Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Dec 23, 2019.
Scientific Name(s): Catharanthus roseus G. Don.
Common Name(s): Church-flower, Madagascar or Cape periwinkle, Magdalena, Myrtle, Old maid, Periwinkle, Ram-goat rose, Red or rosy periwinkle, Vinca
Periwinkle alkaloids have been used to treat certain cancers; however, use of the plant for this purpose is not recommended without consulting a health care provider.
Periwinkle has been studied for potential antimicrobial and antiprotozoal applications, as well as for use in diabetes and wound healing; however, there is not enough reliable information to recommend the plant for these uses.
There is no recent clinical evidence to support specific doses of periwinkle for medicinal use. Traditional doses have included 10 leaves and 10 flowers boiled in water as a tea, or 9 pink flowers in 0.5 L of water for 3 hours ("solar tea") sipped throughout the day. Therapeutic doses for preparations of the pure alkaloids vincristine and vinblastine are available.
Contraindications have not been identified.
Avoid use. Abortifacient effects have been documented.
None well documented.
Clinical information is lacking.
Severe, systemic adverse events are associated with the use of the alkaloids vincristine and vinblastine.
- Apocyanaceae (dogbane)
The plant was first described in Madagascar.1, 2 Periwinkle is a perennial herb that grows up to 1 m in height. It is highly branched and develops a woody base, with flowers that can bloom throughout the year depending on the climate. The flowers 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. The stem produces a milky sap that is rich in indole alkaloids. Synonyms include Lochnera rosea Reichb., V. rosea L., and Ammocallis rosea Small. The related plant Vinca minor (common periwinkle, myrtle) is used as a ground cover.1, 2, 3, 4
The plant was introduced in Europe during the mid-1700s and was cultivated as an ornamental. Today it grows throughout the world, and plantations have been established on continents with warmer climates. The plant has been widely used in tropical folk medicine. Decoctions of the plant have been used to treat ocular inflammation, diabetes, hemorrhages, insect stings, and cancers.2, 4, 5, 6, 7
Descriptions of the chemical constituents of the plant are available.8 Approximately 130 terpenoid indole alkaloids are found in the plant.2, 9 The concentration of alkaloids varies with the region of harvest and plant part. The most well-known of the vinca alkaloids derived from C. roseus are vinblastine and vincristine, which are now widely used antineoplastic agents. Identification of other alkaloids with cytotoxic potential is ongoing.10, 11
The aqueous plant extract is rich in phenolic compounds, including caffeoylquinic acid and flavonoids with antioxidant potential. The leaves also contain a complex volatile oil.12, 13 Identification and quantification techniques include high-pressure liquid chromatography and ion trap mass spectrometry.14, 15
Uses and Pharmacology
In vitro studies suggest C. roseus’ extracts possess antimicrobial effects.9, 16 Activity has not been attributed to particular chemical constituents; however, various extract techniques have resulted in differing antimicrobial properties.9 Some antiviral activity has been reported for yohimbine.9 Hexane and ethylacetate extracts were active against all tested bacteria except Salmonella typhi.16, 17 Antifungal activity has also been documented.18 Anthelminthic activity has been described in vitro,19 and activity against the malarial vector anopheles has been documented.20, 21
Research reveals no clinical studies using periwinkle for antimicrobial or antiprotozoal infections.
Animal studies have been described.22
Vincristine and vinblastine derived from periwinkle are recognized pharmacological agents in chemotherapy. Extensive documentation exists on the clinical uses of other purified alkaloids of C. roseus.2 Clinical studies using the whole plant to treat cancers are lacking.
In limited studies in rats, researchers found increased healing rates with topical and oral ethanolic flower extracts.16, 23 An in vitro study showed limited effects of C. roseus extract on markers of psoriasis.24
Research reveals no clinical data for the use of periwinkle in wound healing or other dermatological applications.
Diabetes and hyperlipidemia
Older screening studies suggested potential applications for C. roseus in diabetes.2, 9 Experiments using rodents showed that periwinkle’s crude leaf extract elucidated a mechanism of action for a hypoglycemic effect.25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 Studies have suggested activity similar to that of tolbutamide because of increased glucose metabolism and transport, as well as antioxidant effects on pancreatic tissue. Animal studies have also shown that periwinkle possesses a hypolipidemic effect.30, 31, 32 A recent study found glucose and lipid effects similar to those of glibenclamide.33
Research reveals no clinical data for the use of periwinkle in diabetes or hyperlipidemia.
The presence of yohimbine in the plant extract has led to its use in erectile dysfunction; however, clinical studies to support this use are lacking.9
The plant has been used in the biosynthesis of silver nanoparticles.36
There is no recent clinical evidence to support specific doses of periwinkle for medicinal use. Traditional doses have included 10 leaves and 10 flowers boiled in water as a tea, or 9 pink flowers in 0.5 L of water for 3 hours ("solar tea") sipped throughout the day.4
Therapeutic doses for preparations such as vincristine and vinblastine are available.
Pregnancy / Lactation
Avoid use. Abortifacient effects have been documented.37
Case reports are lacking for C. roseus. An in vitro study evaluated the effect of periwinkle alkaloids on the cytochrome (CYP) P450 enzyme system, and some isolated alkaloids showed potent inhibition of CYP2D6, but weak activity against CYP3A4.38
Clinical information is lacking. Adverse reactions are documented for vinca alkaloids related to doses used in chemotherapy.39
Severe, systemic adverse events are associated with the use of the alkaloids vincristine and vinblastine.39 The related species, V. minor, has been declared unsafe for human consumption by the US Food and Drug Administration.40
- Ammocallis rosea Small.
- Lochnera rosea Reichb.
- Vinca minor
- Vinca rosea L.
- Common periwinkle
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