The Sweet Life Gardener : The Foxglove

By Alisa Murray

Hey Sweet Lifers! There’s something pretty awesome about studying plants in your garden, and I hope over this past year, you have learned a bit more than you already knew about the history, uses and benefits of growing herbs and vegetables in your home gardens. I have always been struck by the cottage garden “look,” and I suppose its appeal harkens back to my childhood garden where hyacinths and daffodils sprung up each spring. I have always loved flowers that had an unusual look but at the same time a soft color that adds a bit of glam to the borders. Foxgloves have this special charm about them, and it was not until recently that I discovered how deadly they are.

Turns out the very reason this pretty plant is one of the few not bothered by the many deer in my garden is that they know that is poison. It also turns out that many a human has also perished by using this plant. William Withering, who lived in England back in the 1700s, found his patients using the flowers to try to cure edema, and after working with the plant, he discovered the ability for the foxglove to alter the purpling of the heart. The trouble was that it was hard to determine how much of a dose a person needed to cure their ailment, and many a person died trying!

The plant contains glycosides, digitoxin and digoxin. Later research identified these components, and it was eventually standardized for medical use. Interesting fact also is that it has been used to treat epilepsy. Vincent Van Gogh had epilepsy, and his work actually reflects the side effects of having been treated with foxglove for such an ailment. Things look yellow, and you get blurry vision which, well for those of you fond of his works, you’ll understand that probability.

Another fascinating history behind the foxglove is that the “glove” part of the name came from the fact that you could stick your finger into the petals. They are indeed like a glove, and I can attest that the bees here especially love them! They are entranced going all the way into the petals and staying for a bit seemingly to bathe in their pollen. The “fox” part of the name has many variations and folklore surrounding this pretty plant. One is that the fairies, not nice fairies but mean-spirited gremlins, would traipse around at night in the garden to steal babies, and the petals were their “gloves” they would don on before doing their evil deeds. Oh boy!

Despite all of this, what my Nana would have said ”nonsense,” I do grow them and love the way they look, especially as the petunias are beginning to detest the heat, these plants grow tall and look amazing. They are supposedly self-seeding, and yes, I have hoped for that, although I will tell you from experience, they have not grown back year to year despite me moving them all over the garden. So, I buy them each year, enjoy them and pray they’ll show up on their own next spring!

Keep on growing and stay “sweet!”