Perhaps you feel nervous or anxious some or all of the time, but just don't want to take drugs to calm yourself down. If you wish to allay your nervousness without becoming dependent or suffering unwanted effects, you can turn to Passion flower, or Passiflora incarnata. Also known as May apple, this traditional remedy for calming nerves enjoys a long history of safe use, a very significant body of science regarding its compounds, and human studies demonstrating its effectiveness.

Passion flower is a perennial creeping vine, native to the tropical and semi-tropical southern United States, Central and South America. The plant is now cultivated in various tropical and subtropical regions, including the southeastern United States, central America, and parts of Asia. Passion flower makes a spectacular garden ornamental, and many people plant passionflower to add beauty to a home garden. For commerce, passion flower is obtained from wild and cultivated plants, mainly from the United States, India, and the West Indies.

Native Americans applied passion flower topically to boils, and drank infusions for liver health and as a blood tonic. Other tribes consumed the edible fruit of passion flower, whole or juiced. The Aztecs of Mexico used it as a sedative to treat insomnia and nervousness. The plant was taken back to Europe where it became widely cultivated and introduced into European medicine.

The name passion flower derives from Spanish missionaries, who thought that the threads of the flower resembled a crown of thorns, and that other aspects of the flower corresponded to whips, wounds and stigma associated with the passion of Christ. Thus this unusual flower became inextricably associated with Christianity.

Beyond its physical appearance, passion flower is a first-rate sedative, a nerve calming agent and a sleep aid. I have personally spoken with several dozen people who, having taken passion flower, have been able to relax, unwind and enjoy a decent night's sleep. Here a question arises -- if passion flower is so effective for calming nerves, why don't more people know about it? This plant cannot be patented. As a result, there is no incentive for a pharmaceutical company to promote it. Instead, pharma companies develop novel molecules that can be patented profitably for many years. But in parts of Europe where drug regulations are different than in the U.S., passion flower is sold in drug stores as a nerve calming aid.

Passion flower herb for nerve calming purposes consists of the fresh or dried aboveground parts of Passiflora incarnata and their preparations. Passion flower is a protective antioxidant powerhouse. The plant contains the antioxidant compounds vitexin, isovitexin, kaempferol, quercetin, rutin, apigenin and luteolin glycosides. The plant also contains indole alkaloids, fatty acids, gum, maltol, phytosterols, sugars and a trace of volatile oil. Purely from a protective standpoint, passion flower is quite extraordinary. The quercetin in passion flower is one of the most powerfully protective compounds known, and has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

But for a nervous, stressed-out society, passion flower offers even more than excellent cellular protection. The British Herbal Compendium describes the actions of passion flower as sedative, anxiolytic, and antispasmodic. Numerous studies support central nervous system sedative and anxiolytic effects. The British Herbal Compendium indicates its use for sleep disorders, restlessness, nervous stress, and anxiety. Other uses include neuralgia and nervous tachycardia. Germany's Commission E has approved the internal use of passion flower for nervous restlessness.

So how do you use passion flower? The simplest way is to get passion flower tea in bags, and make a cup of soothing, relaxing tea. You can also get passion flower in fluid form, and can put a few drops of that extract into water, juice, or just right into your mouth. I like both the Gaia and HerbPharm brands of fluid extracts. Additionally you can get passion flower in capsules or tablets. Take as directed.

Jittery nerves, anxiety and sleeplessness can ruin your day and prevent you from enjoying life. But getting onto drugs that calm nerves can result in habituation, sleep disorders, digestive problems and depression. By contrast, passion flower shows no toxicity, it doesn't interact negatively with any other medicines, and it is safe for anyone to use. So the next time you feel tense and stressed, reach for a soothing cup of passion flower tea, and relax with the calming power of one of nature's great medicinal plants.

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at www.MedicineHunter.com

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies, is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide, and is the author of fifteen books. Read more at MedicineHunter.com.