Purple Passion Flower

When I was a kid, I had very little regard for this lovely wildflower- however- as a mischievous little boy- its fruit was of great interest to me. This flowering vine produces a green egg shaped fruit that creates a satisfying "pop" sound when thrown against a wall or onto the ground. One of its common names is the Maypop. Its more official name is the Purple Passion Flower. Its scientific name is Passiflora incarnata.

There are more than 500 varieties of Passion Flowers throughout the earth. The most common species in the Southeast portion of the United States is the Purple Passion Flower.

But why is this flower known as the Passion Flower and its fruit known as Passion Fruit? Will eating the citrus flavored fruit add more "passion" to ones love life? Probably not- as that definition of passion isn't where this plant gets its name. Let us refer to a Merriam-Webster dictionary for the multiple definitions of the word "passion":

Definition 1: " the sufferings of Christ between the night of the Last Supper and his death"
Definition 5: " a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept"

Definition 1 is the correct definition for describing the origin of this plant's name. It is known as the Passion Flower in honor of the "Passion of Christ". According to Wikipedia, 15th and 16th Christian missionaries looked to the different parts of the Passion Flower as tokens of the final days of Christ and his crucifixion. Wikipedia lists some of these tokens that the missionaries saw represented by this plant:
  • The pointed tips of the leaves were thought to represent the lance which pierced Jesus
  • The tendrils were thought to represent the whips that were used to whip Christ
  • The 10 petals were thought to represent the 10 faithful apostles (I guess the missionaries didn't think that Peter was faithful- which I personally disagree with this thought.)
  • The flower's filaments were thought to represent the crown of thorns
  • The chalice shaped ovary reminded some of the hammer of the Holy Grail
  • The 3 stigmata represent the 3 nails that were used to nail Jesus to the Cross and the 5 anthers below them represent the 5 wounds
  • The blue and white coloration of many Passion Flower species were thought to represent heaven and purity (source)
Christian Missionaries from the 15th and 16th centuries weren't the only ones to know about the Passion Flower. Many Native American Indian tribes also used the Passion Flower and its fruit as a source of food and medicine. The Cherokee used an infusion of the root for various ailments: to treat boils, as an aid to weaning infants, as an earache medicine, and as a liver treatment. The Houma Native American tribe were documented to have used an infusion of the roots as a blood tonic. ( source: Native American Ethnobotany; Moerman, Daniel E.)

According to the Petersen Field Guide of Edible Wild Plants, the ripe fruit of the Purple Passionflower can be used to make a cold drink or even jelly. The ripe fruit can also be eaten fresh. To make a cold drink from the fruit the field guide suggests simmering if for 5 minutes, strain, add some lemon juice and sugar and then chill. It tastes sort of lemony (even before adding the lemon juice.) The Cherokee also ate the young shoots and leaves- either boiled or fried. They would also parboil the leaves and then cook them in hot grease with salt as a potherb. (source: Native American Ethnobotany; Moerman, Daniel E.)


Eve said...

Great work Daniel! About a month ago while walking to my mailbox I spied the Passion Flower growing in my field! I was thrilled. I read about it and dug up one of them and it is doing well in a well watered pot in the yard until I find the perfect place for it in the garden. Thank you for adding more to my knowledge!