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Figworts, Foxgloves and Fairies.

Updated on August 6, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

Figwort's and foxglove's belong to the Schrophulariaceae family of plants, indeed theGenus name of the figwort is Schrophula {nodosa}. Members of this family were used to cure scrofula hence the family name This species was used against many other ailments. {see Medicinal uses below.}

Figwort flowers

The flowers of figwort are rather insignificant for the size of the plant. Photograph courtesy of Topjabot.
The flowers of figwort are rather insignificant for the size of the plant. Photograph courtesy of Topjabot.

Basic Biology of the Common Figwort.

The common figwort is a tall erect perennial which can attain the height of 2 meters but about a meter is more the norm. They have rectangular stems which possess glandular hairs. The leaves are borne opposite, short stalked, oval, pointed tips and coarsely toothed.

The flowers are of a greenish or purplish brown colour borne on branched inflorescences. The calyx has short lobes with membranous margins. The corolla is inflated 5-6mm long with a purple upper lip and shorter lower lip. They flower from the beginning of June until the end of July.

Medicinal Uses of the Common Figwort

In Homepathy it is used to treat scrofula swollen glands and eczema. {Scrofula -tuberculosis of the lymph and neck glands}

This plant that is native to Europe, Central Asia and north America may be encountered in wet and damp places in open woodland, on river banks and along ditches. It has been used as as mentioned to treat the symptoms of scrofula once known in England as the King's Evil, and many other afflictions. The taste and smell of the plant are somewhat unpleasant. It was once seed as a purgative to cleanse the stomach but this has been discontinued as the affects were dangerous.

The aerial parts, mainly the foliage, were employed as infusions. As a compress the infusion was soaked into a pad and applied to swellings, wounds and ulcers. Also in the form of a lotion it was dabbed onto eczema, skin inflammations and fungal infections.

A decoction of the root was used for throat problems including tonsillitis.

The figwort is not recommended for home made preparations unless for external use as the plant is poisonous.


the common foxglove. Photograph by D.A.L.
the common foxglove. Photograph by D.A.L.

Foxglove Digitalis Purpurea

Whats in a name ? Foxglove!-----The name of foxglove is so familiar to us that t is seldom asked why so ? A glove for foxes ?. One explanation tells of how witches put the bell shaped flowers upon the feet of foxes so that they could carry out their cunning deeds in complete silence. Charming though this though might be it is an unlikely source.

In Norway it is known as fox's bell which was said to provide the animal with music as began his nocturnal wanderings. The flower has long been associated with fairies. They were said to use the flowers as bonnets or hats. The tiniest of the little folk were said to live in the flower which was said to fit them like a glove -Folks glove.

The Anglo-Saxons knew the plant as foxes gliew, they thought that the flowers hanging from the slightly arched stems had a superficial resemblance to the ancient instrument which had bells attached to a stick which was known as a gliew. Pictures of medieval court jesters are often depicted with them holding these instruments.Fox being a latter day corruption of folk. I rather think the latter explanation to be the more likely origin of the name. Marks on the flowers are said to be where elves have touched the blooms.

Components of the Foxglove

components of the foxglove.
components of the foxglove.

Basic Biology of the Foxglove.

Digitalis purpurea, the wild foxglove is a biennial, growing the large basal leaves in the first year and the majestic spires of flowers in the second year.The stems are erect covered with grey felt like hairs which diminish near the base. The leaves are green, oval to lancelolate, toothed the lower ones stalked forming a rosette. The upper leaves {which occur in the second year with the flowering stem} are stalk-less. The lower leaves taper to winged stalks that run a little down the stem. They are sometimes mistaken with those of the common comfrey{see my hub-, COMFREY }, the latter lacks the downy hairs found on the foliage of Foxglove.

FLOWERS---the flowers are bell shaped and tubular and are the plants main attraction, making it a favourite with gardeners. In the common species the flowers are crimson purple above paler beneath, the lower lip being furnished with numerous spots and markings which enhance the flowers beauty. The colour of the flowers and the markings varies greatly in cultivated varieties some of which can boast almost pure white flowers. The flowers are greatly visited by bumble bees and other insects. There are nocturnal visits by moths such as the foxglove pug moth.

The flowers as the photograph conveys open from the bottom working up the stem. Each flower lasting for about a week or so.

Cultivated varieties

cultivated varieties such as this in my garden have beautiful colours. Photograph by D.A.L.
cultivated varieties such as this in my garden have beautiful colours. Photograph by D.A.L.

Medicinal Uses.

The drug Digitalin is extracted from the foliage just before they flower in their second year and was the main ingredient of tablets that regulate the heart beat and other heart functions. It has saved or improved many lives through its actions, when administered by doctors in tiny amounts.

However, the foxglove is very poisonous and should never be used in home made medicines and should NEVER be taken internally. Indeed it is recommended that gardeners should wash their hands after touching  foxgloves. Foxglove foliage as previously mentioned has often been confused with the common comfrey foliage with fatal results.

So let us admire the figworts, foxgloves and indeed fairies for what they are -beautiful things to look at and admire.


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    • Eileen Goodall profile image

      Eileen Goodall 

      6 years ago from Buckinghamshire, England

      What a truly beautiful array of photos, great hub, thanks for sharing.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Lancashire north west England


    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Joy56, waiting in anticipation. Thank you for another visit.

    • Joy56 profile image


      8 years ago

      i can of course, i am just back to be inspired again, i must write a poem about foxgloves. They are poetic just to look at and a fairy placed on one would look lovely, you have given me much inspiration thanks.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Joy56, thank you, can you not feel a poem coming on about the foxglove and fairies.

    • Joy56 profile image


      8 years ago

      The foxglove is a beautiful flower. I use Joanna Sheenes, Country Diary Of An Edwardiand Lady, c.d. to make beautiful cards, her image of the foxglove is awesome. Thanks for your in depth enlightenment on this subject.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Darski glad you enjoyed this one too. Your comments are also beautiful and always welcomed. Your fan and friend D.A.L.

      loriamoore nice to meet you. In days gone by wild flora was the main source of food and medicine. Thank you for visiting and for taking the time to comment.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Darski glad you enjoyed this one too. Your comments are also beautiful and always welcomed. Your fan and friend D.A.L.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      It's amazing what other uses there are for flowers other than just being pretty.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      8 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      What fabulous photos, and such a beautiful flower, the colors are a perfect pallet. You have the skill of a master, in your writing, photo's and knowledge of nature with love and passion. rate high, and all the above


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