Madagascar Periwinkle: Catharanthus roseus
In traditional medicine, Madagascar periwinkle has been used to treat a variety of ailments in Madagascar as well as in other parts of the world where the plant has naturalised.
Whilst researching the anti-diabetic properties of the plant in the 1950s, scientists discovered the presence of several highly toxic alkaloids in its tissues. These alkaloids are now used in the treatment of a number of different types of cancer, with one derived compound, called vincristine, having been credited with raising the survival rate in childhood leukaemia from less than 10% in 1960 to over 90% today. Powerful medicinal plants such as the Madagascar periwinkle remind us of the need to conserve and study the increasingly threatened plant habitats of the world.
Long before modern researcher learned of the plant's valuable and varied properties, people in faraway places were using the Madagascar periwinkle for a host of medicinal purposes.
- In India, they treated wasp sting with the juice from the leaves.In Hawai'i they prescribed an extract of the boiled plant to arrest bleeding.
- In Central America and parts of South America, they made a gargle to ease soar throats and chest ailments and laryngitis.
- In Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and other islands, an extract of the flower was commonly administered as an eyewash for the eyes of infants.
- In Africa, leaves are used for menorrhagia and rheumatism.
- Surinamese boil ten leaves and ten flowers together for diabetes.
- Bahamians take flower decoction for asthma and flatulence, and the entire plant for tuberculosis.
- In Mauritius, the leaves infusion s given for dyspepsia and indigestion.
- In Vietnam, it is taken for diabetes and malaria.
- Curacao and Bermuda natives take the plant for high blood pressure.
- Indochinese use the stalks and leaves for dysmenorrhea.