COMMON NAMES: Large Periwinkle, Greater Periwinkle, Blue Periwinkle, Madagascar periwinkle and Vinca.
Vinca major is a flowering plant native to southern Europe, North America, China and India. It is an evergreen trailing vine, spreading along the ground and rooting along the stems to form patches of ground cover 2-5 m across and scrambling up to 50-70 cm high. The leaves are retained year to year and are 3-9 cm long and 2-6 cm broad, glossy dark green with a leathery texture and an entire but distinctly hairy margin, and a hairy petiole 1-2 cm long. The flowers are produced from early spring to autumn. The five petals are typically rose pink, but among the many cultivars are those with pink, red, purple and white flowers. The flowers are tubular, with a slender corolla tube about 1 in (2.5 cm) long that expands to about 1.5 in (3.8 cm) across.
The plant is easy to grow, and requires little or no attention. It does best in poor, well-drained soils. Flowering will suffer if soils are too fertile. Pinch back early in the season to encourage branching and a fuller plant. It does not need deadheading - the flowers drop off when they finish blooming. It needs full sun or partial shade. It should be watered moderately during the growing season, but it is relatively drought resistant once established. In fact, it is unusually drought resistant for an annual. Periwinkle does not tolerate over watering. The plant emanates from seeds. Fungus problems can occur in humid or wet weather.
Madagascar or "Rosy" Periwinkle is by far the most important plant medicinally, generating hundreds of millions per year in the pharmaceutical industry as a promising addition to the arsenal against childhood leukemia, Hodgkin's Disease, testicular cancer and cancerous tumors, high blood pressure, and uncontrolled bleeding, not to mention the fact that it has powerful tranquilizing properties. Unfortunately, this plant can also be poisonous if used inappropriately.
The plant is astringent, bitter, detergent, sedative, stomachic and tonic. It contains the alkaloid "vincamine", which is used by the pharmaceutical industry as a cerebral stimulant and vasodilator. It also contains "reserpine", which reduces high blood pressure. It is used internally in the treatment of excessive menstruation, abnormal uterine bleeding, vaginal discharge and hardening of the arteries. It should not be given to patients with constipation. It is applied externally to vaginal discharge, nosebleed, sore throat and mouth ulcers. The plants are cut when flowering and dried for later use. The fresh flowers are gently purgative, but lose their effect on drying. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh leaves. It is used in the treatment of haemorrhages.
Historically, Rosy Periwinkle has been used to treat high blood sugar in diabetics, and many cultures still drink teas made out of the plant for this purpose. Unfortunately, recent testing has indicated that it has no effect on this particular disease. Culpeper says of it :
"The leaves eaten by man and wife together, cause love between them. The Periwinkle is a great binder, stays bleeding both at mouth and nose, if some of the leaves be chewed. The French used it to stay women's courses. Dioscorides, Galen, and Pliny, commend it against the lasks and fluxes of the belly to be drank in wine."
Externally, Rosy Periwinkle leaves can be bruised and applied directly to the affected area for wasp stings, to relieve eye inflammation, and to stop bleeding. Alternatively, the leaves can be boiled and a cloth soaked with the liquid and applied to the affected area, or an ointment can be made using oils from the plant.
Vinca Major and Vinca Minor appear to be quite similar as far as medicinal qualities, but can also be poisonous if used inappropriately. Internally the leaves have been used for improved oxygen and blood flow, especially in cerebral veins and arteries for improvement of cognitive function, tinnitus, depression, fatigue, problems associated with menopause, heavy menstruation, mild hypertension, headache, congestion, and as a gargle for sore throats.
Externally, a oil or ointment can be made, or the leaves can be bruised and applied directly for dermatitis, eczema, acne, bleeding gums, nosebleeds, mouth ulcers, and bleeding hemorrhoids.
Periwinkles are members of the Dogbane family, many members of which are VERY poisonous when ingested. Therefore, if you are going to try internal concoctions made at home, do it with extreme caution and in extreme moderation. Don't try this herb if you are pregnant or if you have kidney, liver, or lung problems. Externally, there are no know side-effects when used properly. If you are not sure about using Periwinkle, speak to a pharmacist or a health care professional.
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