Foxglove thriving in ditches

Foxglove, fabled in folklore not just for its beauty but also for its medicinal properties, is thriving this summer in the warm and, occasionally, sunny conditions, writes Donal Hickey

It’s growing in profusion along roadsides, especially.

Normally purple, the flower sometimes appears in other colours and a reader from the Dingle Peninsula has contacted us expressing surprise at finding white foxglove in his garden.

In its purple hue, foxglove — believed to be so-called because its flowers are like the fingers of a glove — grows wild but is also an acceptable garden flower when set against a background of other wild plants.

However, breeders have been busy over many years in creating hybrid foxgloves which can be pink, pale yellow and white. The wild species has the flower along the stem while the hybrid has the flower around the stem. Hybrids are more at home in flower beds.

We contacted Liam Flynn, a naturalist in Millstreet, Co Cork, on the Dingle query and his view is that the white foxglove may be an escapee from another garden in the area. “White foxglove is not rare and bees love it for pollination,’’ he says out.

Spreading easily, foxglove is often found on stretches of disturbed ground and cleared forestry. Seeds are produced in large numbers and can be carried in footwear, vehicle wheels, the movement of earth from one place to another or in water flowing down a slope.

In these locations, foxglove plants often fill large areas of ground, taking advantage of the lack of competition to get some flowering and seeding done. If the seeds of white foxglove are scattered, they can keep growing for years.

Like many another plants, foxglove is often mentioned in fairy lore and a number of names for it involve fairies, even a fairy glove.

The plant contains the chemical digitalis, which was used long ago in the treatment of heart problems and other ailments. However, it is poisonous and people are advised not to consume it in any way. Experts tells us it is no longer used as a heart medicine, with a primary reason being there’s so little between the amount that could, supposedly, cure and lethally poison a person.

In his book, Irish Wild Plants, Niall Mac Coitir writes that foxglove was, fadó fadó, considered the king of Irish herbs, but the potentially dangerous power of digitalis led to different reactions to it as a medicine.

“Although foxglove was used in some parts of Ireland for heart troubles, the most common use by far was to make a tea or broth out of it as a cure for colds, sore throats and fevers. Foxglove was also widely used in Ireland as a salve for skin complaints, wounds, lumps and swelling and burns,’’ he wrote.


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