The passionflower (Passiflora incarnate) plant has numerous subspecies that fall under the passionflower name. Various species can be found all over the world, but the passionflower species that is generally used in medicinal and herbal formulas is native to the southeastern United States. It is a perennial vine that can climb to heights of over thirty feet tall. The flowers have five white petals and five sepals that can vary in color. The most common colors seem to be blues and purples. It is often thought that the “passion” in passionflower refers to its use as an herbal sexual tonic, but that is not the case. The “passion” in the name actually is a reference to the passion of the Christ, because the flowers of the vine where thought to look spiky like Christ’s crown of thorns.

Passionflower was used widely by Native Americans to treat anxiety, hysteria, seizures, and insomnia. It is still being used today to treat anxiety and insomnia. Most scientists believe that passionflowers main action is to increase the levels of a chemical called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain. GABA is known to lower the activity of specific neurotransmitters that effect nerve centers in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the brain that carry messages between brain cells. Because passionflower decreases the activity of these nerve cells in the brain it is very helpful in treating insomnia.

Passionflower is also rich in chemicals called harmala alkaloids which are used to block monoamine oxidase, an enzyme that is linked to depression. Monoamine oxide inhibitors (MAOI,s) are the most common types of prescription ant-anxiety and anti-depression medicines. Passionflower increases the activity of beneficial neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin which have strong anti-depressant actions. The bulk of the pharmaceutical anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications on the market today work on these very chemical principals. A recent study on passionflower showed it to be as effective as many prescription medicines for treating anxiety disorders and some types of depression.

For many people passionflower can be an excellent individual herb to use for these types of conditions, but I tend to favor passionflower when it is used in combination natural formulas. Passionflower is often combined into formulas with other natural sleeping aids such as melatonin, valerian, lemon balm, and l-theanine to create very effective insomnia aids. The passionflower component really helps to turn off that over-active mind that will not shut down sometimes. Synergistic blended natural sleep aids are usually the best alternative to pharmaceutical sleep aids to help with insomnia. Pharmaceutical sleep aids often come with many side effects that are not present with natural formulas.

Author's Bio: 

David Oromaner is a vitamin, herb, and nutritional supplement specialist with over 25 years experience in the health and wellness industry. He is a certified personal fitness trainer and bodybuilder with 25 years of experience in these areas of health and fitness. He owns a company called Guaranteed Supplement Designs that specializes in development and distribution of cutting edge natural products such as the natural sleep aid GuaranteedToSleep.

If you like this article you can read more at his Healthy Notes blog.