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Chapter: Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry : Drugs Containing Alkaloids

Vinca is the dried entire plant of Catharanthus roseus Linn., belonging to family Apocynaceae.






Vinca rosea, Catharanthus,  Madagascar  periwinkle.




Biological Source


Vinca is the dried entire plant of Catharanthus roseus Linn., belonging to family Apocynaceae.


Geographical Source


The plant is a native of Madagascar and is found in many tropical and subtropical countries especially in India, Austra-lia, South Africa and North and South America. The plant is cultivated as garden plant in Europe and India.


Cultivation and Collection


The plant is perennial and retains its glossy leaves through-out the winter. The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semishade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought. It is cultivated either by directly sowing the seeds or sowing the seeds in nursery. Nursery sowing method is found to be economical and the fresh seeds are sown in nursery in the month of February or March. The seedlings attain a height of 5–8 cm after two months and then they are transplanted in to the field at a distance of 45 cm × 30 cm. Proper fertilization and weeding is done timely and leaves are stripped after nine months. In order to collect the whole plant, the stems are first cut about 10 cm above the grounds and the leaves, seeds, stems are separated and dried. The roots are collected by plugging which are later washed and dried under shade and packed.




The leaves are green in colour, flowers are either violet, pinkish white or carmine red and roots are pale grey in colour. It has characteristic odour and bitter taste. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by bees. Leaves are petiolate, entire margin, ovate or oblong, glossy appearance and with acute apex. Fruit is follicles with numerous black seeds.




Vinca has dorsiventral leaf structure. Epidermis is a single layer of rectangular cells covered with thick cuticle. It consists of uni-cellular covering trichome and cruciferous stomata. In the mesophyll region single layer of elongated and closely packed palisade parenchyma cells are present just below the upper epidermis. In the midrib region two to three layers of collenchyma is present, both below the upper epidermis and above the lower epidermis. Vascular bundle consisting of xylem and phloem is present in the middle of midrib region and rest of the intercellular space is covered by five to eight layers of spongy parenchyma.


Calcium oxalate crystals are absent.

                                                                Catharanthus roseus

                                                                                                                       Transverse section of Vinca leaf

Chemical Constituents


Alkaloids are present in entire shrub but leaves and roots contain more alkaloids. About 90 alkaloids have been isolated from Vinca from which some like Ajmalicine, Serpentine and Tetrahydroalstonine are known and are present in other species of Apocynaceae. The important alkaloids in Catharanthus are the dimer indole indoline alkaloids Vinblastine and Vincristine and they possess defi-nite anticancer activity. Vindoline and Catharanthine are indole monomeric alkaloids. It also contains monoterpenes, sesquiterpene, indole and indoline glycoside.





Vinblastin is an antitumour alkaloid used in the treatment of Hodgkin’s disease. Vincristine is a cytotoxic compound and used to treat leukaemia in children. Vinca is used in herbal practice for its astringent and tonic properties in menorrhagia and in haemorrhages generally. In cases of scurvy and for relaxed sore throat and inflamed tonsils, it may also be used as a gargle. For bleeding piles, it may be applied externally, as well as taken internally. It is also used in the treatment of diabetes.


The flowers of the Periwinkle are gently purgative, but lose their effect on drying. If gathered in the spring and made into a syrup, they impart all their virtues, and this, it is stated, is excellent as a gentle laxative for children and also for overcoming chronic constipation in grown persons.


Marketed Products


It is one of the ingredients of the preparation known as Cytocristin (Cipla).


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