Passionflower is an extract of the flowers of the plant Passiflora incarnata that is claimed to have natural sedative properties and to be useful for treatment of anxiety and insomnia. Passionflower has not been implicated in causing serum enzyme elevations or clinically apparent liver injury.
Passionflower is a flowering plant, extracts of which have been used as a mild sedative and sleeping aid. The genus Passiflora includes more than 500 species which typically have complex and unique structures and flowers, and are found throughout much of the world. Passiflora incarnata (maypop) is indigenous to the United States and Central and South America and was used by Native Americans to treat insomnia, hysteria, epilepsy and as a mild analgesic. Passionflower contains several flavonoids (apigenin, benzoflavone and others), harmala alkaloids (hamaline, harmalol, harmine and harmol), coumarins, maltol, phytosterols and glycosides. Studies in animals suggest that extracts of passionflower have sedative, anxiolytic, analgesic and antispasmodic effects. The herb is used most frequently as a mild sleeping medication, sedative, and treatment for gastrointestinal complaints often in the form of an herbal tea, but also in multiple herbal preparations, generally in combination with other agents including valerian, hops and lavender. Passionflower is also used in creams, lotions, soaps and cosmetics. Side effects of oral use include dizziness, sedation, confusion and ataxia.
Despite widescale use, passionflower extracts have not been convincingly linked to instances of clinically apparent liver injury.
Other Names: Apricot vine, Granadilla, Maypop, Passion vine
REPRESENTATIVE TRADE NAMES
Passionflower – Generic (OTC Products)
Herbal and Dietary Supplements
Product labeling at DailyMed, National Library of Medicine, NIH
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References updated: 14 January 2014
Zimmerman HJ. Unconventional drugs. Miscellaneous drugs and diagnostic chemicals. In, Zimmerman HJ. Hepatotoxicity: the adverse effects of drugs and other chemicals on the liver. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1999, pp. 731-4. (Expert review of hepatotoxicity published in 1999; several herbals are discussed, including comfrey, Jin Bu huan, germander, chaparral leaf, skullcap and valerian, but not passionflower).
Seeff L, Stickel F, Navarro VJ. Hepatotoxicity of herbals and dietary
supplements. In, Kaplowitz N, DeLeve LD, eds. Drug-induced liver disease. 3rd
ed. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2013, pp. 631-58. (Review of hepatotoxicity of
herbal and dietary supplements [HDS]; passionflower is not discussed).
Passion Flower. In, PDR for Herbal Medicines. 4th ed. Montvale, New Jersey: Thomson Healthcare Inc. 2007: pp. 634-5. (Compilation of short monographs on herbal medications and dietary supplements).
Gyllenhaal C, Merritt SL, Peterson SD, Block KI, Gochenour T. Efficacy and safety of herbal stimulants and sedatives in sleep disorders. Sleep Med Rev 2000; 4: 229-251. PubMed Citation (Review of herbals used for sleep disorders; mentions that animal studies suggest that passionflower has sedative effects, but there has been little clinical study of their efficacy in humans).
Wheatley D. Medicinal plants for insomnia: a review of their pharmacology, efficacy and tolerability. J Psychopharmacol 2005; 19: 414-21. PubMed Citation (Review of herbals used to treat insomnia; mentions that there appears to be a complete lack of clinical research on passionflower).
Meolie AL, Rosen C, Kristo D, Kohrman M, Gooneratne N, Aguillard RN, Fayle R, et al.; Clinical Practice Review Committee; American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Oral nonprescription treatment for insomnia: an evaluation of products with limited evidence. J Clin Sleep Med 2005; 1: 173-87. PubMed Citation (Systematic review of efficacy of nonprescription treatments for insomnia states that there is scientific evidence that passionflower has hypnotic efficacy and adverse effects including dizziness, confusion, and ataxia).
Ngan A, Conduit R. A double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation of the effects of Passiflora incarnata (passionflower) herbal tea on subjective sleep quality. Phytother Res 2011; 25: 1153-9. PubMed Citation (Crossover trial of 1 week course of passionflower vs placebo tea in 41 subjects found short term subjective improvement in sleep quality with the herbal tea; side effects were not mentioned).
Sarris J, Panossian A, Schweitzer I, Stough C, Scholey A. Herbal medicine for depression, anxiety and insomnia: a review of psychopharmacology and clinical evidence. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol 2011; 21: 841-60. PubMed Citation (Overview and summary of herbals used to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia; ranks passionflower and valerian as having evidence level "C" for efficacy in insomnia in humans).
Drugs for insomnia. Treat Guidel Med Lett 2012; 10 (119): 57-60. PubMed Citation (Guidelines for therapy of insomnia; mentions herbal products that are claimed to have sleep inducing effects including valerian root, kava, chamomile tea, passionflower, hops, lemon balm, lavender and skull cap, but that there is no convincing evidence for their efficacy and that the purity of commercially available, over-the-counter products is suspect).
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