Passionflower has charmed, soothed and nourished indigenous populations across the American continent for eons, yet it is only in the past few hundred years that this enchanting herb has become a mainstay of Western Herbalism. Native to the Southeastern United States, Central America and South America, this perennial climbing vine and its stunning, exotic, fringed blooms present more than just a pretty face. Passionflower’s ability to soothe the nervous system, ease anxious minds, and promote a good night’s sleep have earned it an international reputation, making it an ideal active ingredient in both our Nighty Night® and Nighty Night® Extra with Valerian teas.*
There are approximately 700 species in the Passifloraceae family, with up to 60 species used for food, including the exotic and delicious passionfruit, sought the world over for its rich, sweet juice. But it is one of the genus’ most medicinal plants, Passiflora incarnata, which Western herbalists use the most. Growing wild on the edge of fields, roads, and forests, this sun-loving vine thrives in hot climates and well-drained soils like those in its native Southeast. For those who find it in nature, don’t be surprised to see it surrounded by ants, who love its sugary nectar. The ants will protect this food source at any price, and often kill off predatory caterpillars and their eggs, preventing them from eating the plant’s leaves.
In the pre-Columbian era, Native American tribes of the Southeast used passionflower both medicinally and as food. The Cherokee people have traditionally boiled and fried the young shoots, mixing them with other edible greens, while also using the plant topically as a poultice. The Spanish missionaries and other European settlers promoted passionflower as a medicinal herb throughout their migrations, and by the 18th century, the plant had gained such wide recognition that botanists began singing its praises around the world.
Passionflower has earned different names throughout history. One of its early names among the Powhatan people of Virginia was mahcawq, which is thought to have evolved to “maycock” or “maypop”—the name also given to the plant’s small fruits. But it was the Spanish missionaries who looked at the structure of the plant’s bloom and gave it the name “passionflower,” after the passion of Christ. They found a parallel between the plant’s five stamens and the five wounds of Christ. The three styles reminded them of the three nails Jesus endured on the cross, and the flower’s white and purple colors were thought to symbolize purity and heaven.
While certainly divine, passionflower’s power resides in a range of beneficial compounds, which have a gentle sedative effect on the body. Known as a nervine in herbalism, or an herb that supports the nervous system, passionflower soothes the nerves, promotes relaxation and rest, and helps ease anxious minds to get some well-needed sleep.*
In our modern age, when stress and poor sleep hygiene contribute to so many health issues, tapping into such gentle, time-tested, ancient herbal wisdom can make a positive impact on our daily wellness. If you aren’t yet familiar with passionflower, we encourage you to get it to know it. Gentle, soothing, and totally nurturing, passionflower is the sweet lullaby of the herbal world.