Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea)

Foxglove is known in Irish as Lus mór, the Big Herb, Lus na mBan Sí or Mearacain na mBan Sí meaning Herb or Thimble of the Banshee/Fairy Women. The name Foxglove in English is a corruption of 'Folk's' (Fairies) and the Anglo Saxon word 'Gliew' meaning a musical instrument with many bells. It is a tall plant 5 feet in height and recognised by its pink and mauve bell shaped flowers with dark purple spots. Foxglove grows in hilly areas such as Kilternan and the Dublin Mountains. Nowadays it is popular as a garden plant.

Even though all parts of the plant are extremely poisonous it is occasionally cultivated for the pharmaceutical industry in the South of England. In Ireland long ago country people were afraid to pick it and considered it unlucky to bring it into the home. In Dublin during the 19th century the leaves were dried and used as snuff by old women. Long ago in Co. Cork the soft leaves at the centre of the plant were used for healing cuts. The thread at the back of the leaf was pulled off and leaf heated at the fire and applied to the cut.

In the 1700's William Withering proved that Foxgloves were effective against dropsy. This led to its use in cardiac medicines to strengthen and regulate the heart. If incorrect doses of Foxglove are administered, toxins accumulate in the body, which can lead to stomach pains, convulsions and even death. Nowadays Digitalis preparations are only available on prescription.

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