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Foxglove: Digitalis Purpurea


Foxglove is a biennial or short lived perennial plant that can be recognized by the purple to pink tubular flowers that resemble clipped glove fingers growing on a tall spike.  Foxglove is native to western, southern and central Europe. During the first year of growth, this plant produces only a base rosette of oblong leaves. The flowers and spike, which can grow 2 to 5 feet tall, is seen during the second year. For best growth the plant prefers part shade and moist acidic soil with an abundance of organic material. Foxglove blooms late spring; May to June.³


Digoxin inhibits sodium potassium pumps of heart muscle to increase intracellular calcium levels resulting in increased myocardial contraction.  Digoxin is toxic above certain therapeutic levels and can lead to nausea, vomiting, low pulse, uncoordinated heart contractions (cardiac arrest) and finally death.

Fun Fact

The flowers can be fitted over the tip of a finger (digit) which relates to the scientific name Digitalis purpurea, given to the plant by German botanist Leonard Fuchs in 1542


Digitalis has been cultivated since as early as 1000 A.D. Welsh physicians used foxglove poultice externally and also as a stain to give a mosaic appearance.³ During the 16th century, the plant was boiled in wine to be used as an expectorant and cough suppressant. In 1785 Dr. William Withering first noted the medicinal properties of foxglove when a deathly ill patient suffering from dropsy was completely cured after drinking tea that contained foxglove.³ Withering detailled over 200 cases of dropsy which the plant was successfully used to treat.4


Cardiac glycosides are extracted from the leaves and used in the medications digitalis and digoxin, which are used to treat atrial fibrillation.


Contraindications/Interactions/Adverse Reactions

The roots, leaves and flowers are POISONOUS when ingested and should NEVER be used for home treatment.

References Cited

1.Houdret, Jessica. Practical herb gardening. Ramsbury, Marlborough, Wiltshire:

Crowood P, 1992.

2. Barnes, Thomas. USDA, NRCS. 2009. The PLANTS Database (, 11 May 2009). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

3. Keville, Kathi. Herbs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia A Complete Culinary, Cosmetic, Medicinal, and Ornamental Guide. Grand Rapids: Friedman/Fairfax, 1999.

4. Ody, Penelope. Complete medicinal herbal. London: Dorling Kindersley, 1993.


6. Bremness, Lesley. The Complete Book of Herbs A Practical Guide to Growing and Using Herbs. London: Studio, 1994.

Researched By: Ryan Fischer