I was wandering around our church cemetery, an 8 year old, unable to stay still while mother was lighting candles at our family tomb. I was drawn towards the bush with beautiful light purple and white flowers which spread around every unattended grave. I bend to smell the flowers and my mother stopped me saying that they are corpse flowers.
This was my first introduction to Vinca, or periwinkle. Every cemetery in Kerala had these flowers. The very sight of them reminded people of death and hence, they were denied space in home gardens.
Years later, I see them being bought from nurseries and tended in home gardens, including my mother’s, in different hues, the periwinkle blue being the popular one.
We had plenty of periwinkle bushes in my school too and they were an integral part of our recess activity. We collected the fallen flowers, carefully removed the stamen and made hands of time piece.
What I didn’t know then, is the deeper symbolism of periwinkle and the reason behind it having graveyards as its abode.
It stands for everlasting love and binding friendship. When you plant them near a loved one’s resting place, you are celebrating the love which never evanesces. Your love transcends to the spirit world, living for ever.
In Christianity, it is known as the “Virgin flower” and is associated with the Virgin Mary.
The blue Periwinkle represents the heavenly nature of the Virgin Mary, who is usually depicted wearing blue.
There are six different species of periwinkle and they due to their low maintenance, can be grown in terrace or balcony gardens too.
In folklore, periwinkle has powers pertaining to ghosts, witches and bewitchment.
Periwinkle is called violette des sorciers (violet of the sorcerers) in France, where it wards off evil spirits. Hung over doorways, periwinkle is said to keep out both demons and spirits.
In Welsh superstition, if one plucks periwinkle off a grave, one will be haunted by the dead in dreams for a year.
Benefits and Uses
Periwinkle has been used in medicine to treat colds, coughs, sore throat and diabetes.
It was also used to heal eye and lung infections.