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The foxglove (digitalis) is really pretty to look at when it's in bloom. It prefers to grow quite luxuriantly in sparse forests. However, in recent years it has also become a popular ornamental plant. Therefore, the decorative plants have already become at home in many gardens. Especially when they are in bloom, they enchant with their foxglove-like flowers in crimson, white or yellow. Care must be taken when handling these plants, however, as they are as dangerous as they are beautiful.

Poisonous plant of the year 2007

The most common representative of the plantain family in this country is the "red foxglove" (Digitalis purpurea). This is a biennial plant. In the first year, alternate, ovate to lanceolate basal leaves with a notched leaf edge only appear in a rosette on the ground. They can reach a length of up to 20 centimeters and have felty gray hairs on the underside of the leaves.

Only in the second year does a flower stem up to 150 centimeters high with alternate leaves grow from the rosette of leaves. Between June and August, bell-shaped tubular flowers appear at the end of the stem, which are held together in a raceme. The flower color ranges from purple to white to yellow. Countless fine black seeds are formed in the flower capsules. In order to avoid self-seeding, this should be removed before maturity, otherwise the plants can become wild very quickly.

Even if these decorative plants are a real eye-catcher in the garden planted individually or in groups, they have it all. All parts of the plant are highly toxic not only to humans, but also to dogs, cats and other animals. In 2007, the foxglove was therefore voted poisonous plant of the year.

Notice: Due to the similarity of the leaves, there is a risk of confusion with borage and comfrey. The mullein also has some common characteristics before flowering.

Leaves most poisonous

All parts of the foxglove are poisonous. However, the highest concentration of toxins is found in the stems and leaves. It does not mean that the seeds and flowers are any less dangerous to health. Toxic substances are also present here. In any case, consumption can have a fatal effect.

Mainly digitalis and digitoxin are contained in all parts of the plant. These toxins interfere with the rhythm of the heart. Depending on the dose taken, cardiac arrest and, in the worst case, death can occur more or less quickly.

The concentration of toxins in the individual parts of the plant varies depending on the time of day and the season. The values can fluctuate between 0.1 and 1.0 percent, with the concentration being much higher in the afternoon than in the morning.

Notice: Although the leaves are poisonous, they are used externally in poultices to promote wound healing.

Small dose sufficient

The poisonous thimble must always be handled with care. Even touching the plant with your bare hands can quickly lead to skin irritation. It is therefore advisable to wear gloves when working with these plants. Of course, the consumption of individual parts of the plant must also be strongly discouraged. Since they are all toxic, depending on the amount of toxins ingested, milder poisoning and, in the worst case, death can occur.

In an adult, eating as little as 2.5 grams of leaves can be deadly. In other words, two leaves of a thimble are enough to die of cardiac arrest. A very small dosage is sufficient for children and babies. The flowers and leaves pose a special danger, especially for children. They can quickly be put in the mouth while playing. There is also a risk from bees or bumblebees, which like to cavort in the flowers.

Toxic to animals

The thimble can be deadly not only for humans, but also for cats, dogs and other animals such as hamsters, rabbits, birds and horses. So can already

  • in horses 25 grams of dried or 100 to 200 grams of fresh leaves and
  • for large dogs 5 grams of dried leaves

lead to death. Sometimes poisoning by digitalis is usually recognized too late, so that any help comes too late. Therefore, the animals should always be closely observed so that the veterinarian should be consulted immediately at the first noticeable signs.

Notice: Foxglove poison is not fatal to all animals. Bumblebees, bees, butterflies and wasps are immune to digitalis glycosides. They prefer to visit the flowers of these plants and love the nectar.

early detection of poisoning

Depending on the amount of poison ingested, mild poisoning or death can result. It is therefore absolutely important to pay attention to symptoms that occur after contact with digitalis. These can be

  • nausea and vomiting
  • bloody, watery diarrhea
  • blurred vision and staggering
  • drowsiness and hallucinations
  • pale, irritated mucous membranes
  • tremors and signs of paralysis

These signs can indicate digitalis poisoning, but they also occur with other poisonings. A reduced pulse rate below 50 beats per minute is also typical for poisoning by the poison of the foxglove. This can then suddenly drop to 20 pulse beats per minute. At the same time, blood pressure rises. Eventually, cardiac arrhythmia occurs and, without medical attention, death from cardiac arrest is inevitable.

A doctor should be consulted at the first sign. This applies to humans and animals. At this moment every minute decides between life and death. In the event of vomiting, this should be taken with you, as well as any plant parts if possible. As first aid on site, the affected person should be given plenty of fluids in the form of water.

Tip: If small children and pets live in the household, they should be denied free access to foxglove plants. It is best to banish these plants from the home garden.

Digitalis as medicine

Even in ancient times people knew about the poisonous but also healing effects of the thimble. At that time it was known as "Frairie's Herb". It was used to treat so-called "bewitched" children, which usually ended fatally. Later in the Middle Ages it was used as an emetic and laxative, sometimes with fatal consequences. It was not until 1786 that William Withering, a Scot, finally discovered the heart-strengthening effect.

Today, the foxglove is mainly used in the manufacture of medicinal digitalis preparations by isolating the toxic digitalis glycosides. Although digitalis is toxic, it is also tonic and heart-strengthening. When used, the heart muscle is strengthened and the heartbeat is influenced. Areas of application are included

  • angina pectoris
  • cardiac insufficiency
  • cardiac arrhythmias and
  • tachycardia

Such drugs may only be taken under medical supervision. You should strictly refrain from trying it yourself, because precise dosing is quite difficult. The boundary between a healing and a deadly effect is very narrow here.

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