For centuries, the unusual looking violet and white passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) has been used as a calming botanical treatment. Its use dates back to the Aztecs in Central America who used parts of the vine to treat insomnia. Native Americans used it to soothe inflammation in wounds. Spanish conquistadors brought passionflower to Europe and from there it made its way to North America. As the herb traveled the world, new uses were discovered. It has been used as a calming tonic for babies during weaning, to tame anxiety, and to support a general state of relaxation. Today, passionflower has therapeutic uses as a gentle sedative to reduce anxiousness and as a sleep aid.

The exact pathways through which passionflower brings about calming effects are still being studied. We know that some compounds in passionflower bind to the same areas of brain cells affected by a neurotransmitter known as GABA. Like GABA, passionflower soothes the nervous system by reducing activity in certain brain cells, resulting in a relaxation response.

There are many ways to use passionflower: loose leaf and bagged tea, capsule or tablet, and tincture. Drowsiness and dizziness can occur when taking passionflower. When taken with other medications, it can increase the effects of those medications. Passionflower also contains compounds that can stimulate the uterus, so it is not suitable for pregnant women. Before using passionflower in any form, consult with a holistic physician or experienced herbalist.


Vitamin E: Potent Antioxidant and Much More

Many people are surprised to learn that “vitamin E” is not a single vitamin. It’s actually a collective name for a group of fat-soluble compounds. Naturally occurring vitamin E exists in eight unique chemical forms: alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol and alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocotrienol. Each has varying levels of biological activity, and it’s best to take as a complex, (usually listed on a supplement label as “mixed tocopherols”) for maximum benefit. Vitamin E is found naturally in some foods, added to many food products (as a preservative), and is available as a dietary supplement.

In the body, vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) is involved in immunity, cellular communication, and other metabolic processes. As an antioxidant, vitamin E works extremely well to protect cells from damage – one of the reasons why it is also used as a food preservative. This antioxidant activity can potentially protect against the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

You can get the recommended amount of vitamin E by eating a variety of foods including:

  • Vegetable oils like wheat germ, sunflower, and safflower oils
  • Nuts (peanuts, hazelnuts, and, especially, almonds) and seeds (sunflower seeds)
  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli

Because the digestive tract requires fat to absorb vitamin E, people with fat-malabsorption disorders are more likely to become deficient. Some people may need a vitamin E nutritional supplement.

When you shop for a supplement look for “mixed tocopherols” on the label. Many supplements use only the d-alpha-tocopherol part of vitamin E and it is better to use the entire complex, similar to how it occurs in food.

Vitamin E supplements have the potential to interact with several types of medications. It’s best to speak with your holistic doctor before adding any supplement to your nutrition regimen.