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The passionflower vine is a native of the Western hemisphere, named for symbolic connections drawn between its appearance and the crucifixion of Jesus. Native North Americans used passionflower primarily as a mild sedative. It quickly caught on as a folk remedy in Europe and was thereafter adopted by professional herbalists as a sedative and digestive aid.
In 1985, Germany's Commission E officially approved passionflower as a treatment for "nervous unrest." The herb is considered to be a mildly effective treatment for anxiety and insomnia , less potent than kava and valerian , but nonetheless useful. Like melissa (lemon balm), chamomile , and valerian, passionflower is also used for nervous stomach .
However, there is only weak supporting scientific evidence that passionflower works for these purposes. Preliminary trials suggest that passionflower might be helpful for anxiety 1 and chemical dependency . 2 Animal studies suggest that passionflower extracts can reduce agitation and prolong sleep. 3 The active ingredients in passionflower are not known.
Passionflower is on the FDA's GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list.
The alkaloids harman and harmaline found in passionflower have been found to act somewhat like the drugs known as MAO inhibitors and also to stimulate the uterus, 4 but whether whole passionflower has these effects remains unknown. Passionflower might increase the action of sedative medications. 5 Finally, there are five case reports from Norway of individuals becoming temporarily mentally impaired from a combination herbal product containing passionflower. 6 It is not clear whether the other ingredients may have played a role.
Safety has not been established for pregnant or nursing mothers, very young children, or those with severe liver or kidney disease.