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Passion flower (Passiflora incarnate) is a climbing shrub native to the tropical parts of the United States which produces a beautiful, delicate flower that develops into a large, fleshy fruit. Traditional herbalists used a passion flower sleep aid, especially when patients complained of restlessness and interrupted sleep due to exhaustion. Recent clinical trials using passion flower show it is one of the most valuable and effective herbal anxiety remedies in addition to its usefulness in improving sleep and treating insomnia.
Research on Passion Flower for Anxiety
Passion flower anxiety benefits have been found in human studies.[1,2] Single doses of passion flower extract have been found to decrease anxiety in patients about to undergo surgery, indicating passion flower is beneficial in times of acute anxiety. One placebo-controlled trial involved 60 patients heading to surgery. Thirty minutes before receiving spinal anesthesia, baseline anxiety levels were assessed. Patients were then randomly assigned to two groups: passion flower extract or placebo. Anxiety levels were re-tested just before surgery and those who had received passion flower were significantly less anxious. No side effects, sedation, or affects on muscle activity or mental process occurred.
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Another clinical trial found that passion flower is as effective as the benzodiazepine oxazepam for generalized anxiety disorder. This 4-week double-blind study of 36 individuals with generalized anxiety disorder compared passion flower to the standard anti-anxiety drug oxazepam. Half the participants received 45 drops a day of a standardized liquid passion flower extract while the other subjects received 30 mg of oxazepam. Although oxazepam worked more quickly, both treatments were equally effective by the end of the trial. Not only that, but passion flower was superior in terms of side-effects: oxazepam caused more job-related problems such as daytime drowsiness.
Research on Passion Flower for Sleep
Studies have also found that one of the benefits of passion flower is improving sleep quality and can be an effective treatment for insomnia. In one study, 41 subjects drank passion flower tea or placebo tea every night for a week before going to sleep. Sleep quality was rated as significantly better in those drinking passion flower tea compared to those drinking placebo tea. Passion flower may be even more effective for insomnia when combined with other herbs. The combination of passion flower, valerian, hops, and lemon balm is a common formula used by naturopathic physicians for inducing sleep.
One double- blind, randomized, controlled trial compared the drug zolpidem (Ambien) to a combination of passion flower, valerian, and hops extracts in patients diagnosed with insomnia. For 2 weeks, 78 subjects were treated with either one tablet of the passion flower combination or a standard dose of zolpidem at bedtime. Insomnia improved equally in both groups, with significant improvements in total sleep time, time taken to initially fall asleep, number of nightly awakenings, and insomnia severity scores in both groups. The study authors concluded that the combination of passion flower, valerian, and hops extracts “…is a safe and effective short-term alternative to zolpidem for primary insomnia.” Read more about insomnia here and discover more natural strategies, such as using music to get to sleep and drinking tart cherry juice.
Passion Flower Stress Relief for Children
Passion flower is a safe herbal remedy for children and teens as well as adults. Accomplished herbalist and naturopathic physician, Dr. Mary Bove, endorses passion flower for stress in children. Dr. Bove is the author of the Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants and is considered an authoritative reference on natural pediatric medicine. “Mayan healers recognized passion flower’s special usefulness in children, and traditionally employed the herb to support restful sleep, calm emotional reactivity and ease muscle twitching in kids. Today, herbalists frequently recommend passion flower as a first defense against nervousness and difficulty sleeping in teenagers,” says Dr. Bove. (Read more about anxiety here.)
How to Take Passion Flower for Anxiety or Insomnia
If you want to try a passion flower supplement for anxiety, a tincture (liquid alcohol extract) or passion flower tablets are recommended. To use passion flower for sleep, look for it combined with hops and valerian, and possibly with lemon balm as well. Since these preparations are sold in various strengths, take the dose recommended on the bottle as a starting dose. Stress, anxiety, and poor sleep don’t have to rule your life. You can get these problems under control with natural medicine. In many cases, a more comprehensive approach, using other nutrients, dietary changes, and lifestyle changes will enhance the effectiveness of herbal anxiety remedies like passion flower.