Passionflower: Can it Work for Anxiety?

Published on January 10, 2023

By Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell has worked as a copywriter, writer, author, and editor for 35 years, specializing in the field of healthcare since 2009. She recognized the need for reliable health information while supporting friends through unique health challenges and refocused her career to bring clarity and compassion to healthcare communications. Lisa is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and a lifelong Northern Californian.

Inhale… Exhale… Inhale… Exhale…

If breathing exercises aren’t enough to calm the feelings of anxiety in your mind and body, Passionflower may be a good addition for natural relief.

Passionflower has been used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years for its sedative effects. First in the Americas by indigenous populations and later in Europe, the United States, and around the world. 

We don’t know much about the mechanisms that make Passionflower effective at helping people relax. But studies support its use to relieve stress and induce calm,REF#249REF#250 and suggest it may help reduce generalized anxiety disorder.

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders affect close to 30 percent of Americans at some point in their lives. So if you’re suffering from anxiety, you’re not alone. 

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), characterized by irrational, uncontrollable worry that lasts for six months or more, affects up to 2 percent of the population — or over 6 million people. It is the most common of the various anxiety disorders and can limit one’s ability to function easily on a daily basis. Symptoms may include:

  • A sense of impending doom out of proportion to the situation causing worry
  • Nervousness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Exhaustion
  • Sweating

It’s possible to develop GAD as a child or adult and the condition can remain a challenge throughout life. While those who don’t understand the disorder may dismiss it as being “all in your head,” the truth is that brain activity is likely responsible for the condition. It is believed that GAD may be caused by more activity than normal in response to stimuli in the greater amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex.

The most common treatments for GAD are cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and antidepressant or antianxiety medication, either alone or in combination. However, CBT can be hard for some people to manage consistently. And the negative side effects of antianxiety medications make them less than an ideal solution.

Understanding How Passionflower May Help Reduce Anxiety

Passionflower is a recognized nervine relaxant — a natural alternative to nerve tranquilizers that has demonstrated measurable anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) activity in rats. While there are over 500 species of Passionflower, the one used commonly as a supplement is Passiflora incarnata

A promising 2001 double-blind randomized controlled trial in humans found that Passiflora incarnata offered similar effectiveness to oxazepam, a common drug used to treat GAD but without the effects of job performance impairment that are common with oxazepam.REF#251

To get a better understanding of how Passionflower might treat anxiety, a study was done in 2011 to investigate its effect on the Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) system. GABA is a neurotransmitter in the brain that blocks certain brain signals, resulting in a calming effect

Dysfunction of the GABA system is now recognized as a potential cause for neuropsychiatric conditions, including GAD. The study concluded that Passionflower extract might regulate GABA and decrease activity in the central nervous system that causes stress, fear, and anxiety.REF#252

Passionflower’s Effect on Other Anxiety Disorders & ADHD

Since Passionflower works to induce a sense of calm, it likely can also help those suffering from other anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder (social phobia), specific phobias, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and separation anxiety disorder. 

For example, for many people, surgery is a high-anxiety situation. In a clinical trial of 60 surgical patients randomized into two groups, one group was given 500 mg of Passiflora incarnata extract and the other was given a placebo as premedication 90 minutes before surgery. The patients given Passionflower had significantly lower anxiety scores at set intervals than those given the placebo.REF#253

A randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover clinical trial was conducted on dental extraction patients, where half the patients received Passiflora incarnata and half received the drug midazolam 30 minutes before surgery. Both sets of patients had similar calming reactions from both protocols, but the patients who had Passionflower did not have any of the amnesia that the midazolam patients reported.REF#254 While more research is required, Passionflower may provide a safer approach for conscious sedation.

Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is often linked with GADREF#255 and is another condition that Passionflower might help moderate. A small amount of research has been done in this area with initial promising results. In a two-year multicenter observational study with 115 children aged six to twelve with attention and other behavioral and emotional problems, 81.6 — 93.9 percent of the children had no or just mild symptoms at the end of observation after taking a combination of Passionflower, Valerian Root, and St. John’s Wort.REF#256

There is a great and growing need to help both children and adults cope with anxiety and restlessness without medication, and research is required to determine whether Passionflower alone or in combination with other herbal supplements that have anxiolytic properties can effectively treat anxiety disorders

Based on the significant history of this herb as a plant-based sedative, you may want to test it out and keep it on hand for when you have trouble coping with anxiety.

How to Start Taking Passionflower for Anxiety

It’s considered safe by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health to take up to 800 mg a day of Passionflower extract made from the dried herb.REF#257 Depending on your preference, you can take it as an extract, in capsule form, or as an infusion/tea. 

You can also find many supplements that blend Passionflower with other calming herbs to suit your unique needs and tastes.

Use the following dosages as a guide:

  • Dried herb: 2 grams, three to four times per day
  • Infusion: 2 grams in 150 ml of water, three to four times per day
  • Fluid extract, 2 ml, three to four times per day
  • Liquid capsule form: 250 mg, three to four times per day

Since Passionflower is often used as a sleep aid, we recommend you start by trying it within a few hours of bedtime to start, you can learn how your own body adapts to it. 

If you suffer from anxiety, you may find that while it calms you down, it doesn’t make you drowsy and you can take it throughout the day. As with all supplements, if you have a preexisting condition like GAD, you should talk with your healthcare provider about using Passionflower and the right dosage for you. Also discuss how long you can take it for continued results. 

Safety Precautions

Passionflower is considered a safe herb to take for health purposes at 800 mg a day or less.* Some people have experienced drowsiness, confusion, and uncoordinated movement after taking it. Additionally, Passionflower has been known to cause neurotoxicity and gastrointestinal symptoms in some people. 

The sedative effects of Passionflower may be accentuated when taken with other herbs with stress-reducing properties, including Valerian and St. John’s Wort. 

If you are pregnant, you should not take Passionflower. It may induce uterine contractions. It has also been found to disrupt sexual behavior in male offspring. Also, since there are no safety studies on taking Passionflower while breastfeeding, avoid use during this time. 

To learn more about Passionflower, its history, and other benefits, read our article, Passionflower: A Natural Way to Relax and Snooze.


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