Known as a powerful medicinal plant, the genus digitalis – or foxglove flower – contains around 20 species of shrubs, biennials and herbaceous perennials. Although this flower was originally placed in the scrophulariaceae family, it is now a member of the much larger plantaginaceae clan. These hardy flowers – which are native to Europe, southwestern Africa and Asia – bloom from June all the way into September, and grow best in shade and slightly moist to dry soil. The tubular flowers bloom from thick 2 to 4 foot spikes in colors of purple, pink, white and yellow. One of their more distinctive features include a clear line of spots that develop along the inside of the throat of the blossoms.
The foxglove flower is, of course, best known for its uses in medicine. This plant is considered to be very poisonous, and strict guidelines have been put into place to ensure the best use of its medicinal properties. Its best known use is its ability to aid in healthy heart function. The flower extracts are commonly prepared and given in small doses to help in improving the muscle tissue of the heart and arterioles, regulating the pulse rate and increasing blood flow throughout the body. Its other, lesser known, functions include its use as a diuretic, an antidote to Aconite poisoning and epilepsy – amongst others. The foxglove flower also has its place in myth. According to Greek mythology, Hera was taught midwifery by the goddess Flora. One of the methods she was taught was how to impregnate herself using only what the earth provided her. Flora took the head of a foxglove and slipped it over her finger, then tapped Hera on the chest and stomach – she thus became pregnant with the fatherless god, Mars. Other myths include that of the flower being rung as a bell by foxes who wanted to warn one another of hunters; the leaves of the flower are thought to break spells that have been cast by fairies, while other tales state that they attract fairies.
As a symbol, the foxglove flower has both positive and negative connotations, which is understandable as they can both cure and kill. Some believe that this flower represents insincerity. On the other hand, many people feel that these interesting looking plants are symbols of youth and stateliness. Less commonly, these flowers are associated with both mysticism – because of their many myths connected with fairies and witches – and religion, as they were planted in medieval gardens that were dedicated to the Mother Mary. As a gift, these flowers are usually given to represent the wish for the recipient to heal from any ailment or trauma, and to regain their happy, youthful vitality.