Passiflora incarnata—called passion vine, passion flower or even maypop (more on that name below)—is a native plant in much of the eastern United States. It’s getting a lot of attention lately because of its forage capacity in places where people want to grow their own food in small urban spaces. The passionflower looks tropical and, in fact, has cousins who are.
It’s one of the showiest native flowers we have in central Appalachia, perhaps rivaled by lady’s slipper orchids and catalpa. And humans aren’t the only ones attracted to these flowers. Bumblebees routinely dance around their nectaries, which open to the sun and seem to be a perfect landing pad for these giants of the pollinating kingdoms.
The flower, vine and fruits all have virtues to share with humans who ingest them.
Using Passion Vine
My most common herbal preparation of passion vine involves trimming one to three leaves per vine and drying for tea or tincturing for medicine. I include passion vine leaves in tea blends to help promote sleep and calm mental states. The tincture lasts longer on the shelf and can deliver more medicine per drop for those on the go and dealing with any mental anguish.
And passion vine fruits are delicious, though it’s tricky to know when they’re ripe. Somewhat like melons, we just keep tapping and opening new fruits, which appear over the course of several weeks. You’ll almost surely be tempted to pluck them before they are ripe. Opening unripened fruits reveals somewhat dry, pulpy flesh and tiny, unripened seeds that might be white, green or turning black (but still very small).
Next in the ripening phase, a bittersweet, pulpy, juicier and more moist flesh will begin to appear surrounding the seeds. And finally the entire fruit will be filled with juicy fruit casings that taste as sweet as any tropical fruit.
But have patience. Tasting an unripened fruit will convince you that it is not edible! Many simply wait for the ripe fruits to fall off the vine. I liken them to tiny pomegranates, as I suck the juice from around each seed and spit the seeds out into my hand to plant.
About Passion Vine
I like to stroll through the streets of my hometown of Frankfort, Kentucky, and spot blooms covering fencerows, calling to onlookers like a clematis but with much more color. Here and elsewhere, passion vine is also called maypop because it pops out of the ground in late May for a late spring surprise in the garden. But once it gets going, these small-looking shoots can cover a lot of territory in the summer, finally flowering and fruiting quickly after.
Source your plants from an area where they’re already growing. Runners can be transplanted and rooted more easily than potted seedlings started from seed. With tender loving care, this plant will establish and run wild for you to enjoy.
Check out these folks dedicating their time to cultivating and distributing maypops! And this interview, from episode nine of the Hobby Farms Presents: Growing Good podcast, will convince you to join a growing project.