I suppose it’s about time I write about the name-sake of my website, right? Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) was one of the first herbs that I took as a medicine many years ago while living in San Francisco. Blended with hawthorn berry and flower, it helped me make head-way in a long period of insomnia, heart-ache, anxiety, and heart palpitations. I started to sleep better and get a foot in the door of my healing process.
Even though I was from the Southeast, I had never even heard of or seen this other-wordly plant native to that region. With nearly a hundred relatives tangling their tendrils and vines through forests in Central and South America, there are only two native species of Passiflora in America, P. incarnata and a small yellow flowering fine called P. lutea or yellow passionflower. Both are used interchangeably for medicine and both have edible fruits (although P. lutea’s fruits are much, much smaller). I’ll focus on passionflower in this blog which has white to violet flowers and fruits the size of large duck eggs which are ripe throughout August in Mississippi.
Before I launch into talking about the medicinal and edible aspects of this vine, I’d like to share some information about its insect “collaborations.” There are a few main ones that I would like to point out => gulf fritillary butterfly, ants, and carpenter bees.
The gulf fritillary butterfly caterpillar’s *only* food source are passionflower leaves, so these two beings are intimately linked. And, gulf fritillary butterflies are always seen dancing around the vine once they are winged and in flight to lay eggs. Their silver-streaked underbellies are simply amazing!
The passionflower vine also has extrafloral nectaries, or small bulbous nodes the produce a sugary nectar at the base of each leaf to attract ants for protection. These ants will do anything from girdling competing plants from crowding the vine to attacking harmful pests and insects. Herbalist Juliet Blankespoor writes other juicy details about passionflower and ant mutualism (oh, and so much more) in her blog post here.
The last collaborator I want to mention is the carpenter bee, whose large, fuzzy body is one of the key pollinators for this flowering vine. The nectar is at the base of the sexual organs of the flower. The stamen (or male parts of the plant) reach over their pollen-dusted tips like miniature shower-heads, of which carpenter bees can’t resist clumsily rubbing up against as they sip on nectar.
The reason I wrote this blog post was not to tease you with insect happenings, though. I just made a delicious natural soda (or whey cooler) from the fruit and I wanted to share that recipe. One of the first things I learned about Vit C-rich passionfruit (or maypops), is that it was commonly drunk and not eaten. To me, this makes sense considering the large seeds and small amount of pulp.
The Southeastern tribes, as I recall, were known to simmer the pulp in water, strain and let cool to drink. I’ve taken this a step further and crafted a whey cooler or natural soda recipe I’ll share below.
But before I get to the recipe, let me talk a bit about how the vine is used medicinally. Classified as a hypnotic nervine, all above-ground parts of the plant are used (especially when the plant is in flower). I’ve even read a reference to the roots beings used by late Botanical Medicalist, Gideon Lincecum of Columbus, MS. A rather general statement was made by Lincecum that it was used it for “venereal diseases.” However, the above-ground parts or aerial parts of the plant are the most commonly used and cited, currently.
I will never forget the effect passionflower had on my nerves and issues with insomnia. My mind was stuck in a trauma pattern, riddled with obsessive-compulsive thoughts and circular thinking and this plant helped me tremendously. Some say that the face of the flower looks like a clock, hence those knowledgeable of the “Doctrine of Signatures” think that this plant helps us step out of the demands of self-constructed linear time and mind patterns that are stuck. It’s interesting to note that in Japan and in Palestine, the local name of the flower refers to “clock-face.”
Passionflower is, indeed, a wonderful sleep aid. It will help you stay asleep, more importantly, as it works to deepen your REM cycle.
Combine with sedative hops (to help you fall asleep) and adrenal nourishing nettles or nettle seed for more comprehensive sleep support (tincture form). And, considering that passionflower is slightly bitter, having a cooling effect on the body, it makes sense that it would treat a hot condition of adrenal overdrive.
One of my first teachers taught me to use passionflower for people who were transitioning from highly-stimulating jobs such as a soldier, fire-fighter, or policeman (or woman). Those with ruddy complexions and slightly bulged out eyes…with a disposition to be hyper-vigilant…can get off the hamster wheel of being alarmed and constantly stimulated with this herbal ally. To use during the day, I would combine with hawthorn berry & flower and milky oats tincture (equal parts, 2 droppers full, 3 times a day).
And finally, the energetic of passionflower. While talking to a friend years ago about passionflower, she commented that if everyone had on “passionflower goggles” the world would be such a better place. And, I couldn’t agree more. On a psycho-spiritual level, passionflower helps people return to innocence through a healthy sense of wonder and curiosity about life.
For those who have lost the spark for the simple things, this herbal ally will surely help you find the way back home. You can prepare a flower essence of the flowers or take a “spiritual dose” of the tincture (typically 1-2 drops under the tongue).
Passionflower is truly one of the great relaxing nervines for worn-out and frazzled nerves. On a spectrum on nervines, I would put it in between chamomile (on the gentler end) and skullcap (on the stronger end). Safe for children and adults, this is a safe, common herb that we need to embrace and learn more about.
Although I have written mostly about tinctures, you can enjoy as a tea, although it is slightly bitter… I would blend it with oatstraw and rose petals to round out the flavor and help you cool and calm down.
And now for the recipe! I haven’t made a whey cooler in awhile for whatever reason. However, with the juicy maypops ripening, it felt like a natural thing to do for some tang and fizz. Oh yes, how do you know when they are ripe? They will start to shrivel just a bit and will be soft to the touch.
Passionfruit Whey Cooler
Makes two 750 mL wine bottle (empty screw tops work well as well as swing tops)
1/2 cup whey (the liquid that separates from curds when making cheese from milk)
1/2 cup honey or sucanat (or other sweetener)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 quarts water
Scoop out the passionfruit pulp and place in pan. Add water and bring to simmer. Turn off heat and let cool to room temperature. Add in honey, salt, whey, and lemon juice and stir well. Strain the seeds out through a mesh filter. Pour into two screw-top wine bottles and screw the lids on tightly. Set in a warm place for 3-5 days (in the summer-time, this will be ready in 3 days max). Taste the brew and see if it is fizzy and ready. If it is still too sweet for you, let it sit out more so that it will culture more. When ready to drink, transfer to the fridge and serve cold.
(Warning: be careful when opening! These drinks get REALLY fizzy and a lot of foam will pour out of the bottle!)