Passiflora as a genus covers over four hundred species. All Passiflora species (widely known as Passionflowers and Passion Fruits), are evergreen climbing vines or bushes with many-lobed leaves and unmistakable, other worldly flowers that come in several variations of leaves, filaments and anthers. The fruits of Passiflora are most often oval and, in many species, edible.
Almost all species of Passiflora are indigenous to the tropical rain forests of the Americas, most to Central and South America. Some species can be found native to the Caribbean and also to southeastern North America. There are only a few Passiflora species that can survive in more temperate climates, with several species now known to grow wild in Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain, as well as Southeast Asia. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, botanists helped spread many passionflower species across much of the globe.
In Pre-Columbian times, many Indians used some of the up-to-sixty edible Passiflora species as food, as well as a source of medicine and sedatives. When Spanish missionaries invaded the New World, they took Passiflora as a sign from their God, seeing the unusual flowers as a symbol of the mystery and the passion of their savior. It was the Spanish Friars who first called it “Flos Passionis,” or Passion Flower in English, because of their imagined conception that Passiflora was the living epitome of the passion story of their Lord Savior.
The Spaniards of the West Indies named the plant “Granadilla” due to its similarity to the fruit of the pomegranate. The passion fruit, which thrives in the West Indies, is large and red and bears a striking resemblance to the pomegranate, only the passion fruit’s husk is thinner, its fruit is basically without taste, and its juice is sour. The fruit has been found to have mild laxative effects.
Today, passion fruits are thought to be one of the most highly valued exotic fruits found the world over. It has been reported that the psychoactive components in Passiflora incarnata and other Passiflora species were found to be harmane alkaloids. It can be found cited in literature that one hundred grams of dried Passiflora incarnata contains about ten micrograms of harmane alkaloid. This finding has been highly controversial. Maltol, once believed to be the main active constituent, is actually a by-product that is produced when the raw plant is heated. The pulp of the passion fruit consists primarily of two to four percent citric acid, traces of ascorbic acid, cartenoids, starch and more than two hundred aromatic substances.
The psychoactive properties of the Passiflora genus as a whole is still awaiting thorough ethnopharmacological study, however there are several species that have a rich history as entheogens. The psychoactive compounds documented to be found in Passiflora incarnata include vicenine-2, isoorientine, isovitexine-2”-O-glucoside, schaftoside, isoschaftoside, isoorientine2”-O-glucoside, isovitexine and swertisine. Saponarine, once thought to be a constituent, has been determined to be absent. Passiflora jorullensis contains passicol, harmol, harmane, harmine, and harmaline. The roots of Passiflora involucrata appear to be rich in B-carbolines with MAO-inhibiting properties
In Amazonia, a tea of maracuja leaves (Passiflora edulis) is imbibed as a sedative. Maracuja juice also allegedly contains MAO-inhibiting properties. A tea which is made form the leaves of tumbo (Passiflora quadrangularis) is used as a narcotic and sedative. The Kubeo Indian claim that a decoction of the leaves as Passiflora laurifolia has sleep-inducing effects. The Indians of the Caribbean and Central America also use several species of Passiflora as sedatives and sleeping agents. In the region of Iquitos, the roots of the Amazonian species Passiflora involucrata are used as an additive to ayahuasca to intensify the visions experienced during ceremonial rituals.
In European folk medicine and phytotherapy, Passiflora incarnata is either taken as a tea or as part of a combination preparation for states of nervous unrest. In homeopathy, a Passiflora incarnata mother tincture is used for such purposes as calming and to promote sleep. Experimentation with animals has demonstrated that an aqueous extract of Passiflora incarnata both deepens and prolongs sleep.
The neuropharmacological effects have been compared to those of Cannibis sativa. When smoked, the herbage of Passiflora incarnata induces a marijuana-like high with reportedly mild effects. Claims have been made that smoking Passiflora has MAO-inhibiting effects, thus making more effective oral doses of N,N-DMT. Smoking Passiflora jorullensis induces a state of euphoria that is said to mimic the effects of Cannabis sativa. The herbage can be smoked alone or in smoking blends with herbage of other plants.
All species of Passiflora can be grown from seed, which can be sown in very loose, airy soil throughout the year in warmer and tropical climates. In Central Europe, however, it is best planted in the period between November to April, with its germination time from two to six weeks at the onset of warmer weather. As a houseplant, passionflowers should be well watered between April and September and given fertilizer every fourteen days. In Spring, the shoots should be cut back to four to seven inches.
To make calmative teas, the dried herbage of Passiflora incarnata is best combined with valerian root (Valeriana officinalis), hop cones (Humulus lupulus), and St. John’s Wart (Hypericum perforatum). Another variation includes the dried herbage of Passiflora incarnata blended with valerian roots, balm (Melissa officinalis), anise (Pimpinella anisum), and mint (menthe). The recommended daily dosage of the dried herbage of Passiflora incarnata is four to eight grams; as a tea the suggested dosage is two and one half grams per cup, taken three to four times daily. Tea can also be made by using fifteen grams of passionflower herbage and one hundred and fifty grams of boiling water.
In Mexico, the flowers of Passiflora foetida are known as amapola, or “opium,” and are brewed into a tea that is used as an opium substitute. The roots of Passiflora involucrata are suitable for use in preparing ayahuasca analogs. Passion fruit juice is used together with Mimosa tenuiflora and species of the Pithecellobium family to produce the ayahuasca-like drink known as jumera of the Brazilian Jurema cult and is represented in their various artifacts. It has been rumored that the Passiflora rubra of the Dominican Republic is able to produce a zombielike state but those reports have not been substantiated.
The seeds of various Passiflora species can be obtained legally, and tea mixtures and herbal supplements based on Passiflora incarnata are widely available and passion fruits can now be found at fruit stands and markets almost everywhere in the world.