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Periwinkle in the Garden of Hekate

Periwinkle- Vinca major, Vinca minor, Vinca spp.

You may not expect to find this lovely, adorable little flower in Hekate’s garden, but there it belongs! We tend not to think of it as poisonous because it is so often used as an ornamental plant, but it is indeed a toxic herb that can seriously harm the body, so it makes a suitable contribution to this series. The name Vinca comes from the Latin vincire, meaning “to bind”, as this plant grows in long, deep-green leafed tendrils that will dip and creep along the ground, creating large patches of connected plants that may completely bury and strangle out their neighbors. They are often blue or purple, but can be a variety of other colors, including white, pink, and red. The flowers are five-lobed across the species, already indicating a relationship with the goddess of witchcraft, Hekate.

The folk names for this plant speak to its power and its overall likability. Sorcerer’s violet, Devil’s eye, Joy on the Ground, blue buttons, cut finger, Creeping Myrtle in the US and gravmyrt (grave myrtle) in Sweden, (a link to Aphrodite-Venus and to Demeter, both of whom the myrtle is sacred to), centocchio (hundred eyes), and blume der unsterblichkeit (flower of immortality). It is linked to memory, beauty, magic, and death in equal measure, which are all very Hekatean things, to be sure! One of its Italian names, fiore di morto (flower of death), refers to its use as a funerary plant. It was woven into garlands used in burials of children, which, I think, brings it even closer to Hekate as the guide of the souls who die before their allotted time.

In herbalism, periwinkle is used for a variety of maladies, though always in small doses. This is what we call a “micro-dose herb”, as it is best if it takes up a very small amount of whatever remedy it is an ingredient of. It is most often used as a vulnerary, a wound healer. It works well with topical and internal wounds, often as a wash. Simmered at a low heat with other antimicrobial herbs, such as sage, it can help to heal cuts, burns, blisters, and ulcerations (such as canker sores). A leaf of the plant can be chewed directly from the plant, too, but it is not very appetizing. It has also been used for diarrhea, gas, indigestion, toothache, ocular inflammation, insect stings, skin disorders, hypertension, and dysmenorrhea. Its primary alkaloid, vincamine, also acts as a cerebral stimulant, aiding memory, focus, and acuity. A semisynthetic derivative of this alkaloid is sold as vinpocetine and is the most often used extract obtained from this plant. Other derivatives called vinblastine and vincristine are made from Catharanthus (Vinca) rosea, a closely related plant, to fight various forms of cancer, including lymphoma, leukemia, Kaposi sarcoma, and non-small cell lung cancer, among many others. Its constituents are undergoing further research to discover their efficacy in treating things like Alzheimer’s dementia and other cognitive decline issues.

Too much of a good thing is always a problem, though, and periwinkle is no different. Periwinkle poisoning may present with acute dyspnea (irregular breathing), severely lowered blood pressure, cognitive impairment, and a higher risk of infectious illness as it seems to kill off white-blood cells in higher doses. Poisoning from periwinkle will kill a person slowly, not swiftly.

Magically, the herb is used mainly in workings for love, but also for protection, exorcism, amplification of power, and for necromantic operations. According to Apuleius in his Herbarium, for this herb to be at full power it must be gathered “…when the Moon is nine nights old, and eleven nights old, and thirteen nights old, and thirty nights, and when it is one night old.” He also writes down a particular incantation, but whatever enchantment you speak I am sure will be sufficient. When mixed with houseleek and used to season meat meant to be shared by a couple it was said to bring fidelity to a relationship. A powder made from crushed periwinkle flowers mixed with coriander and dill seeds, then placed in a lover’s pillow on a Friday night, will work a powerful erotic charm. The tendrils of periwinkle can be used in binding magic of various sorts. One can bind the affection of another to oneself, to a third party, or bind it up all together, leading to a total loss of attractiveness and charisma on the part of the target. Two poppets bound together with periwinkle tendrils and placed in a red bag will also help to bring two lovers together.

The flowers of the plant are apotropaic, helping to avert malicious magic and the “evil eye”, also called mal ojo and envidia. It is said that when it is worn in a buttonhole it helps to avert the evil eye from mortal and non-mortal sources, even helping to protect from attacks by non human entities and the dead. When braids, garlands, or wreaths of periwinkle are hung above the doors of a home, it protects the occupants from the effects of maleficium and ill-fortune.  A smoke of periwinkle leaf, either inhaled or burnt as incense in a thurible, will not only help to cleanse one of mal ojo, but will also help to exorcise spirits of various kinds, especially when paired with juniper, boneset, and garlic.

Periwinkle may not be the most poisonous plant, but it belongs in this series. Because it is poisonous and because of its links to the world of the dead, to witchcraft and sorcery, and to command of spiritual entities, I think periwinkle also belongs in the garden of Hekate. It is an unusually useful plant who shares Her adaptable, far-reaching spirit and will become a great ally to any practitioner of magic or seeker after Her mysteries.

Kamden Cornell

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Apr 06
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Lovely work, Lamia; thank you! Vinca is an old friend and it's good to have a reintroduction and review with new information.

V. minor doesn't stay put in gardens here in northern California and has escaped to semi wilds and the edges of human spaces, which, to me, says that she belongs to the Crossroads as well.

I use her in flower essences.

B.B. and verdant growth!


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