The Pernicious Diaries ~ Foxglove

Digitalis purpurea

Also, Known As:

  • Common Foxglove
  • Deadmen’s Bells
  • Fairy’s Glove
  • Folk’s Glove
  • Foxglove
  • Purple Foxglove
  • Witch’s Bells

The herbal plant known as the foxglove can reach six feet in height. The foxglove has a straight stem without branches and grows as a biennial plant. During the spring bloom, foxglove flowers hang in bunches on the stem – the flowers have a dull pink or purple coloration, and often come with white spots on the corolla. The large sized leaves of the foxglove possess distinct and prominent veins running along the lamina.

Among all the traditional medicinal plants of old, the foxglove is considered to be among the loveliest, the most significant, the best known and even the most lethal. The plant poison called digitalis is simply the powdered down dried leaves of the foxglove plant. Digitalis is a well known cardiac stimulating compound that has helped millions of heart patients stay alive due to its property of stimulating the cardiac muscles.

The properties and beneficial effects of digitalis were discovered by an English physician William Withering, in 1775. In his research on herbal medications, he came to know of an old woman in Shropshire who was a practitioner of folk medicine mainly using wild herbs that she gathered in the countryside and the woods. This traditional healer cured a patient of the physician afflicted with excessive fluid retention as a complication of congestive heart failure. William Withering had in fact, expected the patient to die and was surprised by the curative powers of the remedy used by the old healer. Withering identified the foxglove as the curative herb from the old woman’s mostly useless bag of weeds. The physician found that foxglove was capable of treating the swelling or edema, which accompanies congestive heart failure in a person. Withering would also find the poisonous nature of the foxglove herb and the real ability of the digitalis in the herb to completely stop the pulsation of the human heart, even while it was also capable of shocking the heart into contraction. The physician would spend a decade conducting precise experiments on the use of the herb to determine the proper dosage for this new herbal remedy. Withering would publish a paper on the properties of the foxglove herb in 1785, the record of his findings is considered a classic of medical literature and was referred by many physicians in his day.

The shape of the blossoms give the herb its name, as the glove-shaped flowers resembled gloved fingers and the name foxglove is an allusion to the white paws of the common red fox.


Part Used For Homeopath


Homeopath Use

There are other common names for the foxglove plant and the medicinal plant is called by different names in different places. The name “dead man’s thimbles” is used to refer to the foxglove in Ireland; this name is a reference to the secretion of harmful juice from the plant. In England, the name “folks glove” for the foxglove, is an allusion to the traditional belief in fairy folk, who were said to inhabit woody areas where the foxglove is a common sight. Foxgloves have distinct spots on the flowers, these spots were traditionally said to mark the places where woodland elves had placed their fingers, as a warning of the plant’s poisonous nature. The name ‘Revbielde” or “fox bell” is given to the plant in Norway, this name springs from the Norwegian legend about bad fairies who supposedly gave this plant to a fox so as to enable the animal to quiet its footsteps while it was hunting among the chicken roosts in villages. The leaves of the foxglove were traditionally used by people living in North Wales to give the stone floors in their houses a mosaic look.

The foxglove was originally used by the Irish as a healing herb in the folk medicine of Ireland to treat skin problems such as boils and ulcers, as well as headaches and paralysis. The main chemical compound found in the foxglove plant is a glycoside called digitoxin; this chemical compound has been chemically isolated in the laboratory and is now artificially synthesized as well. The compound is employed as a major medication, called digitalis, used in the treatment of congestive heart failure and to right congenital heart defects in patients. The contraction of cardiac muscles is strengthened and boosted by the digitoxin; the compound also slows the pulsation rate of the human heart. Foxglove also contains one more important glycoside called digoxin; this compound has a diuretic effect on the kidneys and is used in some medications. The reason for the traditional fear of the foxglove herb is that any of the chemicals found in the plant are extremely dangerous when ingested in high doses by humans or animals. The compounds in the herb can induce cardiac rhythm disorders, sudden depression, heart failure or asphyxiation if they are ingested in large quantities.

A diseased human heart is profoundly benefited by the tonic effect of the foxglove remedy. The disruption of normal circulation in the body is the main reason for the worsening of heart disease in the human body. The rate of heartbeat and contraction is boosted and strengthened by the cardiac glycosides in the foxglove, as a result of this tonic effect, the heart beats slowly, regularly and without demanding more oxygen than the circulation can provide at any one time. The compounds present in the foxglove also stimulate the production of urine in the kidneys, this effect also leads to the lowering in the total volume of blood in circulation, and this brings a reduction in the load on the heart muscles.

  • Homeopathy


While the foxglove has been mainly identified as a native English plant and associated with English countryside, it is found growing in many places throughout Europe and in the North American woods. The foxglove is very easy to grow in most garden soils, particularly if such soils are rich in the content of organic matter and humus. The foxglove grows best in light dry soils in sites with a semi-shade; however, the plant can also succeed very well in sites with full exposure to the sunlight if the soil at the site is also moist or wet. The foxglove herb is also adapted to acidic soils and grows well in such soils. The plant also tolerates cold temperatures and is quite hardy, capable of tolerating temperate up to -25°c during the winter months. Temperate woodlands are easily colonized by the foxglove especially if such sites are shaded to some extent. The foxglove is an ornamental plant and a favorite of many gardeners around the world. The main reason for the commercial cultivation of the foxglove is for the useful glycosides it contains, these chemical compounds form the basis for the important heart medicine called digitalis. Herbalists also commonly use this species in the preparation of herbal heart remedies, the sub-species called D. lanata, on the other hand, is commercially grown for supplying the pharmaceutical industry with natural digitoxin. Foxglove plants grown at sites with good daily exposure to incumbent sunlight typically contain greater concentrations of the beneficial and medically active compounds – therefore, site selection is important when commercially cultivating foxglove plants. Apiarists also favor the foxglove as bees are attracted to its flowers due to their high nectar content. Each individual foxglove plant can give to two million seeds in its lifetime. Browsing animals such as deer and rabbits almost never trouble the members of this plant genus – due to the fact that most of them are poisonous. The foxglove grows well in mixed woods and is a good companion plant for other trees and shrubs growing on a site. The foxglove stimulates the growth of neighboring plants and trees, especially growing well among pine trees in temperate woodlands.

The foxglove herb is normally propagated using stored seeds. The seeds are surface sown early in the spring in a cold frame inside a greenhouse. Foxglove seeds typically take two to four weeks at 20°C to germinate. Once the seedlings emerge and plants begin to grow and become large enough to handle by hand, each individual seedling is pricked out into its own pot and these pots are then planted out in the permanent sites for the plants when summer arrives the following year. When the supply of seeds is sufficient, they can be sown out of doors at the permanent site during the spring or the fall – this practice is advisable only if seed stocks are abundant as the mortality rate of such seedlings planted directly out of doors tends to be rather high compared to seedlings grown indoors.


Foxglove contains cardiac glycosides (including digoxin; digitoxin, and lanatosides), anthraquinones, flavonoids, and saponins. Digitoxin rapidly strengthens the heartbeat but is excreted very slowly. Digoxin is preferred as a long-term medication.

foxglove new

The Pernicious Diaries ~ Homeopathy – Digitalis


Digitalis purpurea

Foxglove is an herb-like plant that grows biennially. Foxgloves produce spirally arranged leaves that are simple and grow up to 10 cm to 35 cm in length and 5 cm to 12 cm in width. The leaves are grey-green in color, soft and have a finely jagged margin. During the first year of the plant’s growth, the leaves are in the form of a tight rose-shaped arrangement (rosette) at the level of the ground.

The foxglove plant bears a flowering stalk in the second year of its existence. Usually, the flowering stalk of the plant grows up to a height of 1 meter to 2 meters and at times even taller. The color of flowers of this species is varied – usually purple, but they may be rose, pink, yellow or even white hued in selected cultivable varieties. These flowers are organized in a very ostentatious, terminal, lengthened cluster with each being cylindrical and dangling like a pendant or pendulum. Apart from appearing at the stalk terminal, the flowers may occur at the inside bottom of the tubular flowering stem. The plant blooms during the early part of summer and often when there are additional growths of flowering stems, the plant may also flower later than their flowering season. The plant bears fruits that are akin to capsules and when they are ripe, they rupture to discharge copious tiny seeds, each measuring around 0.1 mm to 0.2 mm.

The leaves, flowers, as well as seeds of this herb, are poisonous to humans as well as certain animals as they enclose a toxic cardiac glycoside called digitoxin. Consuming either of them may even prove to be fatal. However, 18th-century English botanist William Withering was the first to extract cardiac glycoside digitoxin from the leaves and presently it forms the basis of the medication that is used to treat heart problems. Withering was also the first to identify that this organic chemical compound was helpful in reducing dropsy (a health condition distinguished by a buildup of watery fluid in the tissues), enhancing the flow of urine as well as having a potent influence on the heart. Very dissimilar to the distilled form used by pharmaceutical firms, the extracts obtained from the foxglove plant usually did not result in frequent intoxication as they promoted vomiting and nausea within a few minutes of ingesting them. In fact, such vomiting and nausea prevent patients from consuming more of this toxic substance contained in the extracts.

The homeopathic remedy digitalis is primarily used to treat heart ailments. Precisely speaking, homeopathic physicians prescribe this medication for patients who are susceptible to heart ailment and problems of the circulatory system. This homeopathic remedy is believed to be especially suitable if the symptoms endured by the patients are accompanied by apprehensions regarding their death. They may also suffer from the trepidation that any movement, particularly walking, may result in their heart to stop beating. In addition, such patients may also suffer from visual problems and have a craving for bitter things. People who respond best to the homeopathic remedy digitalis are patients who suffer from heart ailments that are accompanied by vertigo, pains in the region of the heart, a sluggish pulse rate and nausea. In addition to the conditions and symptoms mentioned here, digitalis is also prescribed for patients enduring liver ailments, especially when they take place concurrently with the symptoms related to heart disorders.

As fore-mentioned, William Withering, the 18th-century English botanist, and the physician were the first to prove that the flowers of the foxglove plant were a significant medication for treating heart disorders. Even to this day, the active elements of the plant’s flowers are made use of in preparing herbal as well as other traditional heart medications.

Despite being an attractive plant, the foxglove is a lethal poison. Hence, consuming the leaves, flowers or seeds of this plant may lead to gastrointestinal problems and most remarkably, result in heart and circulation problems. When any part of this toxic plant is ingested, it may slow the heartbeat. This is a primary reason that allopathic medicines containing extracts of digitalis are only given to patients when their heart palpitates or beats exceptionally fast. However, in homeopathy, digitalis is given to a patient when his/ her heart is failing to carry on its normal pace, especially when the patient experiences problems in breathing normally.

When the tissues of a patient do not receive enough oxygen owing to poor blood circulation it results in their appearance turning blue, a condition known as cyanosis. In such cases, administration of the homeopathic medication digitalis may produce incredible results. In addition, patients who are always apprehensive and nervous regarding their health condition and suffer from the fear of imminent death also require digitalis most. In fact, the extracts from the plant foxglove are used to prepare potent and effectual medications in homeopathy to treat heart conditions discussed above. Dissimilar to several contemporary medications, the homeopathic remedy digitalis obtained from the leaves of the foxglove plant has been widely used for treating heart and circulatory problems for more than two centuries.

Scientific papers published during the latter part of the 19th century noted that the homeopathic remedy digitalis possessed the potential to inhibit the pace of the heart as well as increase the heart rate according to the requirement of the patient. The scientists also experimented with digitalis as a diuretic and found that it facilitated in diminishing fluid retention among patients suffering from dropsy or edema. In another experiment, physicians administered digitalis to patients suffering from fevers and found that this homeopathic medication was effective in bringing down the body temperature. It may be mentioned here that fevers are often responsible for very rapid pulse rate.

While scientists have been working on foxglove for quite some time now to identify its therapeutic uses, presently they have a better understanding of this herb. Homeopathic physicians now prescribe digitalis to patients who are susceptible to heart failure and people who have a tendency to arrhythmia’s (any irregularity in the heartbeat). In addition, this homeopathic remedy may also be prescribed for children with heart problems to help them to tide over a period till they are old enough to undergo heart surgery.

However, it may be noted that digitalis only possesses mild diuretic properties that are effective to a certain extent. Therefore, when any patient requires a medication only to regulate fluid retention by the body, physicians usually prefer other less toxic medications. The homeopathic remedy digitalis helps to promote the functioning of the heart better probably by getting rid of the excess fluid retained by the body. Nevertheless, it may be said for certain that digitalis is not the best medication available for treating dropsy or fluid retention by the body and may be used only when any other more effective diuretic is not available to the patient.

The homeopathic remedy digitalis is known to interact with certain medications. Therefore, before you start taking digitalis, it is essential to tell your physician regarding all the other medications, minerals, vitamins or supplements you may be taking for other conditions. Digitalis may interact with certain medications for the heart, for instance, cholesterol-lowering medications, anti-arrhythmia drugs and also nitro-glycerin. Even a number of antibiotics are known to interact with digitalis; it is also advisable not to take any anti-fungal medications concurrently with this homeopathic remedy. In addition, when decongestants, antacids, diarrhea medications and antihistamines are taken concurrently with digitalis, it may result in adverse after-effects. If any patient taking the homeopathic remedy digitalis has a cold or a cough, it is advisable that he/ she should consult their physician regarding the most appropriate and safe cold medications that they should take.

Like in the case with any other medication, using the homeopathic remedy digitalis may also result in a number of side effects, including some serious ones. The most common side effects of digitalis may include acute diarrhea, nausea, skin rash and/ or severe visual sensitivity to light. Any patient experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms after taking digitalis should seek emergency medical help as they require the immediate attention of a doctor.

However, there are numerous patients who find digitalis well tolerable and for them, it is one of the most suitable homeopathic medications for treating heart conditions. Along with antibiotics, the homeopathic remedy digitalis is considered to be among the most significant medications that have been developed thus far. This is all the truer since digitalis has helped in increasing the life expectancy of people who need to and ought to use this homeopathic remedy.

Plant Part Used:

Freshly obtained leaves of the foxglove plants are used to prepare the homeopathic remedy digitalis. The leaves are collected just before the plants begin to blossom in their second year of existence. Subsequently, the leaves are cleaned and expressed to obtain their juice. The juice is then blended with alcohol and diluted to the desired level to obtain the homeopathic remedy digitalis. As with preparing any other homeopathic remedy, even digitalis does not retain the slightest trace of the toxic leaves of foxglove.

Therapeutic Properties:

The herb foxglove is known to possess a number of therapeutic properties and is specially used to treat conditions related to the heart and circulatory system. In ancient times, Britons used this herb to cure wounds. While in conventional medicine foxglove is a remedy for heart failure and irregular heartbeat, in homeopathy, digitalis, prepared from the toxic leaves of the foxglove plant, is an important medication to treat heart disorders.

In homeopathy, digitalis is widely used to cure an extremely sluggish pulse or an unbalanced, sporadic pulse that is related to certain conditions and symptoms, such as heart failure, queasiness even at the sight or smell of food, and debility accompanied by a slight, tumbling sensation in the stomach. Heart patients who might be requiring this homeopathic remedy most may also suffer from liver problems, for instance, hepatitis.

Foxglove is the source for the pharmaceutical drug Digoxin that has been widely used in the past to treat cases of congestive heart failure. In homeopathy, digitalis, prepared from the toxic leaves of foxglove, is a very important medication that helps to cure a very sluggish, irregular and sporadic pulse, usually below 60 beats per minute.

Interestingly enough, this homeopathic remedy may also be prescribed for patients who might be suffering from very fast and uneven pulse too. Patients having an irregular and rapid pulse often have a sensation as if the heart would stop beating at any moment. The condition of patients enduring angina (any attack of painful spasms marked by sensations of suffocating) actually deteriorates when they exert themselves physically are very excited and/ or from having sexual intercourse. In such cases, the pain spreads to the left arm resulting in the debility of the arm. Turning to the homeopathic remedy digitalis in such cases helps to cure the condition as well as provide relief from the associated symptoms.

Patients for whom the homeopathic medication digitalis is most suitable always suffer from a strong fear of death. They are apprehensive that making any movement or even walking may result in their untimely death. They also suffer from nervousness, grief and insomnia owing to the intense pain they endure in the heart. In addition, physical as well as emotional exertions, for instance being disappointed in love and misery may result in palpitations – exceptionally rapid and irregular heartbeat. Generally, such patients become all the more sad and melancholic when they listen to music.

The homeopathic remedy digitalis has a vital role to play in curing all ailments that are somehow related to the heart, wherein the pulse is feeble, irregular, sporadic, and exceptionally low as well as when the health conditions are accompanied by dropsy (fluid build up) in the external as well as internal parts of the body. This medication is also effective in curing debility and dilation or expansion of the heart muscles (myocardium). Digitalis is indicated primarily in the case of the collapse of compensation and particularly when auricular fibrillation (very fast awkward contractions of the atria of the heart resulting in a deficiency of harmonization between heartbeat and pulse beat) become entrenched. Such patients experience a sluggish pulse beat when they are lying down, but their pulse beat becomes erratic and dicrotic (double that of the heartbeat) when they are in a sitting posture. In case the patients have recovered from a rheumatic fever, they may also experience auricular flutter (an irregularity of the heartbeat wherein the contractions of the atrium surpass in number those of the ventricle) and auricular fibrillation. Such patients may also have an extremely sluggish pulse and endure heart block.

In homeopathy, digitalis is also a great remedy for organic heart ailments, for instance, extreme debility and a sensation of diminishing strength, vertigo or wooziness, a cold sensation on the skin and erratic respiration. This medication is also beneficial for people who suffer from cardiac tetchiness and visual problems following tobacco use; jaundice caused by induration (hardening of tissues) and hypertrophy (abnormal enlargement) of the liver. People who endure heart diseases accompanied by jaundice would also find digitalis an effective remedy. Patients who require this homeopathic medicine most are those who become unconscious frequently and suffer from a feeling as if they are on the verge of death. Owing to the imbalance in blood circulation to all parts of the body, their appearance often turns bluish. Such patients are inclined to exhaustion even due to trivial physical exertion and may often collapse. Taking the homeopathic medicine digitalis helps to invigorate the muscles of the heart.


The plant foxglove, which forms the basis for the homeopathic remedy digitalis, is a flowering herb belonging to the family Plantaginaceae. Earlier, foxglove was classified in the family Scrophulariaceae but later included in the larger family Plantaginaceae. This plant species is indigenous to Europe and found growing naturally in most regions of the continent.