A mainly ground-hugging evergreen shrub arching to 18 in (45 cm). Has rooting stems, shiny elliptical leaves, and 5-petaled, violet-blue flowers.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to Europe, lesser periwinkle grows in along roadsides and woodland borders. It is also cultivated as a garden plant. The leaves are gathered in spring.
Lesser periwinkle contains about 7% indole alkaloids (including vincamine, vincine, and vincaminine), a bisindol alkaloid (vincarubine), and tannins. Vincamine increases blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain.
History & Folklore
In his Herbarium, the 2nd-century CE Roman writer Apuleius describes lesser periwinkle’s virtues “against the devil sickness and demoniacal possessions and against snakes and wild beasts.” He also specifies the rituals used in harvesting the herb: “This wort thou shalt pluck thus, saying, ‘I pray thee, vinca pervinca, thee that art to be had for thy many useful qualities… outfit me so that I be shielded and ever prosperous and undamaged by poisons and by water.’ When thou shalt pluck this wort, thou shalt be clean of every uncleanness, and thou shalt pick it when the moon is nine nights old.”
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Lesser periwinkle is employed as an astringent and blood-staunching herb. Its astringency makes it a useful mouthwash for sore throats, gingivitis, and mouth ulcers. Its staunching ability is effective against internal bleeding, heavy menstrual bleeding, and nosebleeds. Since vincamine was discovered in the leaves, lesser periwinkle has been used to treat arteriosclerosis and for dementia due to insufficient blood flow to the brain.
Greater periwinkle (V. major) also has similar astringent activity. See also Madagascar periwinkle (V. rosea).
Do not take during pregnancy.