Periwinkle flowers are derived from two genera in the apocynaceae family – the vinca, better known as the common periwinkle, and catharanthus, often called the Madagascar periwinkle. They are both relatively small species – the Madagascar variety numbering around eight, while the vinca hosts a meager five species to its name – and are strikingly similar in many ways. For instance, both have petite, five-petaled blossoms; long growing stems which can range between 3 to 30 inches above ground; and both types have glossy, bright green foliage. The Madagascar periwinkle is native to areas of southern Asia, while vinca is indigenous to Europe, Asia and Africa. The hues of these flowers can range from white and violet, to rose, pink and red.
Both the vinca and Madagascar periwinkle flowers have become major players in the world of herbal medicine. In fact, the pharmaceutical industry has taken a great interest in the species catharanthus roseus, which has shown to have a promising effect as a treatment for both lymphoma and leukemia. Despite the modern research that has begun, this genus of periwinkle has been in use for several hundred years as a disinfectant and tranquilizer, as well as to stop blood loss and treat diabetes. Vinca, on the other hand, has been known to treat high blood pressure, female reproductive issues, as well as mouth ulcerations and sore throats. Despite the fact that both plants have made their way into a number of pharmaceutical brands – as well as becoming a major part of folk medicine – these blooms are considered to be quite toxic if taken in large doses. Periwinkle flowers also have their place in both myth and history alike. The English botanist and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper considered these plants to be something of an aphrodisiac when shared amongst lovers, as he concluded that the goddess of love, Venus, grew and kept these plants. On a more sinister note, during the Middle Ages, flowing garlands were made of a dwarf species of periwinkle, which were then placed upon the heads of criminals who were being prepared for execution.
Periwinkle flowers have a wide variety of meanings. One of its earliest symbols is of immortality; however, in more modern times these blossoms generally represent new friendship, fidelity in long time relationships, and spiritual harmony. As a gift, these flowers are almost invariably traded between lovers and married couples, but they are also sometimes presented to friends and family members, so as to show these people that they are loved.