Grecian foxglove, botanically known as digitalis lanata, is a beautiful, short-lived perennial or biennial flowering plant. It is native to Europe and was brought to the US as an ornamental herb due to its beautiful blossoms that are ideal for the cut flower industry.
[Note: The Right Flowers is not a medical site. Knowledge of and information about the therapeutic benefits and applications of flowers, while known through the ages, does not constitute medical advice. If you are having health issues, you should consult with a physician.]
The plant looks similar to garden foxglove (digitalis purpurea), however, you can distinguish it from the latter by the wool-like hair on its sepals and stems. In addition, grecian foxglove has green petals surrounding the flower bud as well as multi-colored blossoms unlike its cousin, the garden foxglove.
Between June and July, grecian foxglove produces flowers which occur on an erect, unbranched stalk. The white to pale yellow flowers are tightly arranged along a spike-like raceme and face different directions.
Grecian foxglove’s genus, digitalis, comprise of more than 20 species. All the plants in the genus contain cardiac glycosides known as digitalin (digoxin) and digitoxin. These cardiotonic substances are toxic in large quantities but beneficial for people with heart problems in small quantities.
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According to a report published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, William Withering, an English physician, is credited with the first recorded use of foxglove extracts derived from digitalis purpurea to treat edema. This is a condition closely linked to cardiovascular problems.
Withering’s curiosity was inspired by reports of a cure for edema, commonly known as dropsy then. The cure was said to be a highly guarded secret held by an old woman living in Shropshire. The cure was said to have succeeded where other treatments for the condition failed.
Basically, the cardiac glycosides that are used to treat heart conditions are extracted from any part of grecian foxglove. These compounds have been shown to be highly effective in atrioventricular conduction which effectively slows down the heartbeat but mildly increases its contracting ability. The enhanced circulation in congestive heart failure resulting from fast atrial fibrillation helps the kidneys to function better and stimulates urine flow. This has the effect of reducing the blood volume which has the effect of taking off the strain from the heart.
To date, Grecian foxglove is still used to produce digitoxin as synthetic digitoxin is very expensive and not considered viable. Apart from Grecian foxglove, digitoxin is also obtained from its close cousin, garden foxglove. Grecian foxglove is not only used for treating heart conditions, but the plant is also good for treating insomnia, alleviating asthma symptoms and treating burns as well as wounds.
While there are possibilities of new drugs for treating heart conditions emerging and replacing the grecian foxglove, this plant will always occupy an esteemed place in the medical world.