Perennial growing to 5 ft (1.5 m). Has a single erect stem, broad lance-shaped leaves, and bell-shaped, purple-pink or white flowers in long spikes.
Habitat & Cultivation
This herb is native to western Europe. Though it is also cultivated, the wild plant is considered superior. The leaves are picked in summer.
Foxglove contains cardiac glycosides (including digoxin, digitoxin, and lanatosides), anthraquinones, flavonoids, and saponins. Digitoxin rapidly strengthens the heartbeat, but is excreted very slowly. Digoxin is therefore preferred as a long-term medication.
History & Folklore
In medical history, foxglove is best known as the discovery of William Withering, an 18th-century English country doctor. Curious about the formula of a local herbalist, he explored the plant’s potential medical uses. His work led to the production of a life-saving medicine.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Foxglove has a profound tonic effect on a diseased heart. Heart disease worsens when the heart’s ability to maintain normal circulation decreases. Foxglove’s cardiac glycosides enable the heart to beat more strongly, slowly, and regularly, without requiring more oxygen. At the same time, it stimulates urine production, which lowers the volume of blood, and thus lessens the load on the heart.
Woolly foxglove (D. lanata) is today the main source of cardiac glycosides.
Potentially fatal in overdose. Use only under professional supervision. This plant is subject to legal restrictions.