The Passion Flower is a beautiful vining plant with an interesting history. It has unusual flowers that have inspired artwork, children’s stories and agriculture. While they are native to the tropics, there have now been varieties cultivated for more temperate areas. They are now grown for their blooms and fruit. Passion flowers can be used in food, medicine, oil and perfume. They are also more common in landscaping because they form tall sprawling arrangements that can cover unsightly areas of a landscape.
History of the Passion Flower
There are two types of Passion Fruit Vine; the common purple one that most people are familiar with, and the less common yellow flower variety. They are native to South America, and are thought to be part of the native Amazonian diet. The name “Passion Flower” came from the Spanish missionaries. They called it the “flower of the five wounds”, because it illustrated the crucifixion of Christ. They saw nearly every part of the plant as representing some aspect of the last days of Jesus.
The pointed leaves were thought to represent the Lance that pierced Jesus’s side. The vine’s tendrils represented the whips that were used during Jesus’s torture. The ten petals and sepals represented the ten faithful apostles while the radial filaments represent the crown of thorns. Furthermore, it is thought that the flower staying open for three days symbolizes Jesus’s three-year ministry. In many other parts of the world, the passion flower reminds people of a clock and their names for the plant are based on that image.
Helxine Soleirolii (Baby’s Tears)
Since colonial times, the purple passion flower has been distributed throughout the world, but only in tropical and subtropical growing conditions. It has become a commercial crop in Hawaii, South Africa, and Israel. It has also gained a natural foothold and now grows wild in Hawaii, Florida, Mexico and India. Cool-weather varieties have been successfully grown for their beautiful flowers and fruit in Mediterranean climates.
The Passionflower grows on a strong woody vine that can climb up to 15 feet. They have a three-lobed, glossy leaves. The leaves can be either entire or lobed on the same plant. They have unusual looking, singular flowers. The flowers bloom at different times of day and stay open for three days.
The blossom varies from a shallow saucer shape to a long trumpet shaped tube. It produces five sepals, five petals and many threadlike outgrowths from the tube. These outgrowths are called the Corona and are the most conspicuous part of the flower. From the center of the tube, rises a stalk with five stamens. Above the stamens is the ovary, from the top of which arise three spreading styles. Each style ends in a button-like stigma. The ovary has a single compartment which contains numerous seeds and ripens into a capsular fruit.
The fruit is round in shape; 2-3 inches long; when ripe, the thick waxy rind grows wrinkly, deep purple with white speck, there is an orange pulp in side with a lot of juice and small dark seeds. The yellow passion fruit is larger, has brown seeds, but is less juicy than the purple fruit. The fruits have a very intense tropical scent and taste. They are often used to produce scents of grapefruit and other citrusy blends.
While traditional Passion Flowers grow in tropical climates, there are varieties that are hardy in US growing zones 5-9. They enjoy full sun to partial shade, moist but well-drained soil, and a neutral to acidic pH. When potted, they grow 6-8 feet tall and about 3 feet wide. Wild, free-roaming varieties can get to 30 feet tall if the vines are well-supported and they sprawl to about 6 feet wide.
Because of their unique floral structures, the Passion Flower usually requires a living pollinator as opposed to a passive one like the wind. Common pollinators are several types of bees, wasps, bats, and hummingbirds. Passiflora often have high level of pollinator specificity. This has led to it becoming the basis for coevolutionary theory.
The sword-billed hummingbird is the sole pollinator of the Andean Passion Flower. The leaves are used to feed many species of butterfly and moth larvae. The passion flower has developed many defensive adaptations including diverse leaf shapes, colored bumps that mimic other butterfly eggs, extra nectar glands to lure pests away from the flower nectar, bark hairs, variegated leaves or flowers, and chemical defenses. There is even one variety, called the Stinking passion flower, that has hairs covered by a sticky fluid. Insects get stuck on the fluid and then get digested into a nutrient rich goo.
Banana passion flowers, which are native to Brazil, is now an invasive weed in some areas of Hawaii. It gets spread by wild pigs that eat the fruit. Then its vigorous growth along the roadsides smothers endemic plants. However, in other areas, there are species that are endangered due to logging and habitat destruction.
Types Of Sage
Ornamental, Landscaping & Art
Many varieties of Passion fruit are being grown outside their natural range for the beauty of their flowers and foliage. There were many varieties developed in the Victorian era using the winged-stem and blue passion flowers. Their vigorous tall growth lends itself well as a landscaping concealer or living curtain. Their flowers attract beneficial pollinators and the fruit attracts wildlife, which can be a major boon for many home gardeners.
The Passion Flower has been included in many notable art works far too numerous to mention. One is “A Bower With Passion Flowers” by Daniel Maclise and an untitled work by Henrietta Rae. It was included in the painting “Madonna & Child” by Joos van Cleve, but it is commonly thought that the Passion Flower was added later by a different artist because the flower wasn’t introduced to van Cleve’s region until after his death. The Passion Flower was even a popular theme in Victorian wallpaper.
The French name for the Passion Flower has given rise to a children’s book series, La Famille Passiflore. That book series was then translated to English, as Beechwood Bunny Tales and an animated series in France called The Bellflower Bunnies. In the stories, the characters all have botanical names and the father is gardener.
There are many varieties of Passion Flower that are cultivated specifically for their fruit. Some varieties are best used for juices, while others can be cut in half to eat the pulp and seeds with a spoon. The rind is not edible. It can be mixed with other juices either with or without ice to make a smoothie.
Simple syrups can be used to flavor cakes, top pancakes or desserts, and mixed into drinks. A syrup made from passion fruit will have an intense tropical fruit flavor, so use it sparingly at first and build up until it is to your taste. In addition to drinks and desserts, you could also use it for tropical island dishes. You can add it to a vinaigrette dressing, mix into coconut rice, or marinade fish and chicken.
To make a passion fruit syrup, start by adding equal parts water and sugar to a pot and bring it to a boil. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then remove from heat. Scoop the pulp and seeds from four passion fruits into the simple syrup. Let the fruit steep in the syrup for two hours. Set a fine mesh colander over a glass container and pour the contents of the pot through the colander. Don’t press the solids; just let the syrup drip naturally. Either water bath can the syrup or keep in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. You can discard the solids or combine them with the pulp from new fruit to make the next food item.
Combining passion fruit with another tropical – in this case mango – is the easiest way to get the most bang for your buck. You will need the flesh from about 7 ripe mangoes (chopped), 6 passion fruits, 5 ¾ cup sugar, and 1 Tbsp of lime juice. The process to make the jam is similar to that of making syrup, except there is no water added. You will simply add all of the ingredients to a pot and heat it – slowly at first. Then, once the mixture starts to boil, stir continuously for about 20 minutes. To check for doneness, pour a spoonful on a plate that has been chilled. If it gels up, its ready. You can either pour it into glass jars and store in the refrigerator, or it can be water bath canned like any other fruit jam.
Desserts and smoothies
In order to use the fruit with desserts and smoothies, the easiest way is to simply pulse the pulp and seeds in a blender or food processor with a small amount of lemon juice. Taste your puree and mix in sugar or lemon juice until you are happy with the flavor. You could also substitute passion fruit for lemon to make passion fruit curd, pound cake dessert bars, tarts, or pies.
The Passion flower has been noted for its calming effect. Some people take it for insomnia, stress, pain and anxiety. In the past, it has been used in the U.S. as an over-the-counter sedative and sleep aid, but the FDA removed that approval in 1978 when manufacturers did not submit evidence of its effectiveness.
The chemicals in passion flower have calming effects and relieve muscle spasms. It is thought to work by increasing the levels of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. The above ground parts have been taken as a tea, a liquid extract or a tincture. While it’s fine to use on its own, it is also good blended with other nerve-calming herbs such as chamomile, lemon balm, valerian root, or ashwagandha.
To make a tea, use the steep the fresh or dried flowers and leaves in boiling water for 2 to 5 minutes. Strain the solids and enjoy warm. For an added soothing sweetness, add some local honey to your warm drink.
Technically, tinctures are concentrated extracts. However, most commonly very concentrated extracts made using alcohol are thought of as tinctures, while those concoctions made using water, vinegar, or glycerin is an extract.
Prairiehuasca is a hallucinogenic drink known as an ayahuasca analog in the sense that is has entheogenic effects. All of these types of analogs must contain both an MAO inhibitor as well as a source of DMT. Prairiehuasca is made with passion flower and the Illinois bundleflower. To make a hallucinogenic drink with strong sedative properties, prepare a tea as above, but use 15 grams of the passion flower and 30 grams of the Illinois bundleflower.
There are three ways to get oil from a seed. The first two involve a machine and pressing. The third is a chemical extract process. Expeller pressed oils were extracted using a machine. The harder the nut or seed, the pressure needs to be applied. This ends up producing more friction and more heat. Cold-pressing is the method most often used from delicate oils, they are pressed in a controlled environment below 122 degrees F. The third option, solvent extraction, is less expensive and much faster. The downside is that the solvent used is typically hexane, a key component of gasoline.
Perfumes and Potpourri
Thankfully, perfumes and potpourri are a lot easier to make than oil. To make passion flower potpourri, you just need to pick your ingredients, dry it all out, and mix it all together. When choosing ingredients, consider adding fruit slices like orange or lemon, berries, or oils like rose, lemon or honeysuckle.
Once you have everything gathered, prepare for drying by slicing fruit and making sure plant parts are small enough to fit in the potpourri warmer. Dry them all on a cookie sheet in the over for two hours on about 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it’s done, sprinkle the dried mixture with a scent fixative – like orris root powder to keep the scent you want lasting a long time.
To make a perfume, you’ll need a few more ingredients and some careful measuring skills. You’ll need 2 ½ ounces of alcohol. The alcohol used should be high proof (190), food-grade ethanol. Vodka or Everclear work very well because they’re clear and don’t smell bad. Next, you’ll need ½ ounce of a carrier oil such as jojoba, olive, or rosehip oil.
Finally, you’ll need 2 Tablespoons of water and 25 drops of your fragrance. In the case of passionflower perfume, you’ll want to use drops of the concentrated tincture that was discussed earlier.
In some areas such as Hawaii, the Passion Flower can be a nuisance weed that takes over the local ecology. In other areas, they are a much sought-after landscaping plant. With showy flowers, tall sprawling vines and vigorous growth, it is easy to see how the same flower could be viewed so differently given the situation.
Whatever your level of interest, the Passion flower can and has been used in a variety of different ways. This includes landscaping and art, flowers and fruit, food, medicine, hallucinogenic drinks, perfumes and potpourris. While it was originally only a tropical plant, its broad range of uses has helped enhance its appeal and driven the spread of cool-climate varieties to more temperate areas of the world.