Anxiolytic – I love this glossary medica term; there's almost an Italian flourish to it. It means anxiety/panic reducing, and the very beautiful Passionflower (Passiflora) is well known for its soothing anxiolytic effects.
Noted herbalist David Winston wrote in his book Herbal Therapeutics: Specific Indications for Herbs and Herbal Formulas, that passion flower is “… useful for anxiety, insomnia, nervous or occipital headaches, neuralgia, teething children, muscle/nerve pain, facial tics, pelvic and spasmodic pain.” There are over 500 passiflora species, with studies today showing a promising level of astringent, antimicrobial, analgesic and anti-tumour activity, as well as a variety of fungal and bacterial conditions, and not to mention epilepsy, diarrhea and dysentery.
It’s also well known for managing menopausal symptoms, particularly hotflashes and anxiety; for heart disease it’s often paired with hawthorn. However, it’s probably best known for its nervine support, to calm anxiety and to help with insomnia.
You can imagine that as a result of its many therapeutic uses, it's been very well studied, with many of its chemical compounds of great interest to the biochemists. Specifically, its anxiolytic agents, harmoline, maltol, 2-phenylethanol, chrysin, vitexin, coumerin and umbelliferone, are just some of passionflower's key players.
Each of these compounds are thought to have a steadying effect on the nervous system, yet it’s the fact that they work so harmoniously together that puts passion flower’s effectiveness at the top of the list as an effective anxiety reducer.
What distinguishes passionflower from other nervine herbs?
Many nervine herbs relax the nervous system to the point of drowsiness, yet passionflower doesn’t suppress it at all. Rather than dulling the senses, passionflower relaxes the neurons (nerve cells) resulting in a calmed, quietened and more focused mind without drowsiness.
From an equine point of view, it can be very useful when encouraging positive desensitisation to help avoid the fight/flight response kicking in at recognised trigger points. For humans, it can help soothe jumbled, chattering, repeating thoughts, releasing the tension that keeps those thoughts swirling around, and all without inducing drowsiness.
So how does passionflower earn its title as an anxiolytic agent? First up, some science-y word explanations that all play a part here (Science Alert!):
Here’s the physiology:
So where does passionflower come in? It’s all to do with passionflower’s multi-collection of bioflavonoids, which rather cleverly bind specifically to the benzodiazepine receptors sites and triggers GABA activity, which reduces nervous system neuron exciteability. TaDah!
Another rather interesting study result currently commanding a lot of attention is on passionflower’s chrysin constituent. This bioflavonoid was originally being examined for possible neurotoxicity, yet was instead discovered to be neuroprotective, showing that chrysin reduces inflammation of the nerves, one of the primary ways to reduce symptoms of generalized anxiety disorders. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26386393)
It’s such a popular herb for western herbalists, and especially when used consistently for nerve-related issues. Although it’s an effective remedy on its own, it’s usually blended as part of a formula, and specifically effectively combined for equine support with valerian, hops, chamomile, lemon balm and crampbark, which is where we use it, specifically in our organic calming blends and MellowMare range.
For us humans to take as a herbal tea, infuse 33g chopped herb with 1-litre boiling water for 5-ish minutes – remember to always cover herbal tea infusions as we want the essential oils in the tea, not evaporating into the atmosphere. Strain, pour, drink :-)