It’s funny how you can look at some plants in the wild or in the domestic landscape and want to have them in your own backyard. Wild passionflower or Maypop (Passiflora incarnata), is a prime example. The flowers are so unique they almost don’t look real. They can be three to five inches wide and have a soft pleasant aroma. Butterflies love them.
Each flower lasts about a day and the plant blooms from early summer to fall and at times can be quite profuse. The leaves have three main lobes but are otherwise smooth. Green fruits resemble eggs in size and shape and persist until they get soft. They are basically hollow and lightweight and will pop if you step on them. The flesh is spongy and off-white to yellow. It is edible, but not very flavorful.
Maypops require full sunlight for about half of the day and can be grown in total sun. They tolerate a wide variety of soil types
Now comes some of the bad news. Passionflower is a vine and can be invasive. Leaves are evergreen and it climbs using tendrils, so it will cover your other shrubbery and be difficult to remove without damaging delicate plants. It grows fast and spreads by seeds all over your lawn and in your flowerbeds. The dark-colored flattened seeds are slow to germinate if you are trying to grow them. They contain natural internal inhibitors, but somehow seedlings find their way into your landscaping all by themselves.
Maypops are native to Florida but have escaped and naturalized to our area. In an unusually hard winter they might get damaged, but basically they are quite hardy in eastern North Carolina. In fact, passionflower is the official wildflower of Tennessee, where the climate is somewhat harsher than ours.
Passionflower has been used medicinally to treat many ailments. Plant extracts can be natural bactericides and are used to treat eye infections and inflammations. Many commercial preparations are available to induce relaxation and sleep without the dangers of narcotic addiction. Chemicals involved are likely flavinoids. Herbal tea enthusiasts use roots, leaves, and flowers to concoct their medicinal beverages.
Chemicals in passionflower are also said relieve back pain, since they relax the nerves. Some researchers even claim its calming properties might be useful for treating ADD and ADHD. However, this has not been thoroughly studied, so I’d suggest consulting your doctor. Passionflower is on the FDA’s “generally considered safe” list, but it might interact with other medicines.
Like anything else in nature, certain people might have a sensitivity to chemicals in passionflower. There have been reports of people getting sick, but the numbers don’t indicate a problem or trend. Food allergies are commonplace, so it’s always advisable to try small amounts of something new. You never know how your body might react.
Plant extracts may make you dizzy or drowsy. Do not drive, use machinery, or do any activity that requires dexterity until you are fully alert. Some commercially available forms may contain sugar and/or alcohol, so beware if you have diabetes or liver problems.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.
I generally avoid taking extracts, but I once bought an ounce of dried passionflower herb and used it to brew up an herbal tea. I found it pleasant and relaxing, noticeably more strongly so than chamomile or lemon balm, two other relaxing herbs that I enjoy very much.
If you’re interested in seeing citations to some research backing up the use of this herb, I recently put together a science-based article on RateTea, on the page on passionflower tea. It seems there is considerable evidence supporting its use for anxiety. However, I also found a bit more cautionary points than are typical for herbs. But it does seem a lot safer than prescription medicines used to achieve similar effects (like benzodiazepines).
This flower would seem to be just harmless and out of the way but its not at all it gets out of control all over your yard!
It is native to the Southeastern U.S. so, if you’re in its native range, I think it’s a lot better to allow a plant like this to become overgrown, than it is to fill your yard with non-natives.