Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) was used traditionally in the Americas and later in Europe as a calming herb for anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and hysteria. It is still used today to treat anxiety and insomnia. Scientists believe passionflower works by increasing levels of a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA lowers the activity of some brain cells, making you feel more relaxed.
The effects of passionflower tend to be milder than valerian (Valeriana officinalis) or kava (Piper methysticum), other herbs used to treat anxiety. Passionflower is often combined with valerian, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), or other calming herbs. Few scientific studies have tested passionflower as a treatment for anxiety or insomnia, however. Because passionflower is often combined with other calming herbs, it is difficult to tell what effects passionflower has on its own.
Studies of people with generalized anxiety disorderFea show that passionflower is as effective as the drug oxazepam (Serax) for treating symptoms. Passionflower didn’t work as quickly as oxazepam (day 7 compared to day 4). However, it produced less impairment on job performance than oxazepam. Other studies show that patients who were given passionflower before surgery had less anxiety than those given a placebo, but they recovered from anesthesia just as quickly.
Native to southeastern parts of the Americas, passionflower is now grown throughout Europe. It is a perennial climbing vine with herbaceous shoots and a sturdy woody stem that grows to a length of nearly 10 meters (about 32 feet). Each flower has 5 white petals and 5 sepals that vary in color from magenta to blue. According to folklore, passionflower got its name because its corona resembles the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during the crucifixion. The passionflower’s ripe fruit is an egg-shaped berry that may be yellow or purple. Some kinds of passionfruit are edible.
Featuring content from University Of Maryland Medical Center
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