Welsh, Llys y cyrph, Erllysg eleiaf. - French, Pervenche. - German, Sinngrun, Wintergrun. - Italian, Pervinca, Fior di morto, Vitalba. - Spanish, Caracol marino. - Portuguese, Congossa. - Danish, Singron. - Illyric, Karvinjak, Zimo-zelen.
This bright little flower (Vinca minor), with its dark, glossy, evergreen leaves - which procured for it, in olden time, the name of "little laurel" - is to be found in April and May, with its procumbent stems creeping over shady banks and bushy nooks; or is, more frequently, seen in gardens, where, apart from its beauty, and the long continuance of its period of flowering, the fact of its flourishing, in the words of Wordsworth, -
"Like carpet of Damascus loom," under the shade and "drip" of trees - or in dark, dank corners where the sun seldom shines - makes it a valuable acquisition. Rahel thus prettily describes it:- "Vergrungen wo ist auch das? Ver-grungen stezt in Blumenkelcher und kommt alle jahr allemal als Geruch herauf".
LESSER PERIWINKLE. Vinca minor.
London Published by John Van Voorst 1858.
As in all plants of the family of the Apocynaceae (the Contortce of Linnaeus) the segments of the corolla are slightly twisted, that is, they do not stand at right angles from their centre - a circumstance which may account for the confusion existing amongst the old herbalists with regard to the plant called St. Catherine's wheel. The names, in fact, applied indifferently to various members of this family; the greater part of whose members are poisonous, though it numbers several which are valuable astringent medicines, while a few yield edible fruits, and others present an entire contrast to their congeners in the character of their juices, which instead of being virulently acrid, are soft and bland. One instance of this may be pointed out in the celebrated Hya-hya, the cow-tree of Demarara (Taberncemontana utilis), the juice of which is used as a substitute for milk. The vincas are acrid, and so astringent that they have been successfully employed in tanning; while amongst the French peasantry they are extensively used, in the form of poultices for contusions and swellings.
Gerarde tells us that the juice expressed when the leaves are "stamped," and mixed with "red wine," never fails to stop the spitting of blood; and Culpepper mentions the same property; and, after dwelling at length on their "physical" qualities, declares that "the leaves eaten together by man and wife causeth love between them;" an opinion thus expressed by the "Stockholm MS.":-
"Zif [if] wyf et husbaude it drynke et mete Et vsyn oftyn et not forgete; [forget]
What discorde be'twen hem [them] be,
It schall hem brynge to vnyte,
And don hem lowy [loving] togedir weell,
As euer dedion yei [did they] in ony scell [cell]".
This quality we may imagine the plant to have derived from its own happy habit, to which we have before alluded, of decking with its bright little blossoms the very darkest, roughest, and least sunless of spots, just as tender and gentle words, or kindly looks fall, sunlike, on the heart, be it never so stern and sad. A friend of mine, however, who has seen a most serious case of long continued ulceration of the mouth produced by the gardener's habit of holding the pruning-knife between the lips during the intervals of its use, while trimming a periwinkle bank, suggests that in the case alluded to, the desired and desirable "unity" would rather have proceeded from the death of the couple who ate the leaves together.
The medicinal properties of the plant, together with its description, are thus further given in the above-named MS.;-
"Pariwynke is an erbe grene of colour, In tyme of May he beryth blo [blue] flowr Hys stalkys arn so feynt [feeble] et feye [weak] Yt neuer more growyth he heye; On ye grownde he renyth, et growe As doth ye erbe yt nyth [night] tuhowe,* Ye lefe is thicke, schinede [shining] et styf As is ye grene jivy leef, Renche brod et nerhand rownde [Running abroad and wandering round?] Men call it the jivy of the grownde.
* Tunhoof, ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea).
[Anoyer erbe is callyd soo,
Yt he cally tuhoo],
Zif it be gaderid in May sel,
And dryed, et mad to powdyr wel,
And wermys, twey anglys,* be name,
Mad to powdyr et meukte [mixed] i same,
Zif wyf et husbonde," etc.
* * * *
Take of ye powdyr a lytyl also,
And do a lytyle bren [burn] yer to,
And in a fysch pond late it caste,
Ye fysches schwln [shall] deyin iche on i host.
To a nettis [nedr, adder] mowth yif yis powdyr be done,
It schall to brestyn [bursting] sone anon,
Yis is soth [soothe] et perwyd [proved] thynge,
Of oure elders not owte lesinge.
Yet wyl peruenke done meche more,
Yow man blede of wondys sore,
It wyll dryen ye blod wondirly,
And staunche ye blod redely;
Lete hym take lewys tweyne,
And helden hym be twin hys leth I seye,
Where so he blede et in what place,
Ye blod schall stawnchy throw Goddes grace;
Yis have I seyn perwyd wt. owty fable,
And yer for sertys I helde it stable".
And then prescribes this "medycine for blood".
"Take perwyke, et holde it in zin,
Mowth ye whyle yt men Letyn ye blod et ye schall comej owte al,
Ye wonde. A man yt wyll han helpe at nede, And see a ma makyl at his nose blede, Take hy peruenk, a gres [herb] wel cowthe [known] And hold atwyx his teth i hys mowthe. In all yt tyme yt it be yere He ne schal blede no drope more".
* "Kinde of wurme." Note to MS.
In France the periwinkle is considered the emblem of purity, and in Bearn and the Western Pyrenees, it was formerly the custom to place a spray of it in the bridal coronal. The name periwinkle is evidently the same as pervenche, or per-vinca; but there has been a question respecting the origin of vinca. It has been thought by some to have been derived from its power of resisting the effects of weather; "Vinca pervinca, quia vereat semper, acresque injurias vincat et pervincat."* Others, again, are of opinion that the name vinca has been given to it from the circumstance of its being used to bind or wreathe the bodies of the dead; a custom which is still observed in some parts of Italy, where it is called fior di morto, and which would seem to be indicated in the Welsh name llys y cyrph, "the plant of the dead." I am not, however, aware that it is, at the present day, more used than any other flower for funereal purposes; while the other name it bears, erllys geleiaf, signifies a small rod, or branch, which pushes forward in allusion to the speedy and trailing growth of the plant.
Chaucer celebrates the flower in the following passage:-
"There sprang the violet alle newe, And fresh pervinke, rich of hewe, And flouris yellow, white and rede; Such plente grew there, nor in the mede There lack'd no floure to my dome, Ne not so moche as floure of brome, Ne violet, ne eke pervinke, Ne flowre more than man can on thinke".
The periwinkle is a plant very extensively distributed over the world, and was found by Monro to ascend almost to the snow-line upon Mount Lebanon. Great Britain has one periwinkle of upright growth, namely, the V. major, which abounds in our hedgerows, whose stems though weak and requiring support, can scarcely be called trailing; the other (the V. minor), of which I have given an engraving, may possibly be indigenous, though more probably it is introduced from abroad.
The Germans say, that if garlands of the sinn-grun be gathered on the eve of St. Matthew, thrown on a flowing stream, and picked up by a maiden who has previously danced in silence about the water, it will ensure to her a "bridal wreath".