Medical Attributes of Passiflora sp. - Passionflower

by Stephen Bortz
Wilkes University
Wilkes-Barre, PA

July, 2001

The genus Passiflora, known commonly as the passionflower, consists as vines belonging to the passionflower family (Passifloraceae). These flowers are found in warmer areas, mostly tropics, throughout the world. Passionflower extracts have been classified into several categories of chemical activity: anxiolytic, spasmolytic, hypnotic, sedative, narcotic and anodyne (Ozarko 2001), these extracts are part of a treatment that has successfully treated outpatients with adjustment disorder and anxious mood (Bourin 1997).

Passiflora quadrangularris is used by traditional healers for snakebites. Snakebites cause bloodclotting and eventually burst blood vessels around the snakebite, this is known as haemorrhaging (Worldnet 2001). When an extract of the leaves and branches of Passiflora quadrangularis were administered orally either before or after a venom injection, neutralization of haemorrhage dropped below 25% in mice (Otero 2000). Passiflora incarnata L. is the most heavily researched member of the genus. Extracts of Passiflora incarnata L. have sedative properties in mice (a decrease in the number of rears and steps climbed in a staircase test, Soulimani 1997); this may explain why passionflower extracts are used extensively as sleep remedies.

Several flavonoids have been isolated from P. incamata L., chrysin and apigenin, (Zanoli 2000) along with orientin, isoorientin, vitexin and isovhexin (Soulimani 1997). The largest accumulations of Passiflora incamata flavonoids were found in the leaves between the pre-flowering and flowering stages of the plant (Menghini 1988). Chrysin and apigenin combined to reduce locomotor ability (Zanoli 2000). Chrysin exhibited an anxiolytic effect, which was showed by an increase in locomotor activity in rats when injected at Img/kg (Zanoli 2000). This effect was linked to GABA benzodiazepine receptors in the brain because the anxiolytic effect was blocked by an injection of Flumazenil, which is a benzodiazepine antagonist (Zanoli 2000). Chrysin and apigenin have been shown to inhibit the growth of breast carcinoma cells (Yin 2001), human thyroid cancer cells (Yin 1999), and human prostate tumors (Knowles 2000). Apigenin is considered antimutagenic because it reduced the effects ofmutagens in rats (Nakasugi 2000). Flavonoids exhibit significant hormone activity (Zand 2000); apigenin and luteolin (another flavonoid) were found to be more effective at preventing pregnancy than ethinyl estradiol (Hiremath 2000), which is found in the commonly prescribed oral contraceptives: Ortho-Novum, Medicon and LO/OVRAL (Anonymous 2001). Apigenin and luteolin were found to be toxic against the methicillin-resistant bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus (Sato 2000).

Extracts of the aerial parts of Passiflora incamata L. contain the beta-carbolines: harman, hamun, hannalin, harmol, and harmalol, along with an aroma compound, maltol (Soulimani 1997). Beta-carbolines, like those of Passiflora incamata L., induce voluntary ethanol intake in rats (Baum 1996). Some people may be interested in the fact that harman has been identified in beer, wine (Bosin 1988) and cigarette smoke (Totsuka 1999). Beta-carbolines have been found to prevent neuron damage to the brain mitochondria of dopamine-induced mice by acting as an antioxidant and scavenging hydroxyl radicals (Lee 2000). Harman acts as a vasorelaxant (something that reduces inflammation or edema), it functions by releasing GABA, serotonin and noradrenaline (Dolzhenko 1987). Harman and related compounds are mutagenic and become more mutagenic after nitrosarion occurs in the acidic conditions of the stomach (Lin 1986).

Maltol, an aromatic compound, has antioxidant properties shown when inhibiting the oxidation of hexanal by 84% (Lee 2000). Maltol was also shown to be responsible for the development of dialysis-related diseases in patients with renal dysfunction and may play a role in the development of certain neurodegenerative disorders (van Ginkel 1993). Maltol was shown to be a strong enhancer of aluminum accumulation in rat brain and blood (van Ginkel 1993).

Shatfocide, which is a glycoside of apigenin, was isolated from Passiflora incamata L. (Li 1991); experiments done with wheat sprouts extract suggest that shaftocide is responsible for the antimutagenic properties of the extract (Peyrt 1992). Passiflora morifolia extracts contain the cyanohydrin glycoside, linamarin (Jaroszewski 1996). Linamarin causes an increase of lactic acid and total cholesterol in the liver and brain in addition to the depletion of brain phospholipids in rabbits (Padmaja 1989).

Several monoterpenoid compounds (compounds with 10 carbons) have been isolated from Passiflora quadrangularis (Osorio 2001); some dietary monoterpenes have proven chemopreventive activity against rat mammary cancer (Crowell 1997).

4-Hydroxy-2-cyclopentenone is responsible for the anti-bacterial activity of an extract of leaves from Passiflora tetrandra against the bacteria: Escherichia coli, Bacillus subtilis, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, during the course of this experiment. Perry (1991) also found that 4-hydroxy-2-cyclopentenone was cytotoxic to leukemia cells.

Along with all of these therapeutic uses of passionflower extracts comes some negative side effects and properties just recently reported. Passiflora alata can induce occupational allergic disease in humans (Giavina-Bianchi 1997). A 34-year old woman experienced severe nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, prolonged QTc and episodes of nonsustained ventricular tachycardia following self-administration of a herbal remedy, Passiflora incarnata, at therapeutic doses. The woman required hospital admission for cardiac monitoring and intravenous fluid therapy (Fisher 2000). Five patients were admitted to a hospital with altered consciousness after taking the herbal product, Relaxir, produced mainly from the fruit pulp of Passiflora incarnata L. (Solbakken 1997).



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This paper was developed as part of the BIO 368 - Medical Botany course offered at Wilkes University during the summer of 2001. Course instructor was Kenneth M. Klemow, Ph.D. ( The information contained herein is based on published sources, and is made available for academic purposes only. No warrantees, expressed or implied, are made about the medical usefulness or dangers associated with the plant species in question.

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