Lesser periwinkle (botanical name, Vinca minor) is a perennially growing evergreen herb having crawling stems that grow up to 30 inches in length. The plants of this species generally form a dense mat. The herb bears shiny, deep green leaves whose shape varies from oval to oblong and are two inches in length. The leaves appear in pairs on little leafstalks. The herbs bloom in May-June period and the color of the flowers vary from blue to violet, or simply white (rarely). The solitary flowers emerge from the leaf axils and turn out two petite, thin seedpods.
The modest and petite lesser periwinkle barely appears to be an object fit for controversy, but this herb as well as its relative Vinca major (greater periwinkle) have been the subject of considerable debate. While these two herbs have been noted to be useful in stopping bleeding, they are cataloged as 'unsafe' by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States. Scientists examining the pharmacological features of these herbs have lodged their protest against the findings of the FDA and asserted that these herbs ought not to be included in the list of unsafe or harmful plants.
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Perhaps the immigrants to North America wanted to make sure that they had sufficient supply of this helpful herb, they carried lesser periwinkle or myrtle (as it is often referred to) along with them to the New World. While greater periwinkle (Vinca major) has been categorized as the main therapeutic species, both these herbs have been employed alternately. Besides the anti-hemorrhaging attributes of lesser periwinkle, this herb also has a reputation as an astringent and is used to treat nervous disorders. In addition, lesser periwinkle is also used as a remedy for high blood pressure (hypertension).
Similar to several other herbs, there was a time when lesser periwinkle was linked to magic and superstitions. In those days, people believed that this herb had the aptitude to protect against evil spirits and in a number of places, lesser periwinkle was considered to be so useful and potent that if one hung it at the entrance of his/ her home, no witch would have the courage to enter the place. People in France referred to the flower of lesser periwinkle as violette des sorciers, which translated into English literally denoted 'violet of the sorcerers'.
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Lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor) has a number of therapeutic uses, for instance it is used in the form of an astringent as well as an herb to stop hemorrhage. The astringent attribute of lesser periwinkle makes the herb an effective mouthwash for treating canker sores, sore throats and gingivitis. Following the discovery that the leaves of lesser periwinkle enclose an alkaloid known as vincamine, this herb has been employed in the treatment of arteriosclerosis as well as for curing dementia owing to inadequate flow of blood to the brain. Also, lesser periwinkle is very useful and effective in treating nosebleeds, internal bleeding and heavy menstrual bleeding.
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In traditional medicine, the dried herb of lesser periwinkle (its aerial parts and, occasionally, the entire Vinca plant) is employed to augment blood circulation, especially to the brain, improve metabolism in the brain as well as to cure cardiovascular ailments.
Lesser periwinkle is indigenous to Europe and is found growing naturally beside the roads and the periphery of the woodlands. In addition, lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor) is also grown as a garden plant. The leaves of this herb are collected during spring.
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Lesser periwinkle needs excellent drainage and the plant thrives well in conditions like partial shade to complete shady locales. This herb is considered to be an excellent selection for ground cover, especially for a place having dry shade. Although lesser periwinkle grows very vigorously in damp soils, plants of this species have the aptitude to endure drought to a reasonable extent once they have been established. In fact, growing vigorously is not an issue with the plants of this species. The vines of Vinca minor can also succeed in soils that have rich humus content and also have the aptitude to endure poor soils.
Chemical analysis of lesser periwinkle or Vinca minor has revealed that the herb encloses approximately 7 per cent indole alkaloids (counting, vincine, vincamine and vincaminine), tannins and a bisindol alkaloid (vincarubine). It may be noted that the alkaloid vincamine helps in augmenting the flow of blood as well as supply of oxygen to the brain.
Lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor) basically encloses two types of chemical substances - alkaloids and tannins. The main alkaloid enclosed by the herb is vincamine, which is closely linked to a semi-synthetic offshoot of vincamine - extensively employed in the form of medicine known as vinpocetine or ethyl-apovincaminate. This alkaloid possesses blood thinning, vasodilating (promoting dilation of blood vessels) as well as memory-improving properties. Results of double-blind studies have shown that vincamine helps to provide relief from a kind of dementia that is referred to as vascular dementia. Vascular dementia is a medical condition wherein the arteries supplying blood to the brain grow atherosclerotic plaques. A particular double-blind study has discovered that the alkaloid vincamine has the competence to assist people having Alzheimer's disease. However, an open study did not find anything as such.
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A preliminary research has shown that alkaloid vinpocetine also helps to avoid the degeneration in temporary memory stimulated by the anti-anxiety benzodiazepine drug flunitrazepam. It is felt that more research is required to decide on if vinpocetine might be a useful attachment to employ benzodiazepines.
According to a double-blind study, elevated amounts of vinpocetine (60 mg every day) may have a favourable influence on hearing loss owing to aging (presbyacusis). Another preliminary study arrived at the conclusion that giving supplements ethyl-apovincaminate (a vinca alkaloid) might lessen symptoms of tinnitus (a sensation of ringing in the ears) owing to damaged flow of blood to the internal ear. According to an appraisal of using vinpocetine in individuals who have endured strokes discovered that the solitary double-blind study failed to show any effectiveness. However, uncontrolled studies undertaken earlier have hinted that there could be some assistance.
It has been found that vinpocetine has an inclination to work as a calcium chelating mediator. According to an uncontrolled study, the use of vinpocetine for a period of three to 12 months might get rid of the calcium accumulation in patients undergoing dialysis. However, more research is required to decide if this may be of help in other conditions related to surplus calcium or if vinpocetine may perhaps obstruct the favourable actions of calcium.
In addition, a double-blind and another preliminary study have unearthed that brovincamine, a chemical compound intimately connected to vinpocetine, was useful in individuals having chronic or persistent glaucoma (exceptionally high fluid pressure within the eye). It may be noted here that till the time studies are undertaken employing real vinpocetine it is yet to be known if the use of vinpocetine will be equally effectual as brovincamine.
Raw or unprocessed lesser periwinkle also encloses tannins, which make these plants gently astringent. Hence, as per traditional use, these herbs may be employed to alleviate pain owing to tender throats or canker sores. However, no clinical trial has been undertaken thus far to ascertain this specific property or use of lesser periwinkle.