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Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a creeping perennial vine with white, purple-tinged flowers and orange berries that grows to a height of up to 30 ft (9 m). First used by Native Americans and the Aztecs of Mexico as a sedative, passionflower has been a popular folk remedy for centuries in Europe and North America. Other names for passionflower include maypop, granadilla, passion vine, and apricot vine. The only variety used for medicinal purposes is incarnata.

Some investigations of passionflower have been conducted in humans; animal and other studies suggest that the herb has sedative, anxiolytic, and antispasmodic properties. The German Commission E, considered an authoritative source of information on alternative remedies, reported that passionflower appears to reduce restlessness in animals.

General Use

Passionflower is mainly used in the United States and Europe to relieve anxiety, restlessness and insomnia. It is also recommended for the relief of nausea caused by nervousness or anxiety. The herb appears to work, at least in part, by mildly depressing the central nervous system and preventing muscle spasms. In its capacity as a sedative and sleep aid, passionflower has been endorsed by several important European research organisations. For over 15 years, passionflower has been approved by Commission E for the treatment of nervous unrest. The European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy has approved the herb for use in people who experience tension, restlessness, and insomnia associated with irritability. Passionflower is listed in many national pharmacopoeiae as a drug plant.

Passionflower is often used in combination with other sedative plants. In the United Kingdom, it is an ingredient in several dozen over-the-counter (OTC) sedatives. In Germany, the herb is used as an ingredient in sedative preparations that also include valerian and lemon balm.

Throughout its history, passionflower has been used to treat a variety of medical problems in addition to those mentioned above. These include epilepsy, diarrhoea, neuralgia, asthma, whooping cough, seizures, painful menstruation and haemorrhoids (when used externally). Some herbalists also recommend passionflower as a treatment for Parkinson's disease, based on their belief that the harmine and harmaline in the herb may help to counteract the effects of the disorder. As of 2000, these additional uses for passionflower are considered speculative.

In 2002, a team of American researchers published a report finding that passionflower shows promise as a chemopreventive for cancer. The scientists found that passionflower extract inhibits an early antigen of Epstein-Barr virus, which suggests that it may also inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors.


Passionflower is not known to be harmful when taken in recommended dosages, though there are some precautions to consider. The herb contains two potentially dangerous alkaloids called harman and harmaline. In large amounts, these chemicals may stimulate the tissue of the uterus. However, most authorities believe that the amounts of harman and harmaline contained in medicinal passionflower are too small to have an adverse effect when the herb is used in normal amounts. Caution should also be exercised when combining passionflower with certain medications (see below).

While self-care measures such as passionflower may be effective in relieving anxiety or insomnia, these problems may be a symptom of a more serious psychological disorder that requires consultation with a mental health professional. Night-time sleep aids should not be used for longer than two weeks without seeking medical advice. Due to lack of sufficient medical study, passionflower should be used with caution in children, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding and by people with liver or kidney disease.


When taken in recommended dosages, passion-flower has not been associated with any significant or bothersome side-effects.


Passionflower has the potential to interact adversely with certain medications. The harman and harmaline in passionflower may increase the effects of prescription antidepressants called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), which are generally used to treat depression, panic attacks, and eating disorders. Passionflower may also increase the effects of OTC sedatives as well as those sold by prescription.

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