Foxglove needs care

During a recent camping trip, my niece came in contact with a plant called foxglove. A park ranger saw her handling the plant and called paramedics. I learned later this is a poisonous plant and quite common in the area, even in gardens and flower arrangements. What can you tell me about it?

— Sarah C., Medford

A basic Google search will tell you a lot about foxglove, scientifically known as Digitalis purpurea and lanata.

Foxglove appears on Oregon Health & Science University's "very bad" or highly poisonous plant list. The plant has been called "witches' glove," "dead man's bells" and "bloody fingers." Some varieties of digitalis can be professionally administered for medicinal purposes.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, ingesting any part of the plant can cause severe symptoms, including dizziness, vomiting, irregular heart beat, low blood pressure and delirium. A Web search also brought up a few fatalities, including one in which a child drank water out of vase containing foxglove and one in which the leaf was mistakenly used in a tea.

Luckily for your niece, the park ranger knew the plant well enough to advise your niece to immediately see a doctor.

Bob Reynolds, coordinator of the Jackson County Master Gardener program, said he doesn't believe the plant is dermally toxic.

"I've planted, dug up and cut up lots and lots of foxgloves over the years with no negative impact," he says.

"This isn't a plant you want your children to pick up and take a bite out of," he says. "You want to have positive identification before you start eating things in the wild. There are things out there that will kill you."

Share This Story