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This periwinkle 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.
In Germany this plant is the emblem of immortality.
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 cord; 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 flower).
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 Cockles.
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.
The periwinkle 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.