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Foxgloves Notecard



Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea & D. lutea)

The plant takes its name from digitus, the Latin word for finger. The common English name, foxglove, may refer to woodland folk’s or faeries’ glove.

In Germany, the plant was called fingerhut or thimble; in Ireland Dead Man’s Thimbles because speckles on the Foxglove were thought to be a warning sign of the baneful juices secreted by the plant; in Norwegian, Revbielde, meaning “Foxbell,” is the only specific reference to fox.

Although fascinated by the architectural spires of the foxglove, its fuzzy leaves, the shape and colors of individual flowers. I never succeeded in growing them from seed. Capitulating finally, I planted seedlings, not expecting much, but to my surprised delight they actually bloomed!

So now I was committed to hundreds of hours documenting the plant’s form, structure, habit and the dramatic design of its flowers. I chose to contrast the common purple with the less showy yellow digitalis to highlight the many differences between them.

Every part of the plant is toxic, especially the leaves of the upper stem. Yet for centuries folklore and folk medicine valued extracts from the plant in treating various cardiac ailments. In 1775 a 34-year-old Stafford physician named William Withering heard of an old Shropshire woman who could successfully cure ‘dropsy’. The active ingredient in her secret family recipe was digitalis. His published results established his reputation in treating congestive heart failure. Only quite recently has digitalis been superceded by other pharmacological compounds. Irresistible to children’s book illustrators and gardeners, the Foxglove can restore as well as destroy life, giving us reason to marvel at its potency.

artwork and text by milly acharya ©2004