In the Garden
Common Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
*Also known as fairy caps, folks glove, fox bells, purple foxglove, and witches’ bells
Foxglove is a beloved garden plant with downward-pointing, tubular, bell-shaped flowers that are usually purplish-pink or white. The oval leaves are soft and hairy. In its first year, the plant only consists of a rosette of leaves. The second year of growth produces tall spires of flowers that reach three to five feet high. This famous flower is lovely but dangerous. All parts of the plant are poisonous if eaten and contact may cause skin irritation.
While there are many theories for the “fox” in the name foxglove, the most agreed upon one is that it is a corruption of the name folk’s glove. This is a reference to the fairy folk wearing the flowers as gloves. The genus name digitalis is from the Latin digitabulum, meaning “thimble” or a sort of finger protection.57 Its use for treating heart ailments came to the attention of English physician William Withering in 1775 from an old wise woman healer.58 Perhaps the fairies are at work because despite many attempts, scientists have not been able to duplicate digitalis in the laboratory.
According to folklore, flower spires bending over are a sign that fairies or pixies are inside the blossoms. Also, the spots on the interior of the flowers were said to be where elves touched them.
As long as you have an open heart, foxglove can help you befriend the fairies or other nature spirits that may be living in your garden. Without removing a leaf from the plant, hold it between your hands and whisper a greeting to them. Listen very carefully for a response but don’t be disappointed if you do not hear one. Fairies make contact when they are ready. Leave an offering for them under the plant.
Foxglove is associated with the element water and with fairies. Its astrological influence comes from Venus.