Plants and Trees With Real Health Benefits

Albert B. Lowenfels, MD


May 30, 2017

Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus)

Catharanthus roseus is a member of the dogbane family. Vinca, one member of this family, is commonly used as a deer-resistant ground cover. The plant contains several alkaloids, explaining why it can be toxic to dogs and why deer avoid eating it. In folklore, leaves of this plant were once thought to be effective against diabetes—a claim we now know to be wrong. However, in 1963, one of the alkaloids extracted from the plant, vincristine, was found to have anticancer properties and was approved by the FDA as an effective agent for treating several different types of cancer.[13] This agent was one of the first natural products to have its underlying structure determined by X-ray analysis.[14] The drug is now widely used and is currently included in the WHO list of essential medicines.

Figure 8. Image from istock


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