The Poisons Collection: Getting Foxy

Foxgloves are a fairly common plant, they are found over most of western europe and even further. They come from the genus Digitalis of which it has about 20 species. All of which are poisonous when digested. The name Digitalis comes from the latin for finger, this links back to the fingertip like flowers on foxgloves.

digitalis_purpereaThe plants grown in mainly acidic soils but they can adapt to lots of conditions. The plants are quite hardy and can grow up to 2 and a half metres. Digitalis species are normally biennials (two year lifespan) or a short lived perennial (more than a two year lifespan).

All parts of the plant contain a concoction of cardiac glycosides. These glycosides affect the heart muscle causing the ehart to slow down. This then causes the heart to go under a massive amount of stress. The stress has the potential to cause a fatal heart attack.  Although foxgloves when consumed in large quantitys can cause vomiting. If vomited back up then you might just avoid the deadly heart attack. The plant is toxic to many animals as well as humans.

imagesIn 2005, an amateur botanist committed suicide by eating foxglove leaves. Knowing of their emetic effect, he limited his consumption to two leaves. It was twenty-four hours later before he suffered a fatal heart attack. Many incidents of foxglove poisoning occur from the young leaves of the plant being mistaken for comfrey leaves and then made into herbal teas.

Digitalis lantana is the species of foxglove that is often grown comercially for pharmaceutical use. Some of the cardiac glycosides, particularly digitalin, is used to aid medical conditions where there is an irregular heartbeat.

Personally they are a stunning plant and they grow all over my garden at home. However I think I’ll stick to my english breakfast tea and admire the purple flowers from afar. Til next time.

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