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Vinca major, greater periwinkle


Vinca major is not a poisonous plant but confusion between it and Catharanthus rosea (formerly Vinca rosea) leads to its inclusion in poison plant lists.



Meaning of the Name

From the Latin ‘vincire’, ‘to bind about or fetter’ based on its trailing habit.
Larger than the main species of the genus.

Common Names and Synonyms

greater periwinkle, violette des sorciers, sorcerer's violet.

Vinca major, greater periwinkle

Vinca major, greater periwinkle

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

There is no reason to consider the Vinca major poisonous.

Catharanthus rosea (formerly Vinca rosea), the Madagascar periwinkle, does contain a group of alkaloids including vinchristine and vinblastine both of which are used in chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is, of course, controlled poisoning.

In unevidenced herbal medicine, Vinca major has been used to treat high blood pressure and control excessive bleeding. Excess results in hypotension, low blood pressure, which can cause collapse.

Vinca major is said to be a close relative of the oleander but has no record of causing harm.


No reported incidents for Vinca major. For Catharanthus rosea the often unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy should be considered as poisonings.

It is not included in the Horticultural Trades Association list of potentially harmful plants and there is only one reference to it in the 'International Poisonous Plants Checklist' and that to a 1946 article about poisonous plants in general.

Folklore and Facts

The flower of the plant is the symbol of the Lymphoma Association which holds an annual fundraising Periwinkle Ball.

This use seems to result from the confusion with Catharanthus rosea.

The 16th century book entitled ‘the boke of secretes of Albertus Magnus of the vertues of Herbes, Stones and certaine beastes’, talks of the power of periwinkle to produce love between a man and his wife. It must be powdered and mixed with leeks and earthworms and then added to the couple’s meals.

The Apuleius Platonicus also imbues periwinkle with some remarkable powers. It is the first plant to choose to combat sickness brought on by the Devil, protect against snakes and other wild beasts as well as being an antidote to many poisons. If you carry it with you, you will be prosperous and well received by strangers.