Monday, January 30, 2012

Medical Mondays: Chemo in my garden

I've had a few requests to do more herbal medicine/toxicology posts. Here's one I love.

Does this look familiar to you?

Vinca, or periwinkle, is a commonly used a decorative ground cover. It's native to Europe but found in North America, parts of Africa, and Asia. It has ever blooming periwinkle-colored flowers with waxy, drought-resistant leaves. In some places, it has a bad name because it can get quite invasive. 

Whenever I see it, I think "pretty." Then I think, "chemotherapy." 

There are many active compounds in the Vinca species. In the Catharanthus roseus species, the chemicals vincristine and vinblastine have been extracted and are commonly used to treat leukemia and lymphomas today.
Catharanthus roseus can be pink, white, or a combination
In traditional Chinese medicine, it has been used to treat diabetes, Hodgkins disease (a type of lymphoma), and malaria. 

If the plant is ingested orally, it is VERY dangerous. It can be hallucinogenic, and may cause kidney and nerve damage.

Vincristine and vinblastine work by inhibiting the rapid division of cancer cells. Jargon alert!-->Specifically, it polymerizes microtubules needed to allow mitosis to occur.<--Jargon alert over! Unfortunately, it also effects other cells that divide rapidly in healthy human tissues, such as the cells of hair follicles. Hence, many patients on these medication will have chemo-induced hair loss. 

Other side effects include neuropathy (numbness and tingling of the limbs), low sodium levels, and constipation, among others. 

Vinca is so pretty and so fascinating, isn't it? Can you take a moment and imagine how you could use Vinca in a story?

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53 comments:

Anne Gallagher said...

I love Vinca, my mother has it growing all over her backyard. I was going to get some too, but now I know it's poisonous, I'm thinking it over. Thanks Lydia. Important stuff.

Sarah said...

I always thought of the chemotherapy meds as heavily synthesized compounds, so this is really cool information about how natural compounds can be powerful as well. Thanks, Lydia!

Miranda Hardy said...

Love periwinkle! I have them all over and now I've learned something new. Can't wait to tell my stepdad. He's a landscaper.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I think vinca is pretty, especially the type with striped leaves, but my husband hates it and keeps ripping it out whenever he sees it.

When I hear about the medicinal properties of plants like this, I always wonder how people figured it out. Did people just wander about, eating plants to see what happened to them, hmmm?

Natalie Aguirre said...

I have vinca and had no idea it was used for chemo.

I'm glad you didn't go into great detail about the chemo because my sister had to go through lots of it before it stopped working and you know the rest.

Connie Keller said...

WOW! I have a patch of vinca near the road because it's so easy to grow and will tolerated lots of water, heat, and poor soil. I had no idea they were anything more than a pretty flower. Very cool.

SA Larsenッ said...

No way. I did not know that. That's cool! I'm so proud of myself. By looking at the photo, I actually recognized this one!!

Thanks for sharing your knowledge here. I love learning about these.

Old Kitty said...

I love love love periwinkles! My favourite wild flower - absolutely pretty!! And now I know they are also good for you! Yay! Take care
x

Stina Lindenblatt said...

It just shows you how beauty isn't everything. Go beneath the pretty looks, and you'll find a depth you never imagined.

(lol can you tell the last post I read was on characterization???)

Cool info!

Matthew MacNish said...

Awesome plants are especially useful for us fantasy writers!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That stuff grows around here. Promise I won't eat any of it.

Karen Lange said...

I've always thought Vinca was pretty; I had no idea it was used in this way. Thanks for educating me! :)

Jax said...

letting the world know of readily available hallucinogens online could be quite dangerous :P I kid, I kid. lol

L.G.Smith said...

Love using stuff like this in my novels, too. I spend a lot of time researching herbs and plants that can heal or poison. *rubs hands together and gives evil laugh*

Jonene Ficklin said...

I'm making notes on this one - it could really add some fun to a novel! Thanks again for a great post!

vbtremper said...

Fascinating. I'll never look at a pretty flower the same way again.

-Vicki

Sarah Pearson said...

I love that something so pretty is so useful :-)

Clarissa Draper said...

It's amazing how something so pretty can be so deadly. Well, not really. ;) Thanks for this post. Have a great week!

L.C. said...

Whoa, I had no idea. That certainly could make for some interesting story situations. :-) Thanks for the post, Lydia!

Meredith said...

I never knew that--it's fascinating! I'll be sure not to eat those flowers from now on. :)

Colene Murphy said...

Pretty! And interesting! Very cool little plant there.

February Grace said...

Fascinating! (I know I always say that but it's true!)

I don't know about putting them into a story (a poem, though, maybe..hmm...) and I certainly would love to try to paint them.

Emy Shin said...

That is so, so cool. I used to see those flowers all the time when I lived in Vietnam. Now, I'll never be able to look at them the same again.

Also: I had a pathetically proud moment when I totally understood your jargon-alert!sentence. But if I hadn't gotten that, I would've been a very sorry Bio student.

Slamdunk said...

Hmmm.

How about using it with a children's book?

A curmudgeon plants it as ground cover around his yard to keep from having to mow as well as prevent neighborhood kids from running across his yard playing. Instead, visitors of all ages are attracted to the blooms. Mr. Curmudgeon then finds hope.

Bathwater said...

Now if you ever figure out how the Chinese learned what to use it for, or how ancient cultures ever learned how to use such plants, I would find that interesting.

Stephen Tremp said...

Very interesting. I wondered why hair fell out during chemo. Now I know the treatments also affects other cells that divide rapidly in addition to the targeted cancer cells. Thanks. I learned something new today.

Wendy Ewurum said...

Oh my goodness Lydia, how can something so tiny and pretty pack so much punch. I definitely think this one should be used in a novel. So intriguing.

Heather said...

I had no idea such a pretty flower was used in chemo. Wow. I'll never look at it the same again. But in a good way! :)

mooderino said...

So that's why cheno makes hair fall out. Fascinating as ever.

cheers,
mood

Krispy said...

This is news to me! Didn't know this is what's used in chemo.

Angela Brown said...

I've always thought it was a nice decorative plant. Just never knew it could be so helpful and so harmful.

David P. King said...

This is great for building on my herbal knowledge. Thanks again for the awesome medical tips! :)

Carrie Butler said...

Every time I read a Medical Monday entry, I want NBC to launch a shooting star and play "The More You Know". :) Great work, as always!

Carol Kilgore said...

Vinca grows in everyone's garden here - it's drought and heat tolerant. I love it. Now I love it for being a lifesaver, too. Too cool :)

Sarah said...

I'm going to have to make a mental note not to chew on this one. Very pretty! I love tiny, simple flowers. :)

Southpaw said...

Cool stuff and it is all over the place. I love to watch the ladybugs crawl on it in the spring.

Jessica R. Patch said...

Fascinating! It's amazing what we find in our backyards, huh?

Phoenix said...

Wow, crazy. For some reason I thought chemo stuff was more processed chemicals and less organic plants. Very interesting! (shows how much I know, eeeek)

Alleged Author said...

You're going to laugh, but I thought periwinkle was just a color in the expanded crayon box. *face palm*

Arlee Bird said...

Can't say I've seen it--I'm sure I have but just didn't know what it was. Now I'll have to look closer.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Emily Rose said...

Very interesting!

Walt Mussell said...

When I hear the term "periwinkle," the first thing that comes to mind is some shade of blue that I can't identify. (OK, so it's the only thing that comes to mind.)

Wonderful post!

Bee said...

You're better than an encyclopedia, you know that?

We have periwinkles all over our terrace but it never for once crossed my mind that it could be dangerous.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I have heard a lot about Periwinkle. I like it a lot.

Jonene Ficklin said...

Lydia, thanks always for your support and for sharing your talents in this awesome blog! I gave you an award today at: http://thewonderfulobsessions.blogspot.com/

Have a great day!

Charlie Holmberg said...

Wow. Who would have thought? I'm impressed that you know this...

Kelly Polark said...

Glad to see this beautiful plant is useful too!

M Pax said...

I had no idea chemotherapy came from such a plant. I remember watching my sister-in-law go through that with her leukemia...which wasn't pretty. Fascinating plant.

Susan Fields said...

Vinca is so pretty - I had no idea it's used in chemo. Thanks for another informative post!

Nancy Thompson said...

Thanks for the info. Maybe I can find a use for it somewhere. the info, not the plant!

Murugi Njehia said...

I always thought of it as just decorative plant.. good to know more. :)

lbdiamond said...

Interesting!

Leslie Rose said...

Wow. I plant Vincas all the time since they are hardy in the cold and the heat. Makes sense they are also medicinal warriors.

 
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