The purple Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) which every one knows

and admires for its long graceful spikes of elegant bell-shaped

brilliant blossoms seen in our woods and hedges, is also called the

Thimble Flower, or the Finger Flower, from the resemblance of

these blossoms to a thimble or to the fingers of a glove. The word

digitalis refers likewise to the digits, or fingers of a gauntlet. In

France the title is Gants de
Notre Dame, the gloves of our Lady

the Virgin. Some writers give Folks' Glove, or Fairies' Glove as the

proper English orthography, but this is wrong. Our name of the

plant comes really from the Anglo-Saxon, Foxesglew or Fox music,

in allusion to an ancient musical instrument composed of bells

which were hanging from an arched support, a tintinnabulum,

which this plant with its pendent bell-shaped flowers so exactly


In Ireland the Foxglove is known as the Great Herb, and Lusmore,

also the Fairy Cap; and in Wales it is the Goblin's Gloves; whilst in

the North of Scotland it is the Dead men's Bells. We read in the

Lady of the Lake there grew by Loch Katrine:--

Night shade and Foxglove side by side,

Emblems of punishment and pride.

In Devonshire the plant is termed Poppy, because when one of the

bell-shaped flowers is inflated by the breath whilst the top edges are

held firmly together; the wind bag thus formed, if struck smartly

against the other hand, goes off with a sounding pop. The peasantry

also call it Flop a dock. Strangely enough, the Foxglove, so

handsome and striking in a landscape, is not [206] mentioned by

Shakespeare, or by either of the old English poets. The long

purples of Shakespeare refers to the orchis mascula.

Chemically, the Foxglove contains a dangerous, active, medicinal

principle digitalin, which acts powerfully on the heart, and on the

kidneys, but this should never be given in any preparation of the

plant except under medical guidance, and then only with much

caution. Parkinson speaks highly of the bruised herb, or of its

expressed juice, for scrofulous swellings when applied outwardly in

the form of an ointment. An officinal tincture is made from the

plants collected in the spring, when two years old; also, in some

villages the infusion is employed as a homely remedy to cure a cold,

the herb being known as Throttle Wort; but this is not a safe thing

to do, for medical experience shows that the watery infusion of

Foxglove acts much more powerfully than the spirituous tincture,

which is eight times stronger, and from this fact it may fairly be

inferred that the presence of alcohol, as in the tincture, directly

opposes the specific action of the plant. This herb bears further in

some districts the names Flop Top, Cow Flop, and Flabby

Dock. It was stated in the Times Telescope, 1822, the women

of the poorer class in Derbyshire used to indulge in copious

draughts of Foxglove tea, as a cheap means of obtaining the

pleasures of intoxication. This was found to produce a great

exhilaration of the spirits, with other singular effects on the

system. So true is the maxim, ubi virus, ibi virtus.

No animal will touch the plant, which is biennial, and will only

develop its active principle digitalin, when getting some sunshine,

but remains inert when grown altogether in the shade. Therefore its

source of production for medicinal purposes is very important.