Catharanthus spp.



Catharanthus roseus - Madagascar Periwinkle

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Catharanthus spp.

Botanical information

An evergreen shrub, it grows to a height of 1m with a spread of 1m. The stem is short, erect and branching; the leaves are glossy gree, oval, 5cm long and opposite acuminate; the flowers are soft pink, tinged with red, 5 petalled, open, tubular and 4cm across, appearing in spring and autumn.

A native of tropical Africa and Madagascar, it prefers rich, well drained, moist soils in a protected, sunny position, and is drought and frost tender.

Propagation is by seed and by cuttings.


Traditional uses

Catharanthus roseus only became a cosmopolitan plant due to its status as an easy to grow and very attractive ornamental. In its native area of Madagascar and the Carribean the whole plant is used traditionally to make infusions for the treatment of hypertension and diabetes. Since the sixties the smoking of the foliage of this species and the related Vinca minor and Vinca major has been popular. It has also frequently been ingested in the form of teas and extracts to achieve the desired effect of relaxation, and in higher doses as an aphrodisiac and mild hallucinogen.


Pharmacology

Catharanthus roseus contains more than 70 alkaloids mostly of the indole type, and some even closely related to ibogaine. The rootbark contains the alkaloid alstonine (see Alstonia scholaris), which has been used traditionally for its calming effect and its ability to reduce bloodpressure. Chronic use has been shown to cause CNS damage. The related and very rare species Catharanthus lanceus has been shown to contain up to 6% yohimbine in the foliage, possibly one of the highest yielding plants. It is however rare and protected in its native Madagascar.

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