foxgloves


foxgloves
   In 1870 the naturalist James Britten launched the theory that 'foxglove' means 'glove of the Little Folks' or fairies, since the flower is called 'witches' thimbles' in North Country dialect, and 'fairy's petticoat' in Cheshire. This pretty whimsey has often been repeated, but reference to the Oxford English Dictionary and the English Dialect Dictionary shows it to be nonsense. The word is attested from ad 1000 onwards, always as 'fox-' and never as 'folks-'; there are several other plants with 'fox' in their names; in Norway, the flower is called revbjelde, 'fox-bell'. Nor is there any instance of 'folk' being used without any defining adjective to mean 'fairies'.
   There are few traditions about foxgloves. In north Devon they are said to have sprung up wherever the blood of St Nectan, a locally revered saint, dripped on the ground after he was beheaded; one Staffordshire man stated, in 1917, that 'I don't like them, missus; they mean war. Them foxgloves is soldiers.'
   They are one of the few plants whose curative properties have been tested and accepted by orthodox medicine. A scientist named William Withering was asked, in 1775, to examine a herbal drink used in Shropshire to cure dropsy, and correctly identified foxglove leaves as its most effective ingredient. This led to the scientifically controlled use of digitalin to treat various types of heart disease - although, wrongly used, foxgloves can also cause fatal heart failure.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • foxglove — /foks gluv /, n. any Eurasian plant belonging to the genus Digitalis, of the figwort family, esp. D. purpurea, having drooping, tubular, purple or white flowers on tall spikes, and leaves that are the source of digitalis in medicine. [bef. 1000;… …   Universalium

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  • Nectan of Hartland — There are other historic or legendary persons with the name Nectan. Saint Nectan The Holy Martyr Nectan Born c. 468 AD Wales Died c. 510 AD Newton, Hartland, Devon …   Wikipedia

  • Digitalis purpurea — Foxglove Fox glove , n. [AS. foxes gl[=o]fa, foxes cl[=o]fa,foxes clife.] (Bot.) Any plant of the genus {Digitalis}. The common English foxglove ({Digitalis purpurea}) is a handsome perennial or biennial plant, whose leaves are used as a powerful …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Foxglove — Fox glove , n. [AS. foxes gl[=o]fa, foxes cl[=o]fa,foxes clife.] (Bot.) Any plant of the genus {Digitalis}. The common English foxglove ({Digitalis purpurea}) is a handsome perennial or biennial plant, whose leaves are used as a powerful medicine …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English