Foraging – Passion Flowers
Effects & Use
The Passion flower (Passiflora) has a long history as a medicinal plant and is a trusted general relaxant. It is used as a remedy for nervous tension and an over-active brain that, in particular, prevents sleep. Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine describes it as a “mild sedative and analgesic without leaving depression.” If you come across one or have one growing in your garden, you can pick the leaves (tender ones are nicer, but they are all effective) and the flowers, dry them and then make tea with them whenever you want a lovely, soothing tea. I can personally attest to its efficacy and Simon found it very sedating.
Update: There are many varieties of Passion Flower, but Passiflora Incarnata is the one usually used in herbal medicine and referred to in studies.
Gathering & Drying
With the long, extended period of rain this spring/summer (spummer? sumring? sbummer?) it has been a good year for plants in the city and I was lucky enough to ride my bike past a massive passion flower vine hanging over the sidewalk in Kitsilano this year! I’ve already done two picking sessions. Its owner said she just left it to its own devices and it had an explosion of growth this year. Prime picking would be June/July, but there may still be some flowers out there in August.
Herbalist David Hoffman recommends in his excellent book Holistic Herbal to harvest the leaves before the flowers come out, but unless you already know where a vine is you might not notice one until it announces its presence with those very distinct flowers. It’s still perfectly effective for general use. Many herbalists (including Hoffman) only use the leaves which suggests they are richer in medicinal constituents than the flowers. However, the flowers are so beautiful (sexy, really, since it is the plant’s sex organs!) I have to recommend harvesting plenty of both whenever you find them.
I rinsed the leaves but not the flowers since they were growing on a quiet residential street and I didn’t want to damage them. They’re pretty sturdy, though, so don’t be afraid to rinse them if it means the difference between you being comfortable using them or not.
I used a very basic food dehydrator (no thermostat) which works okay. It runs a little too hot but, unless I convince Simon to make me a custom one, the nice dehydrators are expensive. My leaves dried really quickly, within 2 hours, while the flowers took about 4 hours. The flowers dry more evenly if you lay them upside down (not like I have them in the photo). I stored them in an air-tight jar afterwards and they obviously softened quite a bit after a couple of days, which means that I didn’t dehydrate the flowers long enough. I would try 5-6 hours next time and store the flowers separately from the leaves.
There are alternative drying methods, but I have not tried any of them. Lots of people just dry plants over the course of a few days in the shade, on a rack in a well ventilated spot, or in an oven on its lowest setting with the door open a crack. Keep in mind, however, that the unpredictable humidity in Vancouver can make air drying herbs problematic as it can prevent them from drying enough for mold free storage. It’s not good if they dehydrate during the day and then rehydrate at night. If you’re unsure how well preserved your herbs are, use them sooner rather than later and keep them in an air-tight jar in the fridge.
Put a flower and a leaf sprig in a big mug or small tea pot (one big serving or two small), add boiling water and steep 10-15 minutes. Add honey if desired, but taste it straight up before you do. Add an additional leaf sprig to increase the effect, if desired.
It makes for a visually peaceful drink as the flower will open up in the water and move gracefully with every relaxing sip.
A alternative calming tea, which is very mild and even safe for children, can be made with linden flowers. See my Linden Flowers post for details.