The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Passiflora spp.


Passionflowers, Passion Fruits




Passifloraceae (Passionflower Family); Subfamily Passifloreae

Forms and Subspecies


The genus Passiflora encompasses some four hundred, but no more than five hundred, species (Meier et al. 1994, 34; Vanderplank 1991). The following species and subspecies have ethnopharmacological significance:


Passiflora caerulea L. cv. Constance Elliot—blue crowned passionflower

Passiflora edulis Sims var. edulis Sims—passion fruit, maracuja, purple passion fruit, purpurgranadille

Passiflora edulis Sims var. flavicarpa Degener—granadilla, granadille, yellow passion fruit

Passiflora foetida L.—amapola, t’usku’, tsyquitieco, pok’pok’

Passiflora incarnata L. [syn. Granadilla incarnata Medik., Grenadilla incarnata Medik., Passiflora edulis Sims var. kerii Masters, Passiflora kerii Spreng.]—true passionflower, passionflower, wild passion vine, maypop

Passiflora involucrata (Masters) A. Gentry [syn. Passiflora quadriglandulosa var. involucrata (Masters) Killip, Passiflora vitifolia var. involucrata Masters]—chontay huasca

Passiflora jorullensis H.B.K.—coanenepilli

Passiflora laurifolia L.

Passiflora quadrangularis L. [syn. Passiflora macrocarpa Masters]—tumbo, bate

Passiflora rubra L.—liane zombie (cf. zombie poison)



Most passionflowers are tropical plants native to Central and South America. In pre-Columbian times, many Indians used some species as a source of food (twelve to sixty species are edible) and as sedatives and medicines. When Spanish missionaries invaded the New World, they took Passiflora as a sign from God, seeing the unusual flowers as a symbol of the mystery and the passion of their savior. Among those who played an important role in promoting this view were the cloister student and artist Jacomo Bosio, the Jesuit J. B. Ferrari in Siena, Father Simone Parlasca, and Pope Paul V (Klock 1996, 13).


The color of the enchanting flower of Passiflora amethystina Mikan led to its being named after the amethyst, the sacred stone of Dionysos. (Photographed in Japan)


The English herbalist John Gerard may have been the first to report on the mysterious new plant (Meier 1995b, 116; Rätsch 1991a, 203*). In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, botanists helped spread many passionflower species across much of the globe (Meier 1995b, 115). Most species were described in the nineteenth century (Schneider 1974, 3:31*).

Today, passion fruits are regarded as one of the most prized exotic fruits in the world (Mollenhauer 1962). The genus is still awaiting comprehensive ethnopharmacological research, particularly with regard to its psychoactive usefulness (cf. Meier 1995b, 119).



Almost all species of the genus Passiflora are indigenous to the tropical rain forests of the Americas, especially South America. Passiflora incarnata was originally found in the Caribbean region as well as in southeastern North America (Meier et al. 1994, 35). Only a few cold-resistant species (P. caerulea L., P. incarnata L., P. lutea L.) can survive outdoors in temperate zones. Pcaerulea now grows wild in southern Europe (Italy and Greece) (Meier 1995b). Passion fruits are grown in Portugal and Spain. Many Passiflora species, such as the beautiful Pamethystina, have become established in Southeast Asia as ornamentals.



The passionflowers are becoming increaingly important as houseplants and ornamentals. All species can be grown from seed (see Klock 1996), which can be sown in very loose, airy potting soil throughout the year; in central Europe, however, the period from November to April is the best time for planting (time to germination: two to six weeks at 20 to 25°C). As houseplants, passion-flowers should be well watered between April and September and given fertilizer every fourteen days. In spring, the shoots should be cut back to a length of 10 to 15 cm (or pot up as needed).


The grenadilla, or passion fruit (Passiflora edulis).



One of the few passionflowers that can be cultivated in Europe: Passiflora caerulea. (Wild plant, photographed in Cyprus)



The juicy and vitamin-rich fruit of the maracuja (Passiflora edulis). In Brazil, the juice pressed from this fruit is used in the production of the psychoactive vinho do jurema.



Passiflora rosea, known as tumbo, photographed in the Andes of northern Peru.



Passiflora aff. foetida is commonly called amapola, “opium.” (Photographed at Tikal, Guatemala)



One of the many as yet undescribed tropical Passiflora species in the Amazonian rain forests.




All Passiflora species are evergreen climbing vines or bushes with many-lobed leaves and unmistakable, bizarre flowers with three styles, some seventy-two filaments, and five anthers. The fruits are usually oval and, in many species, edible.

Psychoactive Material


—Passionflower herbage (leaves and stalks; passiflorae herba, herba passiflorae) from the stock plant Passiflora incarnata L.; Passiflora caerulea L. was formerly used as well but is now regarded as a counterfeit of the drug (Meier 1995b)

—Roots of Passiflora involucrata

—Fruit juice of Passiflora edulis

—Calyxes of Passiflora foetida

Preparation and Dosage


To make calmative teas, the dried herbage of Passiflora incarnata is best combined with valerian roots (Valeriana officinalis), hop cones (Humulus lupulus), and St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum L.) or with valerian roots, balm (Melissa officinalis L.), anise (Pimpinella anisum L.), and mint (Mentha sp.) (Meier 1995b, 124 f.). The recommended daily dosage of the dried herbage of Passiflora incarnata is 4 to 8 g; as a tea, 2.5 g per cup, taken three or four times daily (Meier 1995b, 122; Wichtl 1989). Tea can also be prepared using 15 g of passionflower herbage and 150 g of boiling water. To date, no interactions with other substances (negative synergies) are known (Meier et al. 1994, 46).

The herbage can be smoked alone or in smoking blends (overdoses are unknown).

In Mexico, the flowers of Passiflora foetida are known as amapola, “opium,” and are made into a tea that is used as an opium substitute (Argueta V. et al. 1994, 119*).

The roots of Passiflora involucrata are suitable for use in preparing ayahuasca analogs.

Passion-fruit juice is used together with Mimosa tenuiflora and probably Pithecellobium spp. to produce the ayahuasca-like drink known as jurema. Further study of this use is needed.

Ritual Use


In the region of Iquitos, the roots of the Amazonian species Passiflora involucrata are used as an ayahuasca additive “so that the visions become more intense” (Rob Montgomery, pers. comm.). Maracuja juice (P. edulis var. edulis) plays an imprecisely understood role in the little-studied Brazilian jurema cult, whose practices are similar to those surrounding ayahuasca.



The Brazilian jurema cult may possess artifacts that make reference to the passionflower.

Medicinal Use


In Amazonia, a tea of maracuja leaves (Passiflora edulis) is drunk as a sedative (Duke and Vasquez 1994, 130*). A tea made from the leaves of tumbo (Passiflora quadrangularis) is used as a narcotic and sedative. The Kubeo Indians say that a decoction of the leaves of Passiflora laurifolia has sleep-inducing effects (Schultes and Raffauf 1986, 269*). The Indians of the Caribbean and Central America also know of Passiflora species that they use as sedatives and sleeping agents.

In European folk medicine and phytotherapy, Passiflora incarnata is taken as a tea or as part of a combination preparation for states of nervous unrest (Meier 1995b, 122; Wichtl 1989). In home-opathy, a mother tincture (Passiflora incarnata hom. HAB1PFXHPUS88) is used for such purposes as calming and to promote sleep (Meier et al. 1995, 47).



It was once thought that harmane alkaloids were the active constituents in Passiflora incarnata and other species (Löhdefink and Kating 1974; cf. β-carbolinesharmine and harmaline).277 One can sometimes read in the literature that 100 g of dried Passiflora incarnata herbage contains approximately 10 mg of harmane alkaloids, but this amount is highly questionable (Meier 1995b, 120). It is possible that cinnamic acid derivatives and coumarins were mistaken for harmanes during the analysis (Meier et al. 1994, 38). Maltol (a γpyrone), once thought to be the main active constituent, is actually a by-product produced when the raw plant material is heated and cannot be responsible for the effects. The most recent research indicates that the C-glycosylflavones apigenine and luteoline are the main active constituents (Meier 1995b, 120; Meier 1995a; Meier et al. 1994).

The following compounds are present in Passiflora incarnata: vicenine-2, isoorientine-2’’-O-glucoside, schaftoside, isoschaftoside, isoorientine, isovitexine-2’’-O-glucoside, isovitexine, and swertisine. Orientine and vitexine are present only in trace amounts. Saponarine, which was thought to be a component as well, is absent (Meier 1995a). Passiflora jorullensis contains passicol, harmol, harmane, harmine, harmalol, and harmaline (Emboden 1979, 187*).

The mucilaginous pulp (mesocarp) of passion fruit (Passiflora edulis) consists primarily of 2 to 4% citric acid, relatively little ascorbic acid (only 20 to 50 mg per 100 g of pulp), carotenoids (0.5 to 2.5 mg per 100 g of pulp), starch, and more than two hundred aromatic substances (Meier 1995b, 116 ff.). There is no evidence indicating whether harmanes occur in the fruit.

The roots of Passiflora involucrata appear to be rich in β-carbolines with MAO-inhibiting properties. The chemistry of the flowers of Passiflora foetida has not yet been clarified (Argueta V. et al. 1994, 119*).



Maracuja juice increases the efficacy of vinho do jurema (see Mimosa tenuiflora), as it allegedly possesses MAO-inhibiting properties (cf. ayahuasca analogs).

Animal experiments have demonstrated that an aqueous extract of Passiflora incarnata both deepens and prolongs sleep. The neuropharmacological effects have been compared to those of Cannabis sativa(Speroni and Minghetti 1988). Although calmative effects are often mentioned, there is no pharmacological evidence to support them. The effects appear to be more anxiolytic (Meier 1995b, 123).

When smoked, the herbage of Passiflora incarnata induces a marijuana-like “high” (Brown and Malone 1978, 11*). The effects are very subtle. It has been claimed that smoking Passiflora inhibits MAO, so that orally administered N,N-DMT can be effective.

Smoking Passiflora jorullensis induces a state of euphoria that is said to be like that produced by Cannabis sativa (Emboden 1979, 187*). Whether the Passiflora rubra of the Dominican Republic is able to produce a zombielike state is unknown.

Commercial Forms and Regulations


The seeds of various species can be obtained in nurseries and flower shops (the blue crowned passionflower is frequently sold under the name Passiflora caerulea). Passion fruits are now found on fruit stands in much of the world. Tea mixtures and herbal tablets based upon Passiflora incarnata are available without restriction and can be purchased in pharmacies, herb shops, health food stores, et cetera.



See also the entries for ayahuascaayahuasca analogsβ-carbolines, and harmaline and harmine.


Killip, Ellsworth P. 1938. The American species of Passifloraceae. Publications of the Field Museum of Natural History, botanical series, 19:1–613.


Klock, Peter. 1996. Das große Buch der Passionsblumen. Hamburg: Lagerstroemia Verlag.


Löhdefink, J., and H. Kasting. 1974. Zur Frage des Vorkommens von Harmanalkaloiden in Passiflora-Arten. Planta Medica 25:101–4.


Martin, F. W., and H. Y. Nakasone. 1970. The edible species of PassifloraEconomic Botany 24:333–34.


Meier, Beat. 1995a. Passiflora herba—pharmazeutische Qualität. Zeitschrift für Phytotherapie 16 (2): 90–99.


———. 1995b. Passiflora incarnata L.—Passionsblume: Portrait einer Arzneipflanze. Zeitschrift für Phytotherapie 16 (2): 115–26.


Meier, Beat, Anne Rehwald, and Marianne Meier-Liebi. 1994. Passiflora. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 6:34–49. Berlin: Springer.


Mollenhauer, H. P. 1962. Die Grenadilla (Passiflora edulis Sims). Deutsche Apotheker-Zeitung 102:1097–1100.


Speroni, E., and A. Minghetti. 1988. Neuropharmacological activity of extracts from Passiflora incarnataPlanta Medica 54:488–91.


Vanderplank, John. 1991. Passion flowers and passion fruit. London: Cassell Publishers Limited.


Wichtl, Max. 1989. Passionsblumenkraut. In Teedrogen, ed. M. Wichtl, 362–64. Stuttgart: WVG.



The bizarre blossom of the passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) has long stimulated the human imagination. (Drawing by Sebastian Rätsch)








“This plant, which the Spaniards in the West Indies named Granadilla because of its similarity to the fruit of the pomegranate, is the same that the Virginians called Maracoc. The Spanish Friars first called it Flos Passionis, passion flower, because of an imagined conception, and reported that it was epitome of the passion story of Our Savior. The fruit, which thrives in the West Indies, is large and red and reminiscent of a pomegranate. But the husk is thinner, and although the flesh of the fruit is without taste, the juice is sour. The Indians as well as the Spaniards open the fruit in the manner of eggs and eagerly suck out the juice. The fruit is a mild laxative.”