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The Jewish Herbal: Passionvine

The Jewish Herbal: Mystical Reflections on Food, Nature and Urban Farming” is a regular column by Devorah Brous charting the ways we can use Jewish wisdom, tradition and practice to reconnect with ourselves in harmony with nature. Devorah is an urban homesteader, lifecycle ritualist, and green consultant in Los Angeles. Find her her online offerings at @Dev.Brous

Let’s plunge into a bit of flower sex.

For me, the most exceptional characteristic of the 500-plus varieties of passionflower is that it’s nature’s original non-binary species, with both male and female parts. This flower is one of those miraculous few that self-pollinates. It is a medicinal flower that reconciles contradictions: it aids sleep, yet it’s also a wild aphrodisiac. Pause here and breathe before we go into some more botanical symbolism.

The derivation of passionvine’s botanical name, Passiflora, stems from the 17th century, when South America clerics riffed poetically on how the other-worldly flower parts were symbolic of Jesus’ passion —the flower’s delicate coronal threads were seen as a symbol for his crown of thorns, the coiled tendrils for the cords of the flagellation whips, etc.

But the Hebrew name of the flower points us to a completely different lesson this flower has to teach. In Hebrew, passionflower is שעונית — shaonit — because it resembles the face of a watch, shaon. The passionvine flower wants us to take time — to study nature, to look inward.

In the characteristic slow motion of a COVID-day, I watch how time stretches so slowly. I watch my kids grow. I watch the plants grow. I see it all from a bit of a sleep-deprived blur.

I know I’m not alone in this — in fact over 70 million U.S. adults battle sleep, even in the best of times. So many of us are so jacked up, it’s not surprising that many of us can’t quite find a way to settle down.

I’ve spent countless hours in the middle of the night, in a near hypnotic trance, witnessing this sinuous vine outside our window send out new tendrils that coil tight to grab hold then thrust itself even higher, as if demonstrating the mechanics of how an aphrodisiac works.

I lay awake in bed watching the world grow all around me, sipping Passionvine tea, my mind climbing up and down, saying to myself, “It’s time. Let the vine be the vine, until it flowers. Let the flowering vine flower, until it fruits. Now go get some sleep already.”

The Remedy: Passionvine Tea

Is sleep elusive for you around 4 a.m.? Passionvine is a centuries-old herbal remedy for both types of insomnia: sleep onset and sleep maintenance. I work with passionvine in spring when the clock changes in order to ease into an earlier bedtime, syncopating with the seasonal shift. I close my lids, willing forward REM sleep and lucid Nissan dreams so I can regenerate and prep for our harvest holidays.

Prepare a mug of Passionvine tea with a tea bag of dried leaves or a handful of fresh cut-up leaves – add the stem and tendrils too. Steep for 15 minutes, strain, and add a pinch of cinnamon and honey to taste.

The flavor is mostly green with subtle floral notes.

Sip this tea nightly for the month and leave the psychedelic Mandala-like non-binary flowers to fruit on the vine so you can make passionfruit sorbet!

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