There are two British Periwinkles growing wild; the one Vinca
major, or greater, a doubtful native, and found only in the
neighbourhood of dwelling-houses; the other Vinca minor lesser,
abounding in English woods, particularly in the Western counties,
and often entirely covering the ground with its prostrate evergreen
leaves. The common name of each is derived from vincio, to bind,
as it were by its stems resembling co
d; or because bound in olden
times into festive garlands and funeral chaplets. Their title used also
to be Pervinca, and Pervinkle, Pervenkle, and Pucellage (or virgin
This generic name has been derived either from pervincire, to
bind closely, or from pervincere, to overcome. Lord Bacon
observes that it was common in his time for persons to wear bands
of green Periwinkle about the calf of the leg to prevent cramp.
Now-a-days we use for the same purpose a garter of small new corks
strung on worsted. In Germany this plant is the emblem of
immortality. It bears the name  Pennywinkles in Hampshire,
probably by an inland confusion with the shell fish winkles.
Each of the two kinds possesses acrid astringent properties, but the
lesser Periwinkle, Vinca minor or Winter-green, is the Herbal
Simple best known of the pair, for its medicinal virtues in domestic
use. The Periwinkle order is called Apocynaceoe, from the Greek
apo, against, and kunos, a dog; or dog's bane.
The flowers of the greater Periwinkle are gently purgative, but lose
their effect by drying. If gathered in the Spring, and made into a
syrup, they will impart all their virtues, and this is excellent to
keep the bowels of children gently open, as well as to overcome
habitual constipation in grown persons. But the leaves are astringent,
contracting and strengthening the genitals if applied thereto either as
a decoction, or as the bruised leaves themselves. An infusion of the
greater Periwinkle, one part of the fresh plant to ten of water, may
be used for staying female fluxes, by giving a wine-glassful thereof
when cool, frequently; or of the liquid extract, half a teaspoonful for
a dose in water. On account of its striking colour, and its use for
magical purposes, the plant, when in bloom, has been named the
Sorcerer's Violet, and in some parts of Devon the flowers are known
as Cut Finger or Blue Buttons. The Italians use it in making
garlands for their dead infants, and so call it Death's flower.
Simon Fraser, whose father was a faithful adherent of Sir William
Wallace, when on his way to be executed (in 1306) was crowned in
mockery with the Periwinkle, as he passed through the City
of London, with his legs tied under the horse's belly. In
Gloucestershire, the flowers of the greater Periwinkle are called
The lesser Periwinkle is perennial, and is sometimes 
cultivated in gardens, where it has acquired variegated leaves. It has
no odour, but gives a bitterish taste which lasts in the mouth. Its
leaves are strongly astringent, and therefore very useful to be
applied for staying bleedings. If bruised and put into the nostrils,
they will arrest fluxes from the nose, and a decoction made from
them is of service for the diarrhoea of a weak subject, as well as for
chronic looseness of the bowels; likewise for bleeding piles, by
being applied externally, and by being taken internally. Again, the
decoction makes a capital gargle for relaxed sore throat, and for
sponginess of the mouth, of the tonsils, and the gums.
This plant was also a noted Simple for increasing the milk of wet
nurses, and was advised for such purpose by physicians of repute.
Culpeper gravely says: The leaves of the lesser Periwinkle, if eaten
by man and wife together, will cause love between them.
A tincture is made (H.) from the said plant, the Vinca minor, with
spirit of wine. It is given medicinally for the milk-crust of infants,
as well as for internal haemorrhages, the dose being from two to ten
drops three or four times in the day, with a spoonful of water.