Pick a passionflower
This herb offers a safe, effective and non-addictive alternative to conventional anti-anxiety drugs.
Passionflower was first brought to Europe from Brazil by Jesuit priests. It is said to be named in honour of the Passion of Christ: the flower’s three styles symbolise the three nails used in the crucifixion, and the five hammer-like anthers on the stamens represent the five hammers used to drive in the nails.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) was traditionally used in America and Europe to treat toothache, headaches, seizures, and hysteria. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopausal symptoms respond well to passionflower, as does period pain.
A calming remedy which gently ‘takes the edge off’, it is suitable for children and teenagers, and can be taken over a long period. It is useful for anxiety, nervous restlessness and insomnia, especially when caused by mental worry, nightmares, an overactive imagination, or paranoia. Passionflower may be used for muscle spasms, leg cramps, and digestive problems, particularly if they have a nervous origin. It is a vaso-dilatory, making it beneficial for palpitations and hypertension.
Passionflower’s effects are not as pronounced as those of valerian or kava, two other nervine herbs. Passionflower may be combined with valerian, lemon balm or other calmative herbs in both over-the-counter and prescribed blends.
How does it work?
Passionflower is thought to work by increasing levels of a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA lowers the activity of certain brain cells, making you more relaxed. One study of 36 people with generalised anxiety disorder found that passionflower was as effective as the drug oxazepam (Serax).
Another study showed that patients given passionflower before surgery experienced less anxiety than those given a placebo.
Preparation and dosage
The above-ground parts of the plant (flowers, leaves, stems) are used medicinally. Dosage is via infusion, tea, liquid extract, tablet or capsule. A tincture, using the fresh or newly-dried plant, will be the strongest form. Recommended dosages are:
Tea: Steep 0.5-2g (about 1 teaspoon) of dried herb in 1 cup boiling water for 10 minutes. Strain and cool. For anxiety, drink 3-4 cups daily. For insomnia, drink 1 cup before bed.
Fluid extract (1:1 in 25% alcohol): 10-30 drops, three times daily.
Tincture (1:5 in 45% alcohol): 10-60 drops, three times daily.
Caution: If you are taking sedative or blood-thinning medication, consult your health practitioner before taking passionflower. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.