In the wheel of the year each season has its distinctive gifts, its own character and flavor. There is a time for hermitage and planting, harvesting, seeking, risking, budgeting and even dying. But it’s only in summer that pleasure takes center stage.
Here in the mountains, we are just now tipping into the true growpoint of summer and a particular richness is beginning to take center stage. An invitation to kick back, practice relaxing and let senusousness take center stage.
As Ella Fitzgerald so famously popularized in the song “Summertime”, in summer the livin’ is easy. The intensity of building and seeding wanes, the rush of spring fades out of focus like a sunspot on the water and we’re left with an invitation to simply enjoy. Roses are fat on the vine and the fields are sweet with berries. Trees give ample shade to doze and the nights are warm enough to sleep out underneath the stars.
In summer there is something in our animal bodies that sighs. Here, we will not freeze, we will not starve, we will easily survive. It’s a curious but time-worn fact that when human beings aren’t under the immediate threat of survival, we can soften into a more deeply creative state of mind. Without the need to focus on the basics of our existence we can allow ourselves to shift our awareness into more subtle, expansive and fantastical pursuits. In the summer heat, when it’s all but necessary to take a siesta on the front porch, we are given permission to let ideas flow like wine, to indulge in the tiny pleasures of our soul. The poet Walt Whitman gorgeously embodies the restful cauldron of summertime daydreaming in his poem “Leaves of Grass”— “I loafe and invite my soul, I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.”
Every day of our lives we are guided by desire, the innate ache to capture certain feelings so we can achieve a juicier, more fulfilled, richly embellished state of mind. Far from distractions, our desires can help us understand exactly what we are craving on a deeper level. Desires tell us where we want to go, and what we want to leave behind. And when we indulge our desires, we can begin to understand why we yearn for them in the first place. In our country of religious over-work, summer is often a nationwide sanction to follow one’s desire. Vacation, beach lounging, full-bellied barbeques, late-night mojitos and midnight romance.
Far from the puritanical work ethic that seems to pervades so much of our contemporary work-culture, the hedonistic aspect of summertime invites us to inhabit a more fluid state of being. A tantric exploration of our inner feelings, and a softer, more liberating gateway to soul.
But the only way in which we can both feel and feed our desires, the only way to truly take pleasure and give ourselves permission to enjoy it all is to s l o w d o w n. And though the heat of mid-day seems to demand it, the buzz and rush of summer can sometimes make it feel near impossible. This, is when herbs become heroes.
>> Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) <<
Of all my time on earth I don’t think I have ever seen a flower that is more exquisite, exotic, and captivatingly otherworldly as the Passionflower. Passiflora is one of those honest to goodness botanical show-stoppers and once people meet this exquisite flower they tend to fall head over heels in love. A crush of mine once told tell me that if I was any flower, I’d be a passionflower. I was, of course, endlessly flattered. And you can bet that one statement tipped me right over into full-blown amour.
The name of Passionflower comes from early Christian missionaries, who saw the unique arrangement and presentation of the plant’s floral parts as a prime opportunity to illustrate the crucifixion of Christ (otherwise known as “the passion” of Christ). I can’t say this would have been my first thought, but to each their allegory! The name has stuck, however, because there is truly an aspect of this vigorous vine that not only excites passion, but invites the softness of space to find heady pleasure in one’s life.
Native to the southeastern U.S, Passiflora incarnata thrives in warmer climates and can even become weedy in far southern climes like Florida. Other species of passiflora can be found throughout the world with their own local history of use. In US zones 5-9 Passiflora incarnata is relatively easy to grow and cultivate. Once established in the garden, the swirling perennial vine will quickly take over trellises and send shoots out in all directions. It will bloom all summer long and any blossoms left on the vine will grow into deliciously round fruits call maypops, which contain tartly cooling inner piths.
Historically both the roots and above ground parts have all been used as medicine, but contemporary herbal material medicas focus mostly on the leaves and flowers. Passionflower is one of our safest, yet effective, hypnotics (or sedatives). It is my favorite herb to help soften into sleep, especially for those who have a hard time shutting down their brain and tend towards circular thinking. As I’m prone to mental merry go-rounds, I often take passionfower before bedtime. It is so adept at shutting down well-worn circuits, I sometimes find myself on such a different train of thought, I can’t remember what I had previously been ruminating over! Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a while to get off the beta brain wave state all together and ease into sleep.
Passionflower is also a lovely nervine and anxiolytic. It is one of my most treasured allies for agitated anxiety, buzzing minds, busyness and overwhelm. In tea or tincture form, this mandala-like flower is indicated for those who feel trapped in a cycle of repetitive worries and race track thoughts. As such, it can offer sweet release for those who experience headaches from such brain ruts. Passionflower is also an anodyne (pain reliever) and can be used as an ally for menstrual cramps, PMS and bodily tension.
Blooming in mid-summer, Passionflower helps us to slow down and relax in body, spirit and mind. Each open passionflower is an invitation to let go and recline. You can see this illustrated most effectively through the bees. All summer long these winged imbibers crawl into the corolla of the passionflower, coat themselves in pollen, and then let themselves drift into somnolence for a while. It’s not unknown to see a bee taking a mid day nap in the lap of a passionflower.
The first time I met this plant I had a deeply powerful experience that has shaped the way I’ve understood its medicine ever since— and it began with one sleepy bee. I was in herb school at the time and as we were just meeting passionflower on the vine. As we looked over the plant we found a wee bee asleep in the bloom. In the midst of copying down material medica, an enterprising friend of mine attempted to “wake up” the bee, effectively knocking it out of its perch and onto my arm where it promptly stung me, no doubt quite disgruntled at having its beauty sleep disturbed. Thankfully, I am not allergic to bee stings so, though I had quite a large welt, I was bodily fine.
The very next day I drove with some friends down the coast for a weekend at the beach. A short vacation devoted to pleasure. I was walking back from the ocean on our last day when the welt on my arm began to throb, almost like a homing beacon. I slowed and placed my hand over it and suddenly, I just knew— passionflower was close. Following my instincts I ducked between the houses, through several backyards, and wandered towards a small open space of weeds and debris when, suddenly, there it was! Cascading down a wall of shrubbery was a gorgeous passionflower vine, alit with blooms. It was my first time finding passionflower growing wild and I was as giddy as a child in a field of lollypops. I gathered as much as I felt I could and skipped back to the house to tell my friends so we could all admire. Later that day, I got into the car to drive home and felt a curious shift begin to take place inside of me. I was on the cusp of ending a long-term relationship and had been delaying the decision due to a never-ending circuit of worrisome doubt. But sitting next to that passionflower on the long drive home, something inside of me just snapped. The same repetitive thoughts of fear seemed to break open and before I knew it I was bawling my heart out to this magnificent vine, and coming to a realization that it was time to break the cycle. I realized that I needed to leave behind this relationship to follow the true map of my desires. That ceasing this partnership would open me up to accessing more relevant passions, allowing whole new avenues of creativity and self growth. When I got home I made the decision, and I never looked back.
Years later I was sitting with a group of students who elected to make a passionflower flower essence. I wasn’t surprised when, during the attunement process, this was what they picked up on: “Passionflower is a powerful essence for connecting to the deep reservoirs of your creativity and the guiding voice of your passions. Both opening and grounding, passionflower helps us to let go of outside expectations, express our truth and honor the beauty of who we are. A valuable ally for times of self-realization, intuitive expansion, and compassionate beginnings. passionflower encourages us to embrace the power of our vulnerability, the chaos and symmetry of profound growth. Recognizing the wholeness within new beginnings. This exotic bloom can show us just how many possibilities exist within our individual realm.”
Passionflower Sun Tea
One of my absolute favorite ways to imbibe passionflower is to use the distinct alchemy of summertime to create a gentle, relaxing daytime tea.
- Collect fresh passionflower blossoms
- Float in a glass of water (I use about 1-2 blooms per quart)
- Cover with a lid and let jar sit out underneath the full sun for 1-3 hours.
- Retrieve sun-warmed jar and uncover. You can leave the flowers in or strain out if you’d like
- Sweeten with wildflower honey or a tart home-brewed shrub. Serve over ice for the ultimate in a mellowing brew. Sip, sigh, sit back. Enjoy life.