| Purple Foxglove |
| Digitalis purpurea|
| Uses: Medicinal/Poisonous!
|| Duration: Biennial (hardy in zones 4-9) |
| When to Sow: Spring/Late Summer/Early Fall
|| Ease of Germination: Easy |
Lovely spikes of purple, pink and white bells freckled inside with little spots decorate this traditional inhabitant of the cottage garden. It is hard to overrate the attractiveness of this plant in the cottage garden, where it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, blooming from early to mid-summer. Deceptively charming, purple foxglove is an extraordinarily potent herb. All parts of the plant are toxic with high amounts of cardioactive glycosides, and it should be handled with gloves. Once used medicinally to treat congestive heart failure, known by the now-forgotten name of “dropsy,” the plant is no longer used by herbalists because of its extreme toxicity. In 1775 English physician William Withering noticed that folk remedies containing foxglove were useful against dropsy, but had an alarming tendency to easily sicken or even kill the patient. His subsequent ten-year study of the plant made him the inventor of modern clinical pharmacology and gave us the drug digitalis. Nowadays foxglove is safely enjoyed by the home gardener as an ornamental, gracing the back of the mixed border with its tall spikes and pastel blooms. It prefers a rich, well-drained soil and sun to part shade. It may develop crown rot if planted in a wet location. Deadheading will encourage rebloom, and restrain it from spreading its seed and popping up as a lovely but very unwelcome guest in pastures and hayfields. Biennial, blooming in the second summer after it is seeded, it is attractive as a cut flower. Providing us with lifesaving medications and beauty in the garden, purple foxglove is a truly fascinating plant, worthy of our respect and continued investigation.