Sunday, February 28, 2010

Digitalis purpurea

Digitalis is probably one plant that most people would recognize as a medicinal. Common name is Foxglove. This is also one that should never be used except under the direction of a physician because it is such a powerful medication. The effects can also be cummulative, not seeming like much is happening and then, suddenly, there is an overdose with accompanying low bloodpressure and irregular heartbeat along with severe gastro-intestinal irritation.

The true properties of this plant were not discovered until well into the eighteenth century. Early herbalists suggested only external use, and not until 1775 did an English doctor learn of its value from a countrywoman who used it. From then on its benefits were scientifically explored.

Digitalis is used in neuralgia, insanity, febrile diseases, acute inflammatitory complaints, palpitations of the heart, and asthma and as a cardiac stimulant and diuretic.

For medicinal use, the leaves are picked from the second-year growth, just before the plant comes into flower. In some places in the United States the leaves are grown commercially on herb farms.

We grow a number of different types of digitalis here in the gardens. All seem to like light shade. It is a biennial, blooming in its second year. After that it seeds for some new plants. After awhile, there are always some blooming, though because it self-seeds, they may not be in exactly the spot you'd like them. Most I leave, but if you transplant early in the spring, they seem to move easily to a better location. First year seedlings move easily, larger plants, not so much so. Flower color ranges from pure white through pinks, purples and shades in between. There is also a yellow flowered form, Digitalis grandiflora that blooms in late summer.
And a small flowered form with smaller leaves called 'Helen of Troy'. This one is not as robust, but has lived here for many years.


1 comment:

keewee said...

I am rather fond of Foxglove and have a couple with pretty flowers.