Scientific Name:Digitalis purpurea
About this Herb:Foxglove is a genus of about 20 species of herbaceous perennials, shrubs, and biennials commonly called foxgloves. The scientific name means "finger-like" and refers to the ease with which a flower of Digitalis purpurea can be fitted over a human fingertip. The leaves are spirally arranged, simple, 10 to 35 cm long and 5 to 12 cm broad. They are covered with grayish white pubescent and glandular hairs, imparting a woolly texture. The foliage forms a tight rosette at ground level in the first year. The flowering stem develops in the second year, typically 3.5 to 6.5 feet (1 to 2 m) tall, sometimes longer. The flowers are tubular, and vary in color with species, from purple to pink, white, and yellow. The best-known species is the common foxglove, Digitalis purpurea. This biennial plant is often grown as an ornamental plant due to its vivid flowers. These range in color from various purple tints through various shades of light gray, and to purely white. The flowers can also possess various marks and spots.
Due to the presence of the cardiac glycoside digitoxin, the leaves, flowers and seeds of this plant are all poisonous to humans and some animals and can be fatal if eaten. Extracted from the leaves, this same compound, whose clinical use was pioneered as digitalis by William Withering, is used as a medication for heart failure.
Early symptoms of ingestion include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, wild hallucinations, delirium, and severe headache. Depending on the severity of the toxicities, the victim may later suffer irregular and slow pulse, tremors, various cerebral disturbances, especially of a visual nature (unusual colors with objects appearing yellow to green, and blue halos around lights), convulsions, and deadly disturbances of the heart.
In some instances, people have confused digitalis with the relatively harmless Comfrey (Symphytum ) plant, which is often brewed into a tea, with fatal consequences. Other fatal accidents involve children drinking the water in a vase containing digitalis plants. Drying does not reduce the toxicity of the plant. The plant is toxic to animals, including all classes of livestock and poultry, as well as felines and canines.