Thursday, February 12, 2009

Vinca can save your life... or take it

I took a call this week. A lady was asking if the Vinca she had bought in a Scotsburn punnet was also known as Madagascar Vinca. Initially I said “I don’t think so, but I don’t know”. So while she explained her question I started to Google search. The answer is yes. The full common name for Catharanthus roseus is Madagascar Periwinkle. So…
Well my phone correspondent happens to originally hail from the Seychelles (complete with soft French accent) where Madagascar Vinca has naturalized. Just remember that point, I’ll get back to it. The lady with the attractive French accent used to drink tea made from Vinca leaves steeped in boiling water when she was a child in the Seychelles. She wanted to know if this was the same plant so she could make tea.
“Well, yes it is. Does it make nice tea?”
“No, it’s terribly bitter. We called it rosé amère which means bitter rose, but nobody in the Seychelles ever gets Leukemia”.
So with a little more searching it turns out that Leukemia treatment drugs Vincristine and Vinblastine have been extracted from Vinca.
Now before you go rushing off to make a cup of Catharanthus tea to reduce your white blood cell count, just keep a couple of things in mind. This stuff is toxic, so too much will make you very sick and I have found serious warnings about inappropriate use of the drug Vincristine.
Plus, remember I said that Catharanthus roseus has naturalized in the Seychelles, well it is closely related to Vinca major and V. minor. V. major is a declared weed in Victoria. Our cool climate controls the spread of Catharanthus down here so it is not a problem, but it is considered a weed in tropical Queensland. Please keep an eye on any self seeding plants.
Sadly the lady with the sexy French accent didn’t leave her name.

1 comment:

  1. I have these plants growing wild in my garden, and my first reaction when i read about its medicinal properties, was to want to brew tea from it as a prophelactic against cancer.

    Thank you for your warning about it - i guess, this is a good example of what is one man's meat, can be another man's poison!


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