Another plant with a million common names and a deep history. I’ve seen passion flower vines growing on railroad tracks and taking over fence rows in the bay area of Houston. I’ve seen them sprawling over poke weed in woods in far east Texas or climbing up our beautiful tall pines, and even along highway 360 here in Arlington just in the ditch. They’re one of our most striking wildflowers, cultivated all over the world for their beauty and fruit. But they’re so unique, so rare, so different, that most people think they’re this alien, tropical, weird thing… not realizing they drive past them every day going to work.
Passion flower vines are a major host plant for some of our most beautiful butterflies, including Gulf Fritillary, Zebra Longwing, Julia, and Variegated Fritillary.
The lore surrounding this plant is very old. Cultivated by native tribes all over north and south America from the Inca and Aztec to the Cherokee in Tennessee, they were “discovered” in Peru in 1569. The 16th century scholar Giacomo Bosio described the passion flower as “La Flor de las cinco Llagas,” meaning the flower with the five wounds. In 1608, Spanish Jesuits formally presented Pope Paul V with a drawing and dried specimens. The five petals and the five sepals are said to represent the 10 faithful apostles. The leaf is the centurion’s spear. The central flower column denotes the pillar of the scourging. The flower’s tendrils resemble the whips used in the flagellation. The corona filaments are compared to Christ’s crown of thorns. The three stigma are called the nails, and the five anthers reflect the five sacred wounds, while the red stains recall the blood of Christ.
They’re “weeds”, which means they want to grow. They’ll laugh at our heat and drought, bloom more in the heat of summer, and can become house eaters taking over the entire area if you don’t clip or let the caterpillars eat them. A hard freeze may knock the plant down to the roots, but come spring, they’ll “pop” right back up, including in places you swore you never planted them.
My family has always loved them. Delicious jelly from the fruit (I still need to get pictures of this) but that’s not just why we love them. Proven help for a wide range of problems a few drops of the tincture under the tongue is treatment for insomnia, anxiety, even narcotic withdrawal. Also for seizures, asthma, hot flashes, …. I can keep going. We’ve made tea from the leaves for menopause related issues, tinctures for anxiety and sleeplessness, root poultices for skin inflammations, root teas to help weaning babies. This was one of our must haves in our garden for a host of issues. And all from a common little weed that grows literally on the side of 360.
A little side note. There’s a memory in my family from about 1918 from when this tea was used.
As I said in the welcome page, my mother was born in 1915. When she was very very little – maybe three or four years old – it was dark out and she could hear the Native Americans singing and dancing very very close. My aunts said you could feel the drums in your bones. Mama was extremely scared and went crying in a panic to my grandmother “Mama they’re gonna kill us! Mama they’re gonna come scalp us! What are we gonna do! They’re going to kill us!!!” My great grandmother picked her up and held her close.. “No, baby girl, they’re just praying. Listen. They’re praying for their families to come back. They’re not gonna hurt you. They’re praying.” A little later, grandmother gave each of the kids passion flower tea to drink, great grandmother Nancy Ann still holding mama and making sure she drained the whole cup and watched as all the children dropped off to sleep. Only my oldest aunt remembered watching my grandmother and great grandmother slipping out the door to go to the dance.