Banks of the River Usk / Llanhamlach, Wales
Walking along the banks of the River Usk last summer, I happened upon these beautiful but deadly digitalis purpurea, otherwise known as Purple Foxglove or Ladysglove. Due to the presence of the cardiac glycoside digitoxin, the leaves, flowers and seeds of this plant are all poisonous to humans and some animals and can be potentially fatal. Extracted from the leaves, this same compound, whose clinical use was pioneered as digitalis by William Withering in the late 1700's, is used as a medication for heart failure causing the heart to beat more strongly. He also recognized that it reduced "dropsy", now known as edema or an abnormal accumulation of fluids beneath the skin. Fortunately, his patients began vomiting violently within minutes of ingestion which prevented "most" of them from consuming a fatal dose.