One to watch out for

28th February 2013

To the novice this emerging plant doesn’t look too dis-similar to the young Burdock featured in yesterday’s blog.

However eating this one is certainly not advised, this is Foxglove Digitalis purpurea.

Foxglove Digitalis purpurea

When both plants mature the differences become more obvious, but the very young plants like this look superficially similar.  If you are simply after Burdock roots there is not much to worry about as Burdock has a significant sized tap root which would make pulling it up almost impossible especially on a second year plant, whereas Foxglove has thin spidery roots and can be pulled up easily.  The only real risk comes if you are gathering Burdock to eat the young leaves which I personally find disgusting and inedible but are described in some sources as being edible.  If you compare the two plants, there are distinct differences. Foxglove has a toothed edge to the leaf whereas Burdock has a wavy edge. The pale leaf veins are more obvious in Burdock, and in they have the silvery looking underside and the purple tinged stems.  If in doubt….try pulling it up.  On top of this Foxglove is incredibly bitter so is unlikely to be ingested.

There are several toxic cardiac glycosides present in the plant including digoxin and digitoxin which are not broken down by drying or cooking. Human poisoning has occurred in the past, usually when the plant has been mistaken for another plant called Comfrey Symphytum officinale which was considered edible in the past but now is no longer recommended as it contains carcinogenic pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

The glycosides in Foxglove are used pharmaceutically in the treatment of certain heart disorders. Excessive use of the drugs can lead to visual disturbances such as yellow halos, and apparently the over use of yellow in many of Van Gogh’s later paintings can be attributed to him having been taking digitalis.

Quite bizzarely, if an overdose of digitalis is taken, one antidote is Atropine a toxic alkaloid obtained from Deadly Nightshade Atropis belladonna!

Kev Palmer



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