The name periwinkle mainly applies to a family of plants from Europe and the Middle East, but the name is also used for another genus Madagascar. The genus of the European periwinkle is Vinca; the genus of the Madagascar periwinkle is Catharanthus. The herbs share many of their medicinal properties. Both herbs belong to the dogbane family, which is so named because it is poisonous to dogs.
Periwinkle has long been in use throughout Europe as a medicine. The Roman scholar Lucius Apuleius in the 2nd century AD gives instructions on how to gather periwinkle. Romans believed that carrying periwinkle with you could make people like you wherever you went and that it could also enable you to become prosperous.
Dioscorides and Galen both recommended the use of periwinkle against abnormal discharges. Pliny gave the plant its Latin name, which he derived from the Latin word for bind or entwine.
Chaucer wrote about periwinkle, and it is still common to see it today in British hedgerows. The herb is mentioned in Macer Floridus’s herbal and in the Book of Secrets of Albert Magnus. The latter was published in the 1500s and claimed that periwinkle was an essential ingredient in love potions. Nicholas Culpeper recommended using the herb to stop bleeding.
In the 17th century, the herb was considered a good treatment for cramping. Periwinkle was also sometimes combined with lard to make an ointment for hemorrhoids.
In Italy, periwinkle was called the flower of the dead because of the practice of using it to make garlands for dead children.
The name periwinkle may come from the Russian name, pervinka or the old English name for the plant: peruince. Periwinkle is referred to as pennywinkle in some places.
Catharanthus was distributed around the world from Paris in the 19th century. The first seeds in Paris came from Madagascar, and the plants were shared in botanical gardens throughout Europe as an ornamental plant. It would eventually make its way to various West Indian islands including Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Periwinkle flavor profile
Periwinkle is odorless but has a grassy, herbaceous flavor with a slight bitterness.
Health benefits of periwinkle
Periwinkle’s many powerful health benefits are the result of compounds like:
- Reserpine: The roots of some periwinkle species contain reserpine. Reserpine is an alkaloid with powerful effects on blood pressure and mood.
- Vincamine: Vinpocetine is a compound used for brain health. Vinpocetine is derived from vincamine, a compound in periwinkle.
You can use periwinkle to treat or prevent health issues like:
- Poor memory: The vincamine in periwinkle is believed to be valuable for enhancing memory, which means that it may be beneficial for treating Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions that cause memory loss.
- High blood pressure: You can use the reserpine in periwinkle to treat high blood pressure and it can also work as a sedative.
- Improved vision: Research indicates that periwinkle helps to improve circulation and reduce inflammation, both of which can help to improve eyesight.
- Cancer: Vincristine and vinblastine are two anti-cancer drugs made from periwinkle.
The traditional way to consume periwinkle is to make a tea with it. You can make periwinkle tea using the flowers or the leaves or both. A tincture may also be used to provide a full mix of the plant’s valuable chemicals.