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Passionflower: A Natural Way to Relax and Snooze

Published on January 02, 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.

http://lisastockwell.com/

Good sleep is essential for optimum health, yet over a third of all Americans experience at least one poor night of sleep a month, and over ten percent get insufficient sleep every night, according to the Sleep Foundation. 

There are many ways to relax and promote sleep naturally. Passionflower may be one you haven’t considered — especially since its name suggests fervor, not calm. 

Yet, this natural supplement has been used for centuries for its relaxing effects.

Passionflower: Its History

Passionflower is a perennial vine with a large exotic blossom, unique in its assortment of showy petals, stamens and stigmas, and a multitude of purple threads that project from its center. 

Native to Central and South America, the genus Passiflora has almost 500 species growing throughout the world, some with edible fruit.

Passiflora incarnata, typically used in herbal supplements, is native to the southeastern United States, where it grows wild. Native Americans valued it as a sedative and narcotic. 

Europeans were introduced to the plant in the 16th century by returning Spanish explorers, and have used passionflower in traditional medicine for centuries to treat insomnia, anxiety, heart palpitations, epilepsy, and pain.

Passionflower was first used in conventional medicine in the United States in the mid-1800s as a remedy for sleeplessness. From the late 19th century into the early 20th century, passionflower was a popular herbal supplement for followers of Eclectic Medicine, an extension of early American herbal medicine. It was officially recognized in the United States National Formulary from 1916 to 1936.

The plant is so well chronicled that it is included in national pharmacopeias — books that provide identification of compound medicines and are published by the authority of a government or a medical or pharmaceutical society — of France, Germany, Switzerland, and Egypt. Passionflower is written about in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, the British Herbal Compendium and the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States, among other official sources.

Passionflower herbal supplements are made from all of the above ground parts of the plant, including the flowers, leaves, stem, and fruit.

How Passionflower Works to Induce Calm*

Passionflower is classified as a nervine relaxant, a plant-based supplement that has a relaxing effect on the body.* Many pharmacological studies have documented Passionflower’s sedative effects and support the use of Passionflower as a way to relieve stress and induce calm and relaxation*REF#227REF#228 

However, no research has yet identified specific chemical compounds in the plant that explain its therapeutic activity. 

One study done in 2011 provides early evidence that Passionflower extract may modulate Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)REF#229. GABA is a neurotransmitter that blocks specific signals in your central nervous system, slowing down your brain and creating a calming effect. This could be why Passionflower helps reduce feelings of stress, fear, and anxiety.*

In a 2017 study, designed to evaluate the effect of Passionflower extract on the circadian rhythms of mice, results indicated that the extract might affect neurotransmitters in the cerebrum and hypothalamus, including dopamine (a feel-good neurotransmitter) and 5-HT (a serotonin receptor that modulates mood). This study suggests that by promoting the release of dopamine, Passionflower may positively modulate circadian rhythms, which play a key role in regulating sleep-wake cycles as well as other physiological and behavioral systemsREF#230.* 

Passionflower As a Sleep Aid 

Because it is a nervine relaxant, when Passionflower is taken as a supplement in the hours before bedtime, it is known to help calm an excited nervous system.* Passionflower can be taken as an extract in liquid form, capsules, or gummies. 

Or you can drink it as a soothing tea. You can make Passionflower tea yourself by steeping one tablespoon of dried Passionflower leaves in one cup of boiling water for eight to ten minutes.

Passionflower pairs well with other calming herbs to promote relaxation, including Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Ashwagandha, Reishi, and Skullcap.* You can purchase herbal blends created specifically for sleep.* 

When used as a supplement short-term to treat occasional sleeplessness, Passionflower is considered safe, with fewer side effects than other treatments.* Up to 800 mg a day of extract is considered a safe dosage, which equals approximately:

  • 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

If you are pregnant or lactating, you should not take Passionflower. 

Other Health Conditions Passionflower May Support

While we have no proof that Passionflower is effective in supporting the treatment of other health conditions, we have a centuries-long history of its use in traditionalmedicine for a wide range of issues, including:

  • Stress
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Pain
  • Menstrual and Menopause issues
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Convulsions

Some pharmacological studies have been done to suggest the extract has promise in supporting the treatment of some of the above conditions.

For example, in a small-scale 2001 double-blind randomized controlled trial that tested Passionflower extract against oxazepam, a common drug used in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder, the Passionflower extract was similarly effective to oxazepam, but without the side effects of impairment of job performance.REF#231 While larger studies are needed, Passionflower may be a promising treatment for the management of anxiety.

One six-week study done in Iran in 2010 showed the use of Passionflower reduced menopause symptoms, including insomnia, heatstroke, fatigue, weakness, headache, depression, muscular and joint-related pain, and anger.REF#232 

Passionflower’s ability to moderate heart arrhythmia may stem from its calming effects since periods of acute stress can have an adverse effect on heart health. 

More research is needed to provide scientific evidence of Passionflower’s full capabilities as an herbal supplement. In the meantime, Passionflower provides hope to the many people who are seeking a gentle way to induce sleep or reduce stress.*

Other Supplements to Induce Calm*

Not every person responds to supplements in the same exact way. One plant-based sleep aid option may be perfect for you while another that works for someone else leaves you groggy the following morning.

Passionflower is not the only way to calm your nerves and drift off to a peaceful sleep.* For more information on stress-relieving herbs, read our blog posts on “Support a Healthy Stress Response with Botanicals,” and “Beyond Ashwagandha: 5 Calming Herbs for Natural Stress Support.”. 

Also consider one of Gaia Herbs’ pure and high-quality products for natural calming support*:

REFERENCES:

  • 1. Krenn L., "Die Passionsblume (Passiflora incarnata L.)--ein bewährtes pflanzliches Sedativum [Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata L.)--a reliable herbal sedative]", Wien Med Wochenschr. 2002;152(15-16):404-6. German. doi: 10.1046/j.1563-258x.2002.02062.x. PMID: 12244887.. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12244887/
  • 2. Ngan A, Conduit R., "A double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation of the effects of Passiflora incarnata (passionflower) herbal tea on subjective sleep quality", Phytother Res. 2011 Aug;25(8):1153-9. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3400. Epub 2011 Feb 3. PMID: 21294203.. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21294203/
  • 3. Appel K, Rose T, Fiebich B, Kammler T, Hoffmann C, Weiss G, "Modulation of the γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) system by Passiflora incarnata L", Phytother Res. 2011 Jun;25(6):838-43. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3352. Epub 2010 Nov 19. PMID: 21089181. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21089181/
  • 4. Toda K, Hitoe S, Takeda S, Shimizu N, Shimoda H., "Passionflower Extract Induces High-amplitude Rhythms without Phase Shifts in the Expression of Several Circadian Clock Genes in Vitro and in Vivo", Int J Biomed Sci. 2017 Jun;13(2):84-92. PMID: 28824345; PMCID: PMC5542920.. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5542920/
  • 5. Akhondzadeh S, Naghavi HR, Vazirian M, Shayeganpour A, Rashidi H, Khani M, "Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam", J Clin Pharm Ther. 2001 Oct;26(5):363-7. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2710.2001.00367.x. PMID: 11679026.. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11679026/
  • 6. Fahami F, Asali Z, Aslani A, Fathizadeh N., "A comparative study on the effects of Hypericum Perforatum and passion flower on the menopausal symptoms of women referring to Isfahan city health care centers", Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2010 Fall;15(4):202-7. PMID: 22049281; PMCID: PMC3203277. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22049281/