By Roger Klinger
The natural world is filled with such a wide and diverse array of unusual delights and wonders, and one of the most amazing plants and fruits I have ever seen is the passion flower. Passion flowers are like a world unto themselves, as their flowers look like something I would imagine growing on some far-off exotic planet in a distant galaxy. But how fortunate we are that they grow right here on earth. The first time I ever saw one of these flowers, I was in awe, as I had never seen anything so wild and cosmic as the blossoms on this vine. It was stunning and took my breath away with its beauty. I thought I was looking into the world of the famous illustrator, M.C. Escher, only this was in full color and real life, growing on a friend’s fence post in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. At the time I had no idea this wild flowering vine also produced abundant fruits so unique and delicious.
Passion flowers have many species but the most common are the purple passion fruit and the yellow varieties, used in the culinary world. Nine species of Passiflora are native to the United States, found from Ohio to the north, west to California and south to the Florida Keys. The vines have their own family called the Passifloraceae and they have a long history of being used for food and medicine throughout the world.
Last fall I was at a wild foods banquet and a friend brought a basket filled with passion flower fruits so we could savor their exquisite tart flavors and save seeds to grow them on our own land. I peeled one and popped it into my mouth and loved the tart juicy flavors bursting on my tongue along with the slippery seeds that I squeezed out into a napkin to save and dry for planting. I have also thoroughly enjoyed finding beverages with passion flower extract woven into them, as the fruits have a deep citrus sourness that is rich and complex.
Passion flower fruits are also highly nutritious. They are loaded with Vitamin C and carotenoids (Vitamin A), are an excellent source of fiber and also have high concentrations of antioxidants and polyphenols, which are found to be helpful in treating cardiovascular disease. The purple passion fruit, although generally a bit smaller than the yellow, is known to contain about 35% more juice than the yellow passion fruit, and is also richer in flavor. The pulp and seeds are nutritious, and can be eaten directly from the fruit. They are often used in the process of making other foods and drinks, such as the candy-making process, ice cream, syrup, jelly, and some alcoholic beverages.
My favorite dessert last fall was a sorbet made with passion fruits and raspberries. We added viola pansies for decoration and between the color of the flowers and the deep crimson sorbet, it was fantastic, refreshing, tart and yummy! I’ve never had it in regular ice cream but hope to make a passion fruit ice cream with lemon and ginger. Stay tuned!
The purple passion fruit is believed to have originated in South America and the yellow passion fruit from Australia. Some think it may have mutated from the purple variety. Passion fruit also goes by the names parch, Granadilla and Maracuya. The fruits are born on trailing vines and there is a story behind the name: In the 16th century, missionaries landed in South America and when they found passion flowers growing, they considered them to be an omen and the flower become a symbolization of the death of Christ, the corona mirroring the crown of thorns and the five petals representing some of the disciples.
In addition to being a good edible fruit, the passion flower has been used medicinally for a variety of ailments. Years ago during a period of insomnia, I was given an herbal tincture that had valerian root and passion flower extract in it and it helped me return to a normal sleep cycle. The fruits have also been used to treat hypertension, anxiety, and osteoarthritis.
Passion fruits are without question one of the most magical-looking, cosmic flowers on the planet and the fact that the fruits from this unusual vine are edible and good is a wonderful bonus gift from the amazing universe that we all share together. May all our lives be infused with passion and joy with an extra helping of wonder and magic!
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