Favorite English Garden Bee Plants – Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Mourn, little harebells, o’er the lea; Ye stately foxgloves fair to see! Ye woodbines, hanging bonnilie In scented bowers! Ye roses on your thorny tree The first o’ flow’rs.    

 by Robert Burns  (January 25, 1759 – July 21, 1796)

To me, this is the classic cottage garden flower. I am obsessed with it.

This plant got the name “Folk’s Glove” for the Folk who live in the woods, where it likes to grow.  A visionary plant that is one of the baneful herbs, this perennial woodland plant is of Saturn and associated with the Underworld, although some consider it a Venus herb.

It has long been a staple of a witch’s garden and was grown in medieval gardens as well.  The juice of this magick herb is ritually collected and put in the center of a ritual circle in order to commune with Faeries (don’t let the juice touch your skin, as it is quite poisonous.)

You can also plant it by your door to invite the Faery in or carry a sprig to attract Faery protection.

All kinds of bees, from honey bees to bumble bees to mason bees, love this flower; the spots show them where the nectar is. The ruby-throated hummingbird likes this plant too.

Although now this flower family is famous for providing heart medicine, in pre-modern times the leaves were made into a poultice for wounds and sores (however, even a poultice of the leaves can be fatal).

This plant is so poisonous that ingesting only .5 gram dried or 2 grams of fresh leaf is enough to kill a person, but it is very bitter, so ingestion is very unlikely; almost all poisonings from digitalis are due to medical administration of the alkaloid in pill form. Still, be careful when handling and do not breathe the smoke.

For the least amount of alkaloids, a) grow it in the shade, b) harvest in the fall, after the plant has made seeds, and c) take the lowest leaves on the plant. Digitalis purpurea that has white or light pink flowers is less poisonous than if it has dark pink or purple flowers. This classic cottage garden plant is also known as Witches’ Gloves, Dead Men’s Bells, Fairy’s Glove, Gloves of Our Lady, Bloody Fingers, Virgin’s Glove, Fairy Caps, Folk’s Glove, and Fairy Thimbles.


6 thoughts on “Favorite English Garden Bee Plants – Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

  1. Emily Heath says:

    I like to imagine the foxes dancing amongst it, a flower on each paw 🙂

  2. Loving your posts. So informative. We have a classic cottage garden in half of the front yard. I’d love to add some digitalis but a bit nervous about all the cats and dogs (and me) accidentally gettig poisoned!

  3. oooh, I just love all the folklore stuff you pack your posts with… – so juicy… – in appreciation – Neinah

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