Foxglove is a native of Europe. It was first known by the Anglo-Saxon name foxes glofa (the glove of the fox),
because its flowers look like the fingers of a glove. This name is also thought to be related to a northern
legend that bad fairies gave the blossoms to the fox to put on his toes, so that he could muffle his
footfalls while he hunted for prey. The legend may account in part for some of the common names of digitalis:
dead man's bells, fairy finger, fairy bells, fairy thimbles, fairy cap, ladies' thimble, lady-finger,
rabbit's flower, throatwort, flapdock, flopdock, lion's mouth, and Scotch mercury.
Foxglove was originally used for congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation
(chaotic contractions across the atrium of the heart). Foxglove helps the muscles of the heart to contract,
reduces the frequency of heartbeats, and lowers the amount of oxygen the heart needs to work.
The cardiac glycosides in foxglove block an enzyme that regulates the heart's electrical activity.
The dried leaves, ripe dried seeds, and fresh leaves of the one-year-old plant, or the leaves of the
two-year old plant are the parts that were used in medicine.
In spite of its use in the past, foxglove has been largely replaced as a heart medicine by standardized
pharmaceutical preparations because it is one of the most dangerous medicinal plants in the world.
Foxglove is, in fact, a useful example of the importance of standardization in testing the efficacy
and possible toxicity of present-day popular herbal medicines. Its sap, flowers, seeds, and leaves are
all poisonous; the leaves, even when dried, contain the largest amount of cardiac glycosides.
The upper leaves of the stem are more dangerous than the lower leaves. Foxglove is most toxic
just before the seeds ripen. It tastes spicy hot or bitter and smells slightly bad.
In 1775, William Withering, an English doctor, first discovered the accepted medicinal use of foxglove. He identified
digitalis as a treatment for swelling or edema associated with congestive heart failure.
Withering published a paper in 1785 that is considered a classic in the medical literature.
Foxglove was used to treat heart disease during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
fern - Any of numerous flowerless, seedless vascular plants having roots, stems, and fronds and reproducing by spores.
Any of about 10,000 – 12,000 species (division Filicophyta) of nonflowering vascular plants that have true roots,
stems, and complex leaves and reproduce by spores. Though ferns were once classified with the primitive horsetails
and club mosses, botanists have since made a clear distinction between the scalelike, one-veined leaves of those
plants and the more complexly veined fronds of the ferns, which are more closely related to the leaves of seed plants.
Ferns come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. Many are small, fragile plants; others are treelike (see tree fern).
The life cycle is characterized by an alternation of generations between the mature, fronded form (the sporophyte)
familiar in greenhouses and gardens and the form that strongly resembles a moss or liverwort (the gametophyte).
Ferns are popular houseplants.
The majority of the common living ferns are members of the polypody family (Polypodiaceae), usually characterized
by the familiar triangular fronds subdivided into many leaflets (pinnae) and smaller pinnules. A popular house fern,
a drooping-leaved variety of Nephrolepis exaltata, a tropical sword fern, is called the Boston fern (var. bostoniensis)
because it was first found in a shipment of sword ferns received in Boston. The maidenhair ferns (Adiantum), with a
few species native to North America, were formerly used as a cure for respiratory ailments. The Brazilian A.
cuneatum and its numerous varieties are now the major greenhouse ferns in North America. The most familiar of all
woodland ferns, found the world over, is Pteridium aquilinum, the common bracken, or brake (names also applied to other
similar ferns, especially species of Pteris). Other North American woodland ferns include the Christmas fern
(Polystichum acrostichoides), a dark-green evergreen plant; the walking fern (Camptosorus rhizophyllus), native to
limestone areas and named for its characteristic vegetative reproduction, in which new plantlets root from the tips
of the elongated fronds; and the common polypody (Polypodium vulgare), called also wall, or boulder, fern, a low,
matted plant that is the most common of the rock-inhabiting ferns. Also included in the polypody family are many of
the mostly tropical fern epiphytes. Some ferns of other families are aquatic; among the better known genera are
Marsilea and Salvinia, cultivated in aquariums. The adder's-tongue ferns (Ophioglossum) and rattlesnake ferns
(Botrychium) belong to the most primitive fern family (Ophioglossaceae) and bear sporangia not in sori but in
spikes arising from the leaves. Dicksonia, Cibotium, and Cyathea are the tree fern genera most frequently seen
in greenhouses and conservatories.
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