Foxglove & Fennel
Foxglove & Fennel
Digitalis is a genus of about 20 species of herbaceous perennials, shrubs, and biennials commonly called foxgloves. The name Foxglove may derive from the Old English foxes glōfa or fox's glove, but it may derive from fox's 'glew' or music, from the Anglo-Saxon word gliew. This referred to an instrument comprising a ring of bells on an arched support. It has popular names connecting it with fairies, like Fairy Bells, Fairy Cap, Fairy Hat and Fairy's Thimble. Another cluster of names relate to fingers, like Finger Cap, Finger Hut and Fingers and Thumbs. Some have been made Christian and respectable: Lady's Glove, Virgin's Finger and the finger theme was made botanically reputable in the generic name Digitalis. It is a native plant and often dominant in clearings and burnt areas in woods on light dry soils. It is important medicinally as its leaves contain dixitoxin, the basis of the heart drug digitalis. This stimulates the heart to beat faster and stronger maintaining blood pressure at a proper level. This prevents plasma leakage and makes the kidneys work more efficiently. Gerard (1) declared foxgloves 'are of no use, neither have they any place amongst medicine, according to the Antients', their use was recommended for dropsy by the sixteenth century. Digitalis was not confirmed until the end of the eighteenth century by Dr William Withering (2), who sent some seeds to a colleague in the U.S.A. where it is now naturalised. It is still used medicinally - it is cheaper to grow foxgloves than to synthesise digitoxin - but we now understand how it affects the working of the heart. Grigson (3) reproduces a woodcut of this species from Fuchs' (4) De Historia Stirpium (1542) and Blunt (5) reproduces - a watercolour by Giacomo Ligozzi (6) (1568), which he describes as a most careful piece of observation and modern in feeling.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a flowering plant species in the carrot family, a hardy perennial herb with yellow flowers and feathery leaves. It is indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean but has become widely naturalized in many parts of the world, especially on dry soils near the sea-coast and on riverbanks. It has become naturalised in Britain. It occurs mainly around the coast of the southern half of England and Wales, on sea-cliffs. The plant has a strong and quite characteristic scent and is used in cookery. Fennel sauce is recommended for fish. Medicinally the fruits are stimulative and carminative and can be added to other medicines for flavouring and carminative effects. Fennel is a plant on which caterpillars of the Swallowtail butterfly will feed. The females normally only lay their eggs on the Hog's Fennel (Peucedanum palustre), a localised species the Norfolk Broads, the last stronghold for this insect. Enid Porter (7) and George Ewart Evans (8) quote horsemen's recipes for catching wild colts using a piece of gingerbread scented with Oil of Fennel. The latter inspired a pony breeder in Scotland to try it who found it to work.
(1) Gerard, John (c 1545-1612) botanist and herbalist, Great Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes, 1597;
(2) Withering, William FRS (1741–1799) botanist, geologist, chemist, physician, discoverer of digitalis.
(3) Grigson, Geoffrey (1905-1985) anthologist and naturalist, The Englishman's Flora, London, 1955;
(4) Fuchs Leonhart (1501–1566) German physician and botanist, De Historia Stirpium Commentarii Insignes (Notable commentaries on the history of plants), Basel, 1542;
(5) Blunt, Wilfred (1901-1987) teacher, artist, author, The Art of Botanical Illustration. London, 1950;
(6) Ligozzi, Jacopo (1547–1627) Italian painter, illustrator, designer, and miniaturist, Digitalis purpurea / Papilio Pa– phia, Uffizi, Gabinetto di Stampe e Disegni, Florence;
(7) Porter, Enid (1909-1984) Cambridgeshire author and curator, Notebooks;
(8) Evans, George Ewart (1909-1988) schoolteacher, writer and folklorist, The Horse in the Furrow, 1960;