Western Isles Wildflowers
Western Isles wildflowers is a collection of information about our Hebridean wildflowers including identification hints, traditional herbal uses and general plant lore.
Gaelic name: Lus nam Ban-sidh
Foxglove is a biennial plant. It's stem is stout, simple and softly downy, it grows to a height of 2 - 4 feet. The downy leaves are alternate (arranged on opposite sides of the stem), oblong-lanceolate, (rounded but quite narrow and long).
The flowers are purple, pink or white and spotted. They are 1.25" inches long, growing on the single spike that the plant sends up in the summer of it's second year.
Foglove Other Names
Foxglove is also known as Witches' Gloves , Folk's Glove, Bloody Fingers, Scotch Mercury, Dog's Finger, Lion's Mouth, Virgin's Glove, Fairy Caps, Dead Men's Bells, Fairy Thimbles and Gloves of Our Lady.
The Anglo-Saxon name for foxglove is Foxes Glofa.
Herbal Uses of Foxglove
There are records of the use of foxglove for it's medical properties dating back to the Romans who used foxglove as both a rat poison and a heart tonic. It has also been used for cleansing the kidneys.
Foxglove is still used in medicinal preparations for heart problems. It contains (whole plant but concentrated in the leaves) digitoxin, in fact is our official source of the drug, which increases the force of contraction of cardiac muscle.
It is an extremely powerful herb, can cause a heart attack - death. I recommend wearing gloves if handling foxglove as our skin is quite absorbent - do not use it for anything except to bring beauty and wildlife into the garden unless under medical supervision!
The artist Van Gogh used foxglove as to treat his epilepsy and some art historians think that the yellow haze caused by using a foxglove remedy may be why the artist made many yellow-dominated paintings.
The famous herbalist Culpepper wrote in 1554 that foxglove was one of the best remedies for a scabby head. (Cradlecap perhaps? As foxglove is deadly if misused consider red clover - a safe and very effective treatment for cradlecap).
Foxglove in Folklore
There is a tradition in the Scottish Borders of putting foxglove leaves in a newborn baby's cradle to protect it from becoming bewitched.
Foxglove was used throughout the UK for working magic, as a symbol for protection, and communicating with fairies, woodland spirits such as elves.
The name Goblin's Gloves is of Welsh origin. There foxglove was thought to attract the hobgoblins who wore the foxglove bells on their fingers to bring magical properties.
Foxglove is a a bee-plant.
Foxglove is a native plant of the Western Isles. (In it's pinkish-purple form).
Photography © Frank Stark
Grimersta - Isle of Harris - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
12th June, 2007
Frank's web site of his nature photography