Yarb Tales - Steven Foster
September 5, 2016

The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center graces the park with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas, and helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.

Passiflora is just one of many plants that connect the Ozarks with South America. The Herb Harvest Fall Festival, October 6, 7 and 8 will explore botanical and cultural connections with this region. This herb is well known in Ozark and Native American folklore. P. edulis, passionfruit, has the largest, sweetest and juiciest fruit and is grown commercially in Southern Brazil, Paraguay and Northern Argentina. P. incarnata, the species that is native to the Ozarks, is cultivated in Guatemala as an herbal crop and is wild crafted here in the states.

Steven Foster is an international figure in the world of herbs who will be teaching during the Herb Harvest Fall Festival. His credentials are lengthy and may be found on his website, www.stevenfoster.com. On his site you will find the blog PassionflowerHerb n' Food.  During the summer of 1985 I was given an herbal apprenticeship by the Committee of 100 for the Ozark Folk Center. Steven was one of four teaches who opened my mind and senses to the rich diversity of beneficial plants in this region. He guided me in the preparation of my first tincture which just happened to be Passiflora incarnata.

Called maypop, passion flower or wild apricot, P. incarnata is a vine native to the southern United States. The plants appear in late spring, growing in fields, hedgerows and country gardens. The vines originate from perennial, underground rootstocks. The leaves are alternate along the stem and have three lobes. The lobes have sharp tips and the leaf margins are serrated. A tendril is present at the base of each leaf stem. These tendrils are used to help the vines climb on other plants and structures. If there is nothing to attach to, the tendrils coil tightly into long spring-like shapes at the tip ends.

The three-inch, round flowers are eye-catching and unusual-looking, with purple and white fringed corona. Five prominent, yellow stamens protrude from the top of the flower, around the pistil which has three or four stigmas.

The fruit grows to about the size of a chicken egg, with a thick rind that is green on the outside and white on the inside. As the fruit ripens it turns a tan color, the shell becomes thin and wrinkled. Inside the membrane, sweet, edible mucilage surrounds many dark-colored seeds.

The fresh or dried leaves are used in tea or tincture to treat anxiety, insomnia and nerve pain from neuralgia and shingles. Wikipedia, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passiflora_incarnata reported a study that used Passiflora extract to help mice quit nicotine, morphine and other addictive drugs. The action of the herb is only mildly narcotic if at all. It is not addictive.

The plant has been found to contain many glycosides, flavonoids and a variety of alkaloids. No single isolated compound can be credited with the herb’s beneficial actions rather; herbalists seem to agree that the chemicals within the whole plant work synergistically. The only caution for use is directed at people taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors for depression. Passiflora contains minute amounts of harman alkaloids that may reduce the effects of the antidepressant. An exhaustive study of the herb Passiflora incarnata can be found at the web site: http://ip.aaas.org.

This afternoon I will strip the leaves from three or four Passiflora vines and crush them to paste. The herb will be covered with 90-proof vodka and macerated for four weeks. The tincture will be shaken daily. After the four weeks have passed, I will filter the tincture and bottle it in a labeled, colored glass vessel. I use about 40 drops in a glass of water to reduce anxiety or to get to sleep, when needed. If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture!