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Foxgloves (Digitalis Purpurea) Identification

Foxglove / Spring / Summer / Autumn / Toxic

A very common summer flowering native plant, it’s potentially deadly poisonous so one every forager should be familiar with.


Common Names

Foxgloves, Foxes gloves, thimble flower, fairy gloves.


Botanical Name

Digitalis. There are quite a few Digitalis species the most common being Digitalis Purpurea.


Scientific Classification

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Lamiales

Family – Plantaginaceae


Physical Characteristics for Foxglove


Stems

The stems are erect and hairy with the flowers tending to nod to one side.


Leaves

The leaves grow from a central rosette, they are deep green, simple and hairy, 10-25cm long and 5-10cm across.

Rudolphous, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Flowers

In its second year the plant produces a flowering spike sometimes up to 6 feet tall. The trumpet shaped flowers are most often purple, 1-3cm long and around 1-1.5cm in diameter. The flowers develop into seeds pods containing thousands of tiny black seeds.

Andy Morffew from Itchen Abbas, Hampshire, UK, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Habitat

Hedgerows, fields, woodlands, disturbed ground.


Known Hazards

All parts of this plant are potentially deadly toxic. Consumption depending on the amount comsumed causes gastrointestinal disturbances and pain, severe headache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, cardiac arrhythmias, as well as sometimes resulting in xanthopsia (jaundiced or yellow vision).

Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Could be Confused with…

The leaves do look similar to Green Alkanet or Borage, but once it flowers it’s hard to confuse it with anything else.


Notes on Herbal Uses

The plant is the original source of the heart medicine digoxin which is used to treat certain heart conditions such as an irregular heartbeat. It should not be used by untrained professions under any circumstances.


Extra notes from the Foragers

Foxgloves may have been responsible for Vincent van Gogh’s “Yellow Period” as it had been proposed as a therapy to control epilepsy around this time, and there are two paintings by the artist where the plant is present. It has also appeared in the film ‘Casino Royale’ where Bond is poisoned by Digitalis.

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