A trailing evergreen perennial, to 45 cm (18 in), it has prostrate stems, which root at the nodes, and glossy, ovate, dark-green leaves. Five-petal led, violet-blue flowers appear in the axils of the upper leaves in summer.
History and traditions
The periwinkle is mentioned by Pliny and was woven into garlands in ancient Greece and Rome to decorate rooms, or to wear at celebratory banquets. An old name for it is “sorcerer’s violet” and it has a long tradition in early herbal literature as an anti-witchcraft herb. Macer’s Herbal, dating from the 11th century, writes of its power against “wykked spirits”, and the Herbal of Apuleius (1481 translated from a manuscript of c. AD 400) recommends it “against devil sickness and demoniacal possession”. The always imaginative Boke of Secrets of Albertus Magnus, 14th century, tells of a recipe for wrapping it in earthworms, reducing it to a powder and mixing it with houseleek, to be eaten with a meal for inducing love between man and wife. In European cultures it has variously been seen as a flower of death, of immortality and of friendship. The generic term Vinca is from the Latin, Vincire, to bind, a reference to the plant’s twining stems. The name periwinkle is derived from the full Latin version of the name, pervinca.
Tolerates dry conditions, but prefers moist soil and shade or partial shade. It is propagated by division throughout the dormant period. Periwinkle makes useful ground cover, but can be invasive. Cut back hard in autumn to restrict its spread.
Leaves, flowering stems processed for extraction of alkaloids.
Both Vinca major and Vinca minor contain the alkaloid vincamine, which dilates blood vessels and reduces blood pressure, and is used in pharmaceutical preparations for cardiovascular disorders.