Passiflora

All You Should Know about the Passion Flower and the Passion Fruit

We keep hearing more and more about the passion fruit… But what is it really? A huge variety of fruits with weird names keep appearing on the market. We had just got used to the kiwi fruit, mango, papaya, and avocado, and now here comes the passion fruit, the dragon fruit, pomelo, physalis, and many others with complicated names that we can barely remember! And then, in the supermarket, they are sold at steep prices. If only they tasted good! But how can you know?

So you have decided to taste a fruit that your grandparents have never heard of and don’t seem too eager to try it either. Maybe it’s good though, maybe it has more vitamins, maybe it will enhance your lifestyle, or, at least, boost your self-confidence… And after all, if you still want to try one, aren’t you curious to know who gave it this “passionate” name? Maybe it wasn’t that unimaginative after all…

How Much Passion Does the Passion Fruit Have?

Just as the mulberry makes mulberries, the passion flower makes… the passion fruit. Is it some kind of aphrodisiac? When you eat it does a sudden passion for the things you generally don’t like appear? Maybe the thought of cleaning the dishes and the gas cooker will start to excite you? Well, I don’t believe that either… however, where does this “passion” come from?

The Latin name for the passion fruit is Passiflora. Passio in Latin means passion – as in suffering. It doesn’t really sound anymore like the passion you thought about initially, does it? Do you remember Mel Gibson’s movie? “The Passions of the Christ”. Here passion suggests the sufferings that preceded Messiah’s death through crucifixion. The right meaning, thus, would be more like suffering flower.

The Christian missionaries gave the flower its name when they traveled to South America in the XVIth century to spread their religion. It was easier for them to talk about the life, death, and doings of the Son of God to the natives by making a parallel to a flower that the South Americans already knew well.

Passion Flower

Usually, these flowers have 5 sepals and 5 petals. The sepals are those little leaves transformed into petals that make up the flower corolla. The petals and the sepals symbolized 10 out of twelve apostles. The ones that were excluded were Peter, who during the Holy Thursday denied the connection he had with Christ, and Judas the betrayer. The petals from the back of the leaves reminded those of the silver that Judas obtained after selling Jesus. The little slim, numerous, usually blue petals of the corona represent the crown of thorns or the halo.

A part of the flower’s charm is given by the prominence of the reproductive organs that are not hidden by the petals like in other flower species. The three stigmas, part of the female reproductive organs, were attributed to the symbol of the three nails piercing the hands and the feet of Christ on the cross, while the five others (the male reproductive organs of the flower), symbolized the wounds of crucifixion. The tendrils reminded of the leather whips, and the leaves of the spear with which Jesus Christ’s body was stabbed.

I know, it’s a bit far from the initial ideas that the name of this flower evokes. But wait to see what follows!

Passion Flower

From the Tropical Plant to the Ones Found in the Supermarket

400
species of Passiflora are spread in different regions around the world.
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A biologist would tell you that the genus Passiflora belongs to the Passifloraceae family. And it is a big family! There are over 400 species of this extraordinary plant 1)The Encyclopedia of Fruit & Nuts” by Jules Janick and Robert E. Paull, book published by CABI in 20082)Systematics of Fruit Crops” by Girish Sharma, book published by New India Publishing Agency in 2009.

9
is the number of months some Passiflora species stay in bloom.
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The plants of this family are mostly climbers. There are certain species that grow as shrubs or trees, but they are not representative. It’s something rare to find a Passiflora that doesn’t grow everywhere it can. Of course, the flowers are amazing and the plant produces new ones daily, up to 9 months a year. Even more, some species encourage the presence of butterflies. You probably see it already as a dream garden flower. But it can be a real pain as well. Passiflora must be trimmed regularly, otherwise it will suffocate all the other plants.

Passion Flower with tendrils

Due to this tendency of climbing and suffocating other plants, it is considered a pest, some kind of weed in some areas, especially when it is out of control.

Most Passiflora species grow in South America and in tropical zones. Around 40 species grow in Australia, in the South-pacific Islands, Asia, and Madagascar.

Passion Fruits
15%
of the Passiflora species have edible fruits.
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Well, only 60 out of 400 species produce edible fruits 3)Systematics of Fruit Crops” by Girish Sharma, book published by New India Publishing Agency in 2009. And they aren’t even the same type of fruits. They have different shapes, sizes, and tastes.

The fruits that reach the market come from the plants cultivated for commercial use. This generally includes the genus Passiflora edulis, which produces purple fruits, Passiflora edulis f. flavicarpa with yellow fruits, and species obtained from the crossing of the two species. If you haven’t realized it yet, edulis means edible in Latin.

If you have ever tasted a passion fruit, you surely must have noticed it has a slightly acid and spicy taste. Having a fairly strong aroma, it isn’t really everyone’s favorite. Some like it in deserts or when combined with other organic juices.

Passion fruit

Sweet Dreams and Well Being for Everyone

From time to time it can happen to anyone to go through some sleepless nights because the little wheel of thoughts inside your head keeps spinning stubbornly! When something worries you or you are very happy, Sandman kind of seems to avoid you. Luckily, dried Passiflora leaves transformed into tea can make even the most restless sleep.

The leaves of many species are well known in different regions for their sedative and sleep inducing effects 4)The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications” by Christian Rätsch, book published by Park Street Press in 2005. The passion fruit leaf tea relaxes the brain just like the valerian and St. John’s wort flower tea. It is not an artificially induced kind of sleep, as given by some medicine that can even provoke dizziness and other unpleasant sensations in the morning or through the day. The relaxed mind makes the thoughts that prevent you from falling asleep go away. If you have to go through surgery, however, you have to stop drinking or eating this fruit 2 weeks in advance, otherwise it would accentuate the effects of the anesthetic.

Passiflora incarnata

The leaves of Passiflora incarnata seem to help in the treating of different kinds of neurological ailments. For example, they have been used for hundreds of years in cures to prevent and calm epileptic seizures. Interestingly enough, thorough research has shown that the benefits are real 5)Dual protective effect of Passiflora incarnata in epilepsy and associated post-ictal depression” – study by Bhupinder Singh, Damanpreet Singh and Rajesh Kumar Goel, published in Journal of Ethnopharmacology on January 6, 2012.

But the passion flower also calms other body ailments. In Vietnam the leaves are used to calm rashes and inflammations caused by various skin diseases. The Brazilians seem to share the same opinion, traditionally preparing passion fruit leaf lotions that are applied directly on the affected skin.

Passiflora mollissima

This isn’t even all! The traditional medicine from many countries use the Passiflora extract to treat inflammations of the throat, ears, and of the gastrointestinal tract. Even fever goes down if you drink tea from the Passiflora leaves, some claim!

In some countries, a leaf paste is given to the pigs to treat their sore throats 6)CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology” by Umberto Quattrocchi, book published by CRC Press in 2012. The pigs are crazy after Passiflora mollissima fruits 7)”The Pig War” by Kenneth Brower, essay in “A World Between Waves“, book published by Island Press in 2012.

The decoction of leaves and fruits is good for those suffering from asthma, the Malaysians believe. Here, however, is something unclear. The studies show that at least some species can cause respiratory allergies 8)Occupational Respiratory Allergic Disease Induced by Passiflora alata and Rhamnus purshiana” – study by Pedro F Giavina-Bianchi Jr, MD, Fábio F M Castro, MD, PhD, Maria Lavinia S Machado, MD, PhD, Alberto J S Duarte, MD, PhD, published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in November 1997. Lets not forget that we are talking about hundreds of species.

What Smells so Badly?

Not all Passiflora species are as inoffensive as they look. Passiflora foetida has the same beautiful and delicate flowers. You don’t want to pick the leaves however. Foetida means fetid in Latin, reeking. The name was chosen because the leaves of this plant emit an unpleasant odor when they are torn or crushed.

Passiflora foetida leaves

Although it grows in the wilderness and on abandoned lands and is seen as a pest, Passiflora foetida knows how to keep the harmful bugs away. The leaves are covered in a sticky substance out of which the small creatures cannot escape. Even more, this substance is bitter, so animals think twice about eating them 9)Light and Electron Microscopy of the Resin Glands of Passiflora foetida (Passifloraceae)” – study by Lenore T. Durkee, Chris W. Baird and Paul F. Cohen, published in American Journal of Botany on April, 1984.

You’d say this plant knows how to defend itself. But not when it comes down to humans. The young leaves are eaten by the locals from certain regions such as Indonesia 10)Poisonous Plants and Animals of Florida and the Caribbean” by David W Nellis, book published by Pineapple Press in 1997. And the fruits are even more appreciated.

What would you say if I tell you that this passion flower species is pretty valuable in making detergents? Passiflora foetida is among the plants that contain saponin 11)Preliminary Phytochemical Analysis of Traditionally Used Medicinal Plants” – stufy by Savithramma N, Linga Rao M and Ankanna S, published in Research Journal of Pharmaceutical, Biological and Chemical Sciences nr. 1/2012, a substance that creates foam when coming in contact with water and sometimes can substitute as soap.

Passiflora foetida

Guess Who Tastes the Passion Flower

Pollination, as in other flowers, happens through the movement of the pollen from the male reproductive organs to the female reproductive ones. This delicate procedure occurs naturally with the help of bees, wasps, hummingbirds, and bats 12)Pollination and Floral Ecology” by Pat Willmer, book published by Princeton University Press in 2011.

Yes, you read that well: bats! Did you think they only knew how to hang upside down and send tingles down our spines in scary movies? During their free time (or busy time), they pollinate the plant known as Passiflora mucronata 13)Diversity and Evolutionary Biology of Tropical Flowers” by Peter K. Endress, book published by Cambridge University Press in 199614)Bat Pollination of the Passion Flower, Passiflora mucronata, in Southeastern Brazil – study by Marlies Sazima and Ivan Sazima, published in Biotropica June, 1978. It is a species with big, white flowers that measure 8 centimeters in diameter and only open at night, when the bats become active! They have evolved in such a way that their head is wide enough to enable pollination.

Passiflora mucronata is also visited by moths and other insects, but they are too small for pollination.

Passiflora mucronata

Off-Beat Flowers Even for the Passiflora Family

All the flowers from the Passiflora family are striking. True wonders of nature. But among so many passion flower species, are those that are extremely rare and have unusual looks.

Passiflora parritae has big, scarlet petals. It lives in the mountainous areas of Columbia. It started to face extinction when the hummingbirds that used to pollinate it moved to higher altitudes due to climatic changes.

Passiflora parritae

Just as rare is Passiflora kermesina, with big flowers of an intense pink shade. It was believed to be extinct, but it was re-discovered in Brasil. Both butterflies and hummingbirds pollinate it.

Passiflora kermesina

So Much with the Passion?

All right, lets not end it here with the idea that you were totally off track in the beginning. The moment of truth has come: indeed, the passion flower has aphrodisiac effects, like you might have thought.

Passiflora incarnata, a species with purple petals growing in the South-East of the United States, has been appreciated for its properties by the populations that lived there in the past. More research has concluded that these assumptions aren’t lies at all. The mice that were given Passiflora incarnata leaf extracts in different doses became affectionate towards their female counterparts much quicker 15)Aphrodisiac activity of methanol extract of leaves of Passiflora Incarnata Linn. in mice” – study by Kamaldeep Dhawan, Suresh Kumar and Anupam Sharma, published in Phytotherapy Research no. 4/2003.

Passiflora incarnata

It is very likely that other species of this plant have the same properties, as the Peruvian people from old times knew about this as well.

The explanation stands in the fact that the passion flower is rich in crisin. This substance enhances the testosterone level and thus, only sexually stimulates males. But maybe it is fair: he has the passion, she has the flower.

Passiflora incarnata

I hope I managed to make you familiar with this one of a kind plant, so that when you see the fruit in the supermarket, you shall find it more… attractive. Who knows, maybe you’ll even end up tasting it… passionately.

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References   [ + ]

1. The Encyclopedia of Fruit & Nuts” by Jules Janick and Robert E. Paull, book published by CABI in 2008
2, 3. Systematics of Fruit Crops” by Girish Sharma, book published by New India Publishing Agency in 2009
4. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications” by Christian Rätsch, book published by Park Street Press in 2005
5. Dual protective effect of Passiflora incarnata in epilepsy and associated post-ictal depression” – study by Bhupinder Singh, Damanpreet Singh and Rajesh Kumar Goel, published in Journal of Ethnopharmacology on January 6, 2012
6. CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology” by Umberto Quattrocchi, book published by CRC Press in 2012
7. ”The Pig War” by Kenneth Brower, essay in “A World Between Waves“, book published by Island Press in 2012
8. Occupational Respiratory Allergic Disease Induced by Passiflora alata and Rhamnus purshiana” – study by Pedro F Giavina-Bianchi Jr, MD, Fábio F M Castro, MD, PhD, Maria Lavinia S Machado, MD, PhD, Alberto J S Duarte, MD, PhD, published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in November 1997
9. Light and Electron Microscopy of the Resin Glands of Passiflora foetida (Passifloraceae)” – study by Lenore T. Durkee, Chris W. Baird and Paul F. Cohen, published in American Journal of Botany on April, 1984
10. Poisonous Plants and Animals of Florida and the Caribbean” by David W Nellis, book published by Pineapple Press in 1997
11. Preliminary Phytochemical Analysis of Traditionally Used Medicinal Plants” – stufy by Savithramma N, Linga Rao M and Ankanna S, published in Research Journal of Pharmaceutical, Biological and Chemical Sciences nr. 1/2012
12. Pollination and Floral Ecology” by Pat Willmer, book published by Princeton University Press in 2011
13. Diversity and Evolutionary Biology of Tropical Flowers” by Peter K. Endress, book published by Cambridge University Press in 1996
14. Bat Pollination of the Passion Flower, Passiflora mucronata, in Southeastern Brazil – study by Marlies Sazima and Ivan Sazima, published in Biotropica June, 1978
15. Aphrodisiac activity of methanol extract of leaves of Passiflora Incarnata Linn. in mice” – study by Kamaldeep Dhawan, Suresh Kumar and Anupam Sharma, published in Phytotherapy Research no. 4/2003

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