Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
Dave Cheetham (June)
This striking flower is one everyone will be familiar with and one that is certainly not difficult to find.
Although known throughout Britain as Foxglove it is still known as 'Dead Man's Bells' in some parts of Scotland due to an old folktale that someone close to death could hear the bells of the foxglove ringing. Indeed, it has long been
considered unlucky in Scotland to bring foxglove flowers into the house for the same reason.
Another connection to the alternative name could lie in the fact that despite its beauty Foxglove is 'deadly' poisonous. It has been recorded that 2-3 leaves is a potentially lethal dose.
But the good news is that Foxgloves contain a chemical that is used to effectively treat heart disease.
The active chemical in foxglove, which is isolated from the leaves, is called digitoxin. Digitoxin is a stimulant that improves heart tone and rhythm, which then improves circulation.
Digitalis is not now universally accepted for treatment of heart disease, as it once was, more advanced drugs have taken over. Digitoxin is also used as a treatment to slow muscular dystrophy and to reduce pressure in the eye of glaucoma victims.
If all that is a little high-brow for you, you may be happier remembering the old wives tale that cites foxgloves as the flowers that supply hats for fairies.