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  • shayngrant

A Foxglove Summer

Every year, I find, there is a plant that steps forward to be noticed. This year,  it is Foxglove.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurpea) is blooming everywhere at the moment. She stands tall, and her purple flowers attract the buzziest of pollinators, so that each wild patch hums. I love watching the bees as they immerse their entire bodies into the flower. I wonder how delicious that must feel, being in a cocoon of petal, rolling around in pollen.

I was lucky enough to write an essay about Foxglove’s role in the development of the pharmaceutical digoxin, which is still used today. The leaf of the variety we see blooming around us in June was used by a healer in Shropshire in the late 1700s. She was treating “dropsy” or oedema, one of the symptoms of heart failure. Thus, the story goes, a man and scientist got hold of the recipe, and conducted what we now understand as human clinical trials to determine Foxglove’s efficacy. He clearly observed how the leaf is particularly effective at treating heart failure and atrial fibrillation. And, importantly, at what point it becomes a lethal poison to the body.  It was used in leaf form as a medicine by doctors until the mid 1900s, until the switch to the synthesised isolated compound.

I think of Foxglove’s story for many reasons. I think of how long and successfully it had been used by wise women before they were forgotten in the story of medicine. I think of how a skilled healer knows how to turn poisons into medicine. I think of how, actually, using a whole plant was once preferred even in the male dominated medical system for over a hundred years. I think of the power of “poisons” and how they are always so beautiful and alluring.

But lately, I’ve been thinking about hearts. About a world in the throws of grief and inhumanity. About the failure of the heart. About its re-awakening. About how, maybe, what we need is the powerful medicine. How the poison path is one of walking with care and bravery and shadow work and dancing with the deep, neglected, frightening parts of the self. How confronting, really, it is to open up to deep love and deep feeling.

This is the work we have to do. And the plants remind us how beautiful it is.

(Do not ever ingest Foxglove unless in the form of a homeopathic flower essence).

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