The herb called the rosy periwinkle is a much branched perennial shrub which can reach 2 1/2 feet in height when fully mature. The rosy periwinkle has oval shaped leaves which have a peculiar glossy skin. The herb is also characterized by white to pinkish flowers that have five lobed petals. Rosy periwinkle also bears downy textured seedpods which are cylindrical in shape.
The Madagascar periwinkle known by the botanical name as C. roseus (earlier Vinca rosea) is one of the few plants that have generated recent interest in the scientific and medical communities around the world. The scientific and medical communities became interested in the properties of the herb sometime in the middle of the 1950's. It was at that time, that herbal researchers first came upon the traditional "periwinkle tea" used by people in Jamaica as a folk remedy. These researchers started to study the properties of the plant and tried to analyze its anecdotal anti-diabetic abilities - the main use for the herb in Jamaica. The research on the plant was very satisfactory as many of the properties hoped to be gained by the researchers was displayed by the plant, for example, the researchers found that the herb contained at least two anti-cancer alkaloids - the compounds vincristine and vinblastine - these two compounds were found to be capable of inhibiting the growth of tumors in the human body. The first alkaloid compound vincristine has proven to be of greater effectiveness when used in the treatment of childhood leukemia in affected children. At the same time, the second alkaloid compound called vinblastine was found to be effective in the treatment of testicular cancer and the condition known as Hodgkin's disease - which is the name for a malignant cancer affecting the lymphatic system of patients. Side effects which are similar to those induced by many chemical medications used during chemotherapy, were found to be inducible by these two alkaloids - taking the alkaloids induced nausea and hair loss in patients.
Different healing and medicinal properties are also evident in the Madagascar periwinkle; such abilities are also seen in the related herbs such as the lesser periwinkle, the rauvolfia herb, and all the other members of the dogbane family of plants. At least, seventy confirmed alkaloid agents have been extracted from the herb - some of these alkaloid compounds have distinct medicinal properties. Of the many types of alkaloids found in the plant, an ability to decrease blood sugar levels has been observed in some, while other alkaloids have been found to reduce the blood pressure in patients with elevated blood pressure problems.
Traditionally and historically, the Madagascar periwinkle has been used by many folk healers in many different cultures, for treating a variety of ailments much before the present day modern researchers studied and confirmed the plants varied and valuable healing properties. For example, this plant was used by the folk healers of the India, in treating wasp stings by a topical application of the juice from crushed leaves. External bleeding in the body was traditionally healed in Hawaii by using an extract of the boiled plant as a topical application. The plant was also used by the people in Central America and some parts of South America to make an oral gargle for easing the pain of sore throats along with ailments affecting the chest region. Traditional herbal eyewash made from the extract of the flowers was also applied to affected eyes by the peoples of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands. The majority of the traditional uses of the herb in these lands continue to this day.
While used in a variety of ways in herbal medicine, the Madagascar periwinkle is also a beautiful plant and is planted as an ornamental garden plant in many home gardens. Madagascar, a large island next to Africa in the Indian Ocean is the place of origin of the flower, the plant is cultivated extensively in many parts of the world these days, and is a naturalized herb in many of the warmer regions of the world - it is found in the southern United States in North America. Commercially speaking, a number of different varieties of the plant are now available due to breeding experiments. The Madagascar periwinkle comes in many varieties nowadays, with floral colors that are a hot pink to mauve and to the original white or pinkish color. If you intend to buy the seeds, remember that the Madagascar periwinkle and its many varieties are usually grouped along with the true periwinkles, plants of the Vinca genus.
In France, the epithet "sorcerer's violet" has been given to the rosy periwinkle. The origin of this name is with regard to the historical use of the plant in the charms and love potions of medieval Europe. The power of exercising evil spirits was also attributed to the plant by Europeans in the old days. For example, the rosy periwinkle was used by medieval Europeans in their floral garlands to ensure the protection of the bearer from sudden harm. The Italians called the rosy periwinkle, the flower of death and placed garlands made from the plant on the grave stones of infants. The use of the plant and its cultural connotations changed over time, and the periwinkle was considered to be an emblem of friendship by the French during the era of the enlightenment in Europe.
Different health disorders have been traditionally treated using herbal remedies made from the periwinkle plant. These have included problems such as memory loss to even toothache and other complaints such as circulatory problems to persistent inflammation of the intestinal region. The diuretic action and the blood sugar lowering ability of the periwinkle has been proven decisively, however, the real effectiveness of the herb in treating all these other ailments is not confirmed even though the plant has a long history of use in a healing role. The early researches conducted on the diabetes related medical properties of the plant during the 1950s, led to the discovery of other useful compound in the herbal extract. The extract is found to be capable of treating juvenile leukemia, it has been found to be effective against Hodgkin's disease, and in the treatment of other cancers - all of which were considered largely incurable earlier. The anti-cancer properties of the herb are due to two main alkaloids, the compounds vinblastine and vincristine, these chemicals seem capable of binding to proteins in some microtubules of the affected cells, leading to the quick death of cancer affected cells.
The anti-diabetes action of the periwinkle is made use of in the folk medicine of the Philippine islands. Closer home, soothing eyewash is prepared from the flowers and used in the folk medicine of the Caribbean islands.
Habitat and cultivation
Though naturalized and cultivated as a garden plant in many areas of the world, the rosy periwinkle is native to and originates from the rich plant life of Madagascar. There are also similar acting related species of the plant in the Mediterranean - these can also be potentially utilized in the same way as the rosy periwinkle.
Extensive clinical research has been conducted on the properties of the Madagascar periwinkle's due to its long traditional use as an herbal treatment for persons affected by diabetes. The plant also contains two potent anti-cancer alkaloids, the compound vincristine and vinblastine - the identification of these compounds is believed to be one of the most important medicinal finds from plant sources within the past forty years of medical history. Patients with Hodgkin's disease are given vincristine as a standard treatment, and the compound vinblastine is used extensively in the treatment of childhood leukemia cases. The anti-diabetic role of the plant still needs further verification, as it has been found that while herbal extracts from the Madagascar periwinkle can indeed lead to a lowering of blood sugar levels in the body, very simple preparations from the whole plant are not effective and thus an active compound in the extract has to be identified.
Madagascar periwinkle contains over 70 different indole alkaloids, including vinblastine, vincristine, alstonine, ajmalicine, leurocristine, and reserpine.