Bloom with a view and a cancer treatment too
On the ridge, overlooking the blue waters of the Atlantic, I found a cure for cancer.
Just beyond an elegant sunflower, gazing out across the ridge above Oistins, the village famous in Barbados for a Friday night fish fry, was the rosie periwinkle.
The blooms were at their best against the whitewashed wall, yet it was overshadowed by taller, though far less useful, plants.
The rosie periwinkle’s pink petals have a dark red centre and are framed by glossy, green, oval leaves. This one nestled against a blue water pipe.
Rosie Periwinkle and chemotherapy
The delightful ornamental has long been associated with herbal medicine. In Indian and Chinese traditions, the roots and shoots were used in the treatment of diabetes and malaria.
More recently, chemicals within it were isolated to treat several types of cancer.
Scientists have extracted Vinblastine, a chemotherapy medication for Hodgkin lymphoma as well as testicular, breast, lung and other cancers.
Endangered in the Wild
The chemotherapy is administered by injection.
And medics know it can cause severe tissue damage and blistering if it escapes from the vein during treatment.
So be careful. The plant can be extremely toxic if eaten by humans.
Despite its delicate appearance, the rosie periwinkle thrives in difficult circumstances. One was spotted growing wild – presumably an escape from a garden – next to a gas station on the south coast of Barbados.
Here, in the tropics it tends to flower most of the year.
It is a native of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, but is endangered in the wild, mainly as a result of slash and burn deforesting techniques.
Sadly, while this habitat destruction continues, we may never know of other plants which could also help cure some of the worst diseases affecting mankind.
Even here in Barbados, bush teas made from plants found in gullies stave off fevers, stomach upsets and high blood pressure (hyper tension).
Who knows, maybe somewhere on the island, perhaps on the side of the road, waiting to be discovered, lies another cure for cancer?