When Spanish missionaries discovered passionflower in the 16th Century, they believed the plant looked remarkably similar to the Passion of Christ. Turns out, the missionaries stumbled upon a very good omen.

Passiflora incarnate (or passionflower) is the species of the genus most associated with therapeutic benefits. Long before Europeans came to the Americas, Aztecs used passionflower (stem, leaves, and all) to treat boils, wounds, and ear aches. As the flower migrated to Europe, it was used as a supplement for anxiety, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues, and pain relief.

The Aztecs were right about the multi-purpose plant. Scientists now believe that passionflower increases levels of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which induces a calming effect on the mind and body, and a University of Maryland study found that in cases of people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), passionflower was as effective as the drug oxazepam (Serax) for treating symptoms. In other words: a little bit of passionflower could go a long way when it comes to reducing anxiety and getting better sleep.

Tips, dosage, and use

Dr. Oz recently declared passionflower useful in calming anxiety for “young people in their 20’s looking for their calling in life.” But you don’t have to be straight out of college and clueless to reap its benefits. Passionflower is effective at any age — and you may have already tried it.

Alvita, Nature’s Answer, and Simple Truth all offer passionflower tea as sleep aids, and it’s available at most health food stores. Beyond tea, passionflower can be ingested in many forms, including tinctures, capsules, and essential oils. You can even pluck a few leaves and make tea yourself (Dr. Axe provides recipes for passionflower and other herbs) or combine it with valerian and lemon balm for a late-night remedy.

While it can be used on-the-spot, passionflower works best when incorporated into a daily routine. If you regularly experience that chest-tightening, head-swirling feeling before bed, try soothing yourself daily with 45 drops of the extract, or a 90 mg/day tablet. It could just be the miracle remedy you’ve been praying for.

Though Passionflower is considered safe, it can cause negative side effects when taken in large doses. Passionflower should not be taken with sedative medications and is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.