Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Passion Flower - Herb of the Week

I have been planning my garden for the year and this plant spoke to me.  It is not really hardy in Illinois unless well mulched and protected from winter freeze, but I thought I would try it anyway because it is viney and makes beautiful flowers.
Here is what I have learned so far in my research:
This week's herb of the week -- Passion Flower (Passifloria incarnata)

Passion Flower (Passifloria incarnata) also known as Maypop is the only species of the Passion Flower that can grow in colder climates.  It has been hardy to -4 degrees F.
During Victorian times the flower (which in all but a few species lasts only one day) was very popular and many hybrids were created.  The study and propagation of the flower was written about extensively.  The French name for this plant has lent itself to La Famille Passiflore, a highly successful children's book series by Genevieve Huriet, and an animated series based upon it. These have been translated into English as Beechwood Bunny Tales and The Bellflower Bunnies, respectively. Popularly, passion flowers and especially passion fruit are frequently used with sexual or romantic innuendo, giving rise to such uses as a one-time soft drink named Purple Passion. The "Passion" in "passion flower" does not refer to sex and love, however, but to the passion of Jesus in Christian theology. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish Christian missionaries adopted the unique physical structures of this plant, particularly the numbers of its various flower parts, as symbols of the last days of Jesus and especially his crucifixion.

To Grow
Propagation from seed is very difficult as the seed must be stratified, which requires cold weather or time in the refrigerator or freezer.  Even stratified germination is low, only about 20%, so most people grow them from tip cuttings.  Using a rooting hormone and keeping the cuttings warm and moist until they are rooted (about 2 weeks) will give you plants to start with.   Or you can be like me and buy a plant at the nursery.  Plant plants 24 inches apart in a rich humusy soil in shade or part shade and give the plant a trellis as it is spreading and vining and will grow up to 8 feet high in a season.
In mid to late summer the exotic and beautiful flowers will bloom in both white and light purple.  The plant is pollinated by bats, so plant it where it is accessible to these creatures, such as near a bat house or a building with eaves.  The fruit is sweet, yellowish, and roughly the size of a chicken's egg; it enjoys some popularity as a native plant with edible fruit and few pests.

To use
Passion flower is considered a medicinal plant and infusions, tinctures, syrups and elixirs can all be made with the flowers and leaves.  It is also a great herb for foot soaks and bath blends.  You can even make herbal honey with it. Approved by the German Commission E in the treatment of insomnia and nervousness, it is used as a sedative in nervous disorders (including gastrointestinal complaints of nervous origin), difficulties in sleeping, and anxiety or restlessness. Passion Flower reduces spasms and depresses the central nervous system. It has a tranquilizing effect, including mild sedative and anti-anxiety effects. In studies conducted since the 1930's, its mode of action has been found to be different than that of most sedative drugs (sleeping pills), thus making it a non-addictive herb to promote relaxation.

Egg-shaped fruits two inches long follow the fragrant lavender flowers that appear in the summer. Passion-flower extract may be used in foods and beverages as a flavoring agent. The ripe fruits can be eaten raw or used for making jams, jellies, and drinks and is commonly added to fruit salads to provide a rich tropical flavor. The flowers may also be made into syrup.

Passion flower fruit contains delicious juicy yellow pulp mixed with many small black seeds. The fruit has recently been found to be a great source of lycopene—the health-promoting red carotenoid pigment also found in tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, and papaya. Passion fruit juice contains phytochemicals that inhibit changes in cells, thus reducing the growth of a tumor. The herb is known to contain a variety of flavonoids and other health-promoting phenolic compounds.


Passion Fruit Sangria
3 cups pineapple juice
1 cup white grape juice
1 cup passion fruit juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 bottle sweet white wine
12 ounces ginger ale

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large pitcher; chill. Add ginger ale just before serving; stir gently.

Herbal Bath -- For trouble falling asleep
2 oz. passionflower leaves and flowers
1 oz. valerian root
1 oz. violet blossoms
1.      Place the dried leaves, blossoms and roots into an enamelware pot. Pour 1 qt. of boiling water over the mixture and simmer, covered, for about 20 min.
2.      Start your bath; when the water is ready, pour the herb blend through a sieve and add the liquid to the bath.
3.      Squeeze any extra moisture from the reserved herbs and place them in cotton sachet or a small muslin bag with a draw string. Tie the bag shut and add to the bathwater. Squeeze the herb sachet from time to time as you soak.

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