There’s something about the foxglove that commands my attention. It’s literally impossible for me to walk past a foxglove without getting up close to it and giving it all of my attention for however long it demands it. And they deserve that attention, friends. Growing up to six feet tall, foxgloves are hardy bastards, who thrive in acidic soil and can manage just as well in exposed habitats such as sea-cliffs, moorland, and rocky mountain slopes as they can in open woods and hedge banks.
While I’ve always thought them to be beautiful, they’ve also always been, in my eyes, the most sinister of flowers, and rightly so – the foxglove can be extremely poisonous. When I think of the foxglove, I think of witchcraft and Beatrix Potter. Do you remember the Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck? Potter put foxgloves everywhere in that tale.
The foxglove has a long association with witchcraft (I actually have a poem in an anthology called Full Moon & Foxglove) and I adore its alternative names of Witches’ Gloves and Witch’s Thimble. Other names that the foxglove goes by include Dead Man’s Bells (my overall favourite), Bloody Fingers, Goblin Gloves, and Fairy Weed. The name Dead Man’s Bells is supposed to warn people of the foxglove’s poisonous nature.
One legend that I encountered that I need to tell you about – and after you’ll never look at foxgloves the same – is Scandinavian in origin and says that once upon a time, fairies taught foxes to ring the bells of the foxglove to warn each other of approaching hunters.
An old saying about the foxglove that’s now imprinted on my brain is: ‘It can raise the dead and kill the living.’ I want to look more into that ‘it can raise the dead…’ part.
In the Scottish borders, foxgloves leaves used to be put around babies’ cradles to protect them from bewitchment. In the North of England though, it’s been said that having foxglove flowers in the house can let the devil have entrance. To say I’m tempted to fill a big vase is an understatement…