Passionflower, also known as Passiflora incarnata, seems to live up to its name today: a plant that provides overflowing goodness for your mind and body. However, before talking about its potential health benefits, it’s important to learn about its long history.

Passionflower was first discovered by Spanish Jesuits in Peru in the 17th century, and was named for its resemblance to the crucifixion of Christ. The Peruvians used the flower as a sedative. Once it spread to Europe, it was used to treat restlessness and agitation, along with other ailments like indigestion and seizures. Today, it’s commonly used to treat anxiety.

Other than benefitting mental health, passionflower — or rather, its fruit, the maypop — is also used to flavor certain soft drinks, as well as Hawaiian Punch.

Passionflower Health Use Today

The Passiflora flower family may be helpful in treating ailments we face today, such as anxiety, insomnia, and even stomach upsets.

Gastrointestinal Help

When it comes to stomach problems, another member of the Passiflora family, passifloraceae, is more effective than Passiflora incarnata. One study in rats showed passifloraceae to be helpful against ulcers caused by alcohol or aspirin. An ulcer is a rip in the stomach lining. Along with a decrease in ulcers, the plant was also found to have great antioxidant potential. Hopefully future studies will look at the affect this herb has on human subjects.

Another study involving a different family member, Passiflora serratodigitata, also relieved ulcers with an extract made from the leaves and stems.

Soothes the Mind

Passiflora incarnta may provide relief from problems like nervousness and insomnia. It helps you mellow out by boosting the brain’s levels of a chemical called GABA, which lowers your brain activity. As such, it shows potential as a good sleep aid.

In one trial, people who drank an herbal tea containing passionflower over seven days saw improvements in the quality of their sleep. However, the benefits seemed to be short-term, and it may be most helpful to those with mild sleep irregularities.

In addition to sleep, one trial showed potential for passionflower as an anti-anxiety drug. Though the plant took longer to affect patients, it impaired their performance of work-related tasks less than oxazepam.

A more recent study of surgical patients showed decreases in stress and anxiety after taking passionflower.

How to Take Passionflower

We’ve seen that passionflower may be of benefit to stress, insomnia, and even stomach problems like ulcers. The best way to take passionflower is through tea. The NYU Langone Medical Center suggests making one cup three times a day by soaking one teaspoon of dried leaves for 10 to 15 minutes. For tinctures and extracts, follow the directions on the labels.

Passionflower is generally considered to be safe, although its use hasn’t yet been approved for children or pregnant or lactating women.