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Periwinkle

Scientific Name(S): Catharanthus roseus G. Don. Also referred to as Lochnera rosea Reichb., Vinca rosea L., and Ammocallis rosea Small. The related plant Vinca minor (common periwinkle, Myrtle) is used as a ground cover. Family: Apocyanaceae

Common Name(S): Periwinkle, red periwinkle, Madagascar or Cape periwinkle, old maid, church-flower, ram-goat rose, "myrtle," magdalena.

Botany: Although the plant is said to be native to the West Indies, it was first described in Madagascar. The periwinkle is a perennial herb that grows to about 2 feet. It is highly branched and develops a woody base. The flowers can bloom throughout the year, depending on the climate. These are often bred for their unique colors ranging from white to green-yellow and lavender. The seed pod dries, splits and releases numerous tiny seeds, of which there are about 350,000/lb.

History:The plant was introduced in Europe during the mid-1700s during which time it was cultivated as an ornamental. Today it grows throughout much of the world and plantations have been established on most continents in the warmer climates. The plant has been widely used in tropical folk medicine. Decoctions of the plant have been used for maladies ranging from ocular inflammation, diabetes and hemorrhage to treating insect stings and cancers.

Uses of Periwinkle:

Periwinkle has been used in the treatment of leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, malignant lymphomas, neuroblastoma, Wilms tumor, Kaposi's sarcoma, mycosis fungoides, to improve cerebral blood flow, and treat high blood pressure.

Side Effects of Periwinkle:

Periwinkle is potentially toxic and has been known to cause acute dyspnea.

Toxicology: The periwinkle plant has been reported to have caused poisonings in grazing animals. Severe systemic adverse events are associated with the prolonged use of vincristine and vinblastine, and fatalities have been associated with the use of these alkaloids. Acute dyspnea has been reported following antineoplastic treatment with the related alkaloids vindesine (EI­disine)4 and vinorelbine (Navelbine).

There has been at least one report of persons attempting to smoke periwinkle leaves as an hallucinogenic substitute for marijuana, but this appears to have passed in fancy because of a lack of any significant pharmacologic effect.

The related Vinca minor has been declared "unsafe" for human consumption by the FDA.

Summary: Members of the periwinkle group are well known as ornamentals. The Madagascar periwinkle has a long history of folk use and today is an important source of antineoplastic alkaloids. The plant should not be in gested because of concerns of potential toxicity.


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