Wednesday 10 July 2013

Foxgloves: Mystery and Magic in an English Garden

The sight of foxgloves growing in an English country garden always make me think of murder - and I suspect the same is true for anyone who enjoys the odd Agatha Christie.

The classic whodunnit writer loved popping off her victims with poison and, although cyanide was her top toxic tipple, digitalin - from the foxglove's Latin name digitalis - was still a firm favourite.

As murder mystery lovers will also know, extracts from foxgloves were at one time commonly used to treat heart conditions but, unless the dose was exactly right, could prove deadly.

However harmful foxgloves might be to humans and animals, they are life-savers for honey bees. The long, bell-like flowers evolved to guide bees in to collect the nectar and pollen, and also provide a safe haven for small insects in bad weather. Not only are they sheltered in little purple sleeping bags, they know other animals are unlikely to take a nibble on the toxic plant.

Magically, foxgloves are a plant of protection according to Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Grow them in your garden to ward off unwanted influences.

Other names for foxgloves include Witches' Gloves, Dead Men's Bells and Fairy's Glove or Fairy Thimbles. According to superstitions, foxgloves are much loved by fairies, who use them as clothing - and according to some tales make magical gloves out of them that allow the wearer to sneak into human dwellings undetected. Apparently they even give these gloves to foxes to help them raid barns and chicken coops, and that is one of the suggestions behind the plant's name.

Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs.


Hilde said...

We've got lots of foxgloves at Westacre. Alex's mum used to love them. A couple are growing in the veg patch, but they are failing to ward off the unwanted influence of greedy slugs...

Badwitch said...

They don't deter slugs or snails in my garden either.

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