Passionflower: A Hymn
Passiflora are a genus of nearly 500 species of flowering plants—mostly vines, some herbaceous, some edible. Passionfruit (passiflora edulis) is one of these species; it’s a sweet berry (yellow inside, purple outside), super juicy, the kind of thing you can slurp. Maracuyá grows in South Florida in a couple forms, and in the Caribbean, South America, and South Africa. Maypop grows here, too, but it’s strong enough to grow in the Northeast and withstand the cooler temperatures. It’s Passifloraceae, and the stems of Passiflora serratodigitata, that are good for ulcers. My favorite species: passiflora incarnata—it helps you sleep, chills you out, calms the nerves.
You cannot talk about passionflower without talking about divinity. Its name refers to the passion of Jesus Christ; its vulnerably exposed sex organs shaped like a cross. Some theories go so far as to say that its ten petals signify the ten most faithful apostles, the flower’s ovary the Holy Grail, its colors the purity of heaven. Even in India, the Krishnakamala flowers (blue passionflowers) represent the five Pandavas, with Krisha at the center. Passionflower, then, is the thing you ingest when you need soothing—drinking it is like a prayer.
When passionflower is transformed into a tincture, the color is a yellowy almost-chartreuse. It bubbles into the dropper like a rushed, cloudy stream, fizzing at the tip. The kind my sister makes tastes like vodka and berry and it warms my esophagus on the way down. I take it for anxiety, for solipsism; I take it because I like the idea of a flower merging with my blood.
For a long time, I didn’t realize I’d had passionflower before, over a decade ago in Cochabamba, Bolivia. My friend Camila and I were in her orange-and-blue kitchen and she made me a frothy juice from a fruit called tumbo. It tasted like a banana and a kiwi and a bunch of berries, and coated my tongue like something rich—something creamy or milky. It was, objectively, the best juice I’d ever had. I wouldn’t find out until later that in Bolivia and parts of Peru, tumbos are banana passionfruits. (You can’t grow them here in Miami, as they’d be invasive, so all I can do is dream about it.)
Photo + Text by: Monica Uszerowicz