Foxgloves are blooming along the hill in the pasture beneath my house.
They are escapees from my flower garden from a time long ago when I used to grow them. I’ve often thought about moving a few of them back into my flower garden, but I don’t do it because they could never look as beautiful confined to a flower bed as they look blooming wild.
Foxgloves are a biennial plant but they self-sow so readily that they act like a perennial. They grow to between 3′ to 5′ tall and will flower the second year.
The leaves of the plant are the source of the heart medicine digitalis (Digoxin) which is used to treat heart failure, atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter. Foxgloves came to the attention of modern western medicine in 1775. It seems that an English physician named William Withering had a patient with congestive heart failure.
Dr. Withering gave up all hope for his patient and sent him home to die. A short time later the good doctor discovered that a woman folk healer had completely healed his patient with a concoction of about 20 different herbs. Dr. Withering investigated the story and ascertained that foxgloves (digitalis) was the herb that had saved the man’s life.
In small doses digitalis is a life saver. But in larger doses it can be deadly. Digitalis increases the contraction of the heart but can also increase blood pressure to dangerously high levels. Foxgloves sometimes acts as a diuretic and at one time was used to treat skin inflammations.
All parts of the plant are toxic. Hence digitalis is also known as Witches’ Gloves and Dead Men’s Bells.