage. Its water requirements are not high, especially when grown in open ground. Container-grown plants have a higher water demand. It reproduces easily through cuttings in spring, while seed propagation is more challenging.
The use of natural mulch is recommended. This protects the plant in winter and prevents excessive water transpiration in summer.
In case of very cold climates, appropriate frost protection measures should be taken.
To control the plant’s growth, pruning is carried out in late winter before the vigorous vegetative growth resumes.
Passiflora is ideal for ornamental use on balconies and fences. Its long tendrils quickly cover large surfaces.
Most Common Species
Now let’s see the most common passiflora species, their differences, and characteristics.
One of the most widespread species in our country is Passiflora edulis. It’s known for its edible fruits called maracuja or passion fruit. The specific name edulis refers to its edibility. It originates from Brazil but thrives in the warm regions of Southern Italy. In warmer areas, passiflora edulis can produce fruit twice a year.
The plant is also valued for its ornamental purposes.
In its native regions, it’s used for traditional medicine. The fruit is used as a digestive stimulant and for gastric carcinomas. The leaves are dried and used for insomnia, epilepsy, and migraine.
Biochemically, passiflora edulis produces beta-carboline alkaloids and simple tryptamine derivatives.
This species’ name also derives from Latin, caeruleus, meaning blue. It refers to the splendid flower colors. It’s perhaps the most common species in Italy and can withstand even colder temperatures. It originates from Argentina, has naturalized in the Azores, and grows wild in our region, between Lake Como and Lake Garda.
In its country of origin, it’s considered a medicinal plant. Its dried leaves are used for their sedative, diuretic, anthelmintic, emmenagogue, and antiscorbutic properties.
In Italy too, it’s used in herbal medicine, especially as an antispasmodic and sedative.
According to biochemical analyses, it’s a species that produces beta-carboline alkaloids, such as harmine, harmol, harmine (passiflorine). However, the leaves contain variable amounts of cyanogenic glycosides, toxic agents that make consuming fresh leaves inadvisable. Dried leaves pose no such problems.
This passiflora species is of significant interest for its phytotherapeutic uses. Its name comes from the Latin incarnatus, meaning flesh-colored or dark red.
The plant is native to the United States but has adapted well to the European climate.
In the US, it was dried and smoked (or brewed) as a substitute for cannabis, as it is slightly stimulating. It’s also popular in South America, where indigenous people appreciate the vitamin C-rich fruit and make an intoxicating wine from it.
In Europe, it’s widely used in phytotherapy. A mother tincture extracted from the leaves and roots is prepared for its sedative and antispasmodic properties, especially for nervous conditions. It’s an excellent natural remedy for insomnia, promoting healthy and uninterrupted sleep.
Biochemically, besides the beta-carboline alkaloids found in other species, passiflora incarnata also produces serotonin, an important substance for mood regulation.
Passiflora has various applications in phytotherapy, ranging from treating anxiety to insomnia. It’s occasionally used to alleviate psychosomatic gastrointestinal disturbances. Often, it’s combined with other plants with similar sedative properties, like valerian, in herbal medicine. Passiflora is available in various forms, such as tablets, tinctures, and teas and infusions. You can find some of these products here, useful for all the issues mentioned in the article.
- Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift (1946): “Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata L.)–a reliable herbal sedative”: Discusses the use of extracts from Passiflora incarnata L. as components of herbal sedatives.
- Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics (Wiley): “Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: A pilot double‐blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam”: Compares the efficacy of Passiflora incarnata extract with oxazepam in treating anxiety.
- Phytotherapy Research (Wiley): “A Double‐blind, Placebo‐controlled Investigation of the Effects of Passiflora incarnata (Passionflower) Herbal Tea on Subjective Sleep Quality”: Examines the effects of passionflower herbal tea on sleep quality.
- Euphytica (Springer): “Passion flower hybrids and their use in the ornamental plant market: perspectives for sustainable development with emphasis on Brazil”: Discusses the potential of passion flower hybrids in the ornamental plant market.
- Pest Technology: “Diseases of passion flower (Passiflora spp.)”: Provides insights into various diseases affecting passion fruit plants.
- Seminars in Integrative Medicine (Elsevier): “Herbs for the nervous system: Ginkgo, kava, valerian, passionflower”: Reviews the use of various herbs, including passionflower, in psychiatric practice.
- Phytomedicine (Elsevier): “Passiflora incarnata L. (Passionflower) extracts elicit GABA currents in hippocampal neurons in vitro, and show anxiogenic and anticonvulsant effects in vivo”: Investigates the effects of passionflower extracts on GABA currents in hippocampal neurons.
- Evolution (JSTOR): “Coevolution of plants and herbivores: passion flower butterflies”: Explores the coevolution of passion flowers and heliconiine butterflies.
- Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics (Wiley): “Passionflower in the treatment of opiates withdrawal: a double‐blind randomized controlled trial”: Discusses the efficacy of passionflower in the management of opiate withdrawal symptoms.
- Journal of Physics: Conference Series (IOPscience): “Combination of sobel+ prewitt edge detection method with Roberts+ canny on passionflower image identification”: Analyzes edge detection methods for passionflower image identification.