At the edge of a woodland bank,
by the side of a country road,
or in the cracks of a wall,
grows a stunning flower, purple and tall.
It springs from a rosette of leaves
called lambs tongues or floppy dock,
as they are basal and very soft.
The elongated bell flowers have
lower lips speckled with purple patches
to persuade bees to find the nectar.
These splashes are said to be
the fingerprints of elves
or the footprints of fairies.
Whoever goes inside the bell
has to pass directly under
ripe pollen-laden stamens
whose anthers shed the fertile dust
to be carried to further drooping blooms.
This magenta stalk had many rural names
before Fuchs, a German herbalist,
added the title, Digitalis, to his plant list.
In the country, fairies, elves, goblins,
witches and foxes were all associated
with this splendid dappled flower;
and corolla apparel such as, bonnet, socks,
hood, gloves, petticoat, mittens and thimbles.
It had qualities that were magical, ornamental,
musical, medicinal, bloody, or deadly.
A biennial plant with two years grace
whose flowers showed a lion or dragon’s face.
Folk’s Glove for the fairy folk in England.
The Gaelic translates as – The Great Herb.
It is the symbol for Clan Farquharson in Scotland.
Fox bells in Scandinavia warn the fox of hunters.
Goblin Gloves in Wales were magical.
In Europe, a fingerhood or thimble.
The Saxons said – foxesglofa – were worn on paws.
Simply decorative were Fairy Caps and Granny Bonnets.
But an overdose gave Bloody Bells or Deadman’s Fingers.
The foxglove appears in Roman mythology.
Its use occurred in a very strange story.
When Minerva was born so surprisingly.
(She sprang from Jupiter’s thigh suddenly.)
His wife Juno questioned Flora inquisitively,
asking this goddess if she knowingly
could help her to conceive independently.
Flora agreed to help her obligingly,
with a foxglove flower on her finger gently,
she touched Juno’s stomach and breasts specifically.
Juno became pregnant asexually;
giving birth to Mars from a strange pregnancy.
William Withering had observed, in the late 18th century,
a wise woman’s cure, which worked in Shropshire County.
She used a herbal brew to deal with a case of dropsy.
He studied the herb she used diligently
and found Digitalis was active in the tea.
He then pursued this finding, scientifically,
observing patients given foxglove therapy.
His book in 1785 of his ten years’ study
marks the beginning of modern pharmacology.
It is possible that this plant from the family Plantaginaceae
may have further cures from nature’s great bounty.
About the foxglove, there is an old saying –
“it can either raise the dead, or kill the living.”
An extract from the leaves can be toxic or healing.
It can slow down or strengthen the heart beating.
The results on the dose depending
whether congestive heart failure is ending.
Digitoxin and digoxin from Digitalis springing.
These glycosides some crucial help are bringing.
But when using them, there is an important warning;
watch the therapeutic and lethal dose by monitoring.
During Vincent van Gogh’s latter days
he saw many scenes with yellow rays.
His epileptic seizures caused many delays
and poor health affected him in so many ways.
Digitalis was given for epilepsy in those days,
although there is no evidence he took it always.
It might explain his violent neurological phase.
Observe the foxglove on the table at Dr. Gachet’s.
In the painting, the plant was within the doctor’s gaze.
Digoxin toxicity gives many types of malaise.
Xanthopsia gives vision through a yellow haze,
and haloes around points of light which blaze.
Vincent’s output of work was such to amaze.
His delightful paintings capture us always.