Thursday, June 23, 2011

Unhand that foxglove!

When my friend Jenni was a ranger at Mount Rainier National Park, she was asked to pull out a big patch of foxglove. Her supervisor wanted to eradicate the plant from the park because it's not native to the Northwest. Jenni said the oddest part of the job at first was the looks she got from the tourists, taken aback by the sight of a ranger attacking the pretty flowers. but after she had worked at her task for a little while, what became odd was the way her heart was pounding. She had to stop working and sit down. Jenni later learned that digitalis, a heart stimulant, comes from foxglove; she had absorbed it through the skin of her hands.

Over two hundred years ago, physician William Withering also learned about the heart-thumping impact of foxglove--through an old woman in Shropshire, England. The woman brewed an herbal tea that was said to cure "the dropsy." Older people tended to suffer from swollen feet and ankles--called dropsy because the the body's fluids seemed to drop down into the legs. When he analyzed the herbal concoction, Dr. Withering realized that out of its twenty ingredients, foxglove had to be the active ingredient.

Digitalis remains the most effective heart drug yet discovered. If you're handling a lot of these plants,  remember to approach foxglove with gloves.

15 comments:

  1. Wow- I knew it had digitalis, but had no idea you could absorb it through your hands.  

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  2. Rocky Mountain WomanJune 23, 2011 at 8:19 AM

    Hi Patricia,

    Thanks for stopping by.  I am loving my visit to the Pacific Northwest!  I come here every year (sometimes twice a year!), it's my favorite place on the planet.

    Looks like we have a lot in common, I love anything to do with nature and I also love to write!

    I'll be back for a visit when I have a little time to read.

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  3. Love your photo.  And native or not, I've always loved seeing those belled stalks brightening up grasslands and forests.  I didn't know about the absorbtion factor though.  One morning I saw a bumble bee asleep in a foxgove and thought he was drunk on nectar.  Maybe was zoned out on digitalis!

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  4. Hmmm, wondering how you knew it was sleeping (rather than dead). I'm picturing a line of  zzzzzzzs coming from it, but that usually means a bee is flying... Anyway, it made me wonder if bees sleep, and here's what I found: http://brookfieldfarmhoney.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/do-honeybees-sleep/   According to this site, bees apparently do sleep, and  the older ones tend to take naps outside during the day! So I think you were right--as cartoon-y as it sounds, your bumblebee might well have been napping in a foxglove flower!

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  5. I've been transplanting little foxglove babies a lot this spring for one of my customers. They tend to grow all in a big clump, so you have to spread them out if you want them in your garden. They're a biennial, which means it takes two years for them to flower. That requires some planning if you want to have them  every year in your yard. I didn't realize they weren't native.

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  6. how very interesting!  and begs the question, 'Where is its native home?' I looked it up---wikipedia said indigenous to Europe, naturalized to the pacific northwest, can be grown anywhere in zones 3-9 (which includes my Georgia garden where I have been guilty of growing it in the past)----and is not invasive.  And that begs my next question, because I'm trying to educate myself about growing native.  While I understand the importance of avoiding non-natives that are invasive----is there also a reason to avoid non-invasives?

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  7. Interesting post.  Never heard of digitalis and definitely didn't know that it comes from foxglove. 

    A friend of mine was regularly given wormwood (Artemesia) tea as a child in Shropshire.  I'm starting to wonder what other medicinal teas came from Shropshire.

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  8. Interesting post.  Never heard of digitalis and definitely didn't know that it comes from foxglove.  

    A friend of mine was regularly given wormwood (Artemesia) tea as a child in Shropshire.  I'm starting to wonder what other medicinal teas came from Shropshire.

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  9. I don't think there's any reason to avoid non-invasive non-natives in your yard, though I understand the need to pull them in a nati'l park. (I myself engaged in a quixotic attempt to eliminate invasive Scotch broom from the new ash when I worked at Mount St Helens.) It's just that natives have gotten such short shrift and are so important to the local ecosystem that there's a push to get homeowners to plant them. 

    But I don't know of any problem in having non-invasives in your garden--I certainly have some! 

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  10. Ah, you're fortunate not to have heard of digitalis--those of us with heart conditions in the family are familiar with it. Isn't it interesting that both these folk remedies come from Shropshire! Wikipedia says it's one of England's most rural counties, but no other indication that it's a hotbed for herbals.

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  11. Slow down frantic heart.
    Give boss a boot to the head.
    Ue gloves with foxgloves.

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  12. Pat, took Eagle Scout nephew and scout master BIL to Mt. St Helens and went through the Junior ranger programs.   The rangers did not read our offerings with care.  What does the ranger do?  Answer damnfool questions abd shoot terrorists.  What are the people in this picture doing wrong? When you pick native plants it makes the irgin Mary cry.  When you feed wild animals crap  it makes them twinkie dependent.  When you go off the path you risk having your dumb ass kicked by menehuenes.

    They did, however, show us the seismograph of the elk rubbing his butt on the equipment.

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  13. I love this plant. When I drive from the coast, highway 26, there is a passage at a certain time of year when the  redviolet foxglove is thick on the hillside.
    Scotland has it's heather, we have our foxglove. :}
    When I was young I was fascinated by the fact it had digitalis  for the heart. My daddy had heart trouble.

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  14. Will not be touching foxglove bare-handed

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