Can Foxglove be Absorbed Through the Skin? Understanding the Potential Health Risks

Did you know that Foxglove, a beautiful flowering plant commonly found in gardens, can be lethal if ingested? Perhaps you’ve heard of it being used as a remedy for heart conditions, courtesy of its main extract, digitalis? But did you also know that there’s a possibility that it can be absorbed through the skin? That’s right, the same plant that can help mend a failing heart can also cause serious harm if introduced to the body through the dermis.

Many people who work around foxglove, such as gardeners and florists, know about its risks and the importance of taking proper precautions around it. However, there are still some who might not be aware of the dangers and the ways in which it can impact the body. Some might be tempted to handle it with their bare hands, for instance. It’s essential that people understand just how potent foxglove can be and take the necessary steps to protect themselves.

If you’re curious about how foxglove can be absorbed through the skin and all the different ways it can impact the body, then you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about this powerful plant and the precautions you should be taking when working with it. So buckle up and get ready for an educational and eye-opening journey into the world of foxglove.

Foxglove Plant Characteristics

Foxglove, scientifically known as Digitalis purpurea, is a biennial or perennial plant belonging to the plantain family (Plantaginaceae). This plant is native to Europe, but it can now be found in other parts of the world, including North America and Asia. It has a tall stem that can grow between 3 and 6 feet in height. Foxglove leaves are thick, hairy, and dark green, forming a rosette at the base of the plant. The flowering stem is usually covered with dense, rusty hairs and can produce up to 20 tubular flowers.

  • The flowers come in various colors such as pink, white, yellow, and purple, with dark spots inside the tube.
  • Foxglove blooms between June and September, and their flowers attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
  • It produces numerous seeds that are dispersed by the wind. However, it can also propagate vegetatively by producing new shoots from its roots.

Foxglove prefers well-drained soils and partial shade but can also tolerate full sunlight. It grows in woodlands, meadows, and other areas with moist soils.

How Foxglove is Used in Medicine

Foxglove, also known as Digitalis purpurea, is a flowering plant native to Europe that is widely used in medicine, particularly in the treatment of heart conditions. The active ingredient in foxglove is called digitalis, which is extracted from the leaves of the plant and made into various medications.

  • Digitalis helps to improve the strength and efficiency of the heart, making it a valuable treatment for conditions like atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, and other heart rhythm disorders.
  • It can also help to regulate blood pressure and reduce fluid buildup in the lungs and other tissues, thereby improving overall heart function.
  • In addition, digitalis can be used to treat certain neurological conditions, such as tremors and certain types of seizures.

Despite its effectiveness in treating various conditions, digitalis can be dangerous if not used properly. The therapeutic window for digitalis is quite narrow, meaning that there is a fine line between a therapeutic dose and a toxic one. It is important to work closely with a healthcare provider to determine the appropriate dosage and monitor for any potential side effects or toxicities.

In addition, there is some concern about whether foxglove can be absorbed through the skin. While there have been some cases of people experiencing symptoms like nausea and vomiting after handling the plant, it is generally believed that the risk of systemic toxicity from skin absorption is low. However, it is still important to exercise caution when handling foxglove and to avoid taking any medications or supplements containing digitalis without consulting a healthcare provider.

Medication NameType of DigitalisRoute of Administration
DigoxinPurified cardiac glycosidesOral
DigitoxinPurified cardiac glycosidesOral
DigitekSemi-purified cardiac glycosidesOral

Overall, foxglove and digitalis continue to play an important role in modern medicine, particularly in the treatment of heart conditions. While there are some risks associated with their use, careful monitoring and proper dosing can help to minimize these risks and ensure that patients receive the benefits of these valuable medications.

Can Foxglove Be Toxic If Ingested?

Foxglove (digitalis) is a beautiful and valued garden plant because of its colorful tubular blooms. However, it is also a highly poisonous plant. The leaves of a foxglove contain several toxic compounds, including digitalis glycosides and digitoxin. These chemicals can be lethal if ingested.

  • Different Species, Different Toxicity: While all parts of foxglove are considered toxic, toxicity levels vary. Some species, such as Digitalis lanata, have higher levels of digitalis glycosides, making them more toxic than other foxglove species.
  • Dose Dependency: Foxglove toxicity is dose-dependent, which means even small amounts can cause toxicity. Children are particularly vulnerable, as they are likely to consume large amounts of the plant.
  • Symptoms: Foxglove poisoning can cause a range of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, hallucination, and heart palpitations. In severe cases, it can result in seizures, coma, and even death.

If you suspect that someone has ingested foxglove, seek medical help immediately. The only way to treat foxglove poisoning is to remove the toxin from the body. This can be done through medication or, in severe cases, hemodialysis.

It’s worth noting that foxglove toxicity can also occur through skin contact. Direct contact with the leaves and flowers of the plant can cause dermatitis, and in some cases, the toxic compound can be absorbed through the skin and cause poisoning.

Toxic IngredientToxicity Level
Digitalis GlycosidesHighly toxic
DigitoxinHighly toxic

While foxglove is a beautiful garden plant, it is important to be aware of its toxic properties. Keep it out of reach of children and ensure that you wear gloves when handling it. Always seek medical help if you suspect foxglove poisoning.

Foxglove and Heart Conditions

Foxglove, also known as Digitalis purpurea, is a plant that has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. One of the most common uses of foxglove is to treat heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation and heart failure. However, there is some concern that the active compounds in foxglove, called cardiac glycosides, may be absorbed through the skin and cause harm.

  • Cardiac Glycosides and Their Effect on the Heart
  • The Potential Risks of Absorbing Foxglove Through the Skin
  • Safe Administration of Foxglove for Heart Conditions

Cardiac glycosides such as digoxin and digitoxin found in foxglove work by inhibiting the sodium-potassium ATPase pump in cardiac cells, which increases the concentration of calcium in the cells and leads to increased contractility of the heart muscle. However, cardiac glycosides can be toxic in high doses, leading to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, confusion, and even cardiac arrhythmias.

The potential risks of absorbing foxglove through the skin are not well-defined and may depend on a variety of factors such as the concentration of cardiac glycosides in the plant, the duration and frequency of exposure, and the individual’s skin integrity. It is generally recommended to avoid handling foxglove plants with bare hands and to wear gloves and protective clothing when gardening with them.

If foxglove is prescribed for a heart condition, it is important to follow the dosage and administration instructions carefully to avoid toxicity. It is also recommended to have regular monitoring of blood levels of cardiac glycosides to ensure they are within safe limits.

Dosage Forms of Foxglove for Heart ConditionsRoute of AdministrationBenefits
Digitalis leafOralGradual onset and long duration of action
DigitoxinOral or Intravenous InjectionMore potent than digitalis leaf
DigoxinOral or Intravenous InjectionMore widely used due to easier dosing and monitoring

Overall, foxglove can be a valuable treatment option for heart conditions, but it is important to use it safely and avoid potential harm from absorption through the skin.

The Historical Use of Foxglove as a Poison

Foxglove, also known as Digitalis purpurea, has a long history of use as a poisonous plant. Its toxic properties were first discovered in ancient times, and throughout history, it was both feared and revered for its deadly effects.

In traditional medicine, foxglove was used to treat a range of conditions, including dropsy (edema), epilepsy, and heart disease. It wasn’t until the 18th century that foxglove’s active ingredient, digitalis, was isolated and used to treat heart conditions, but in large doses, digitalis can be fatal.

  • In ancient times, foxglove was used to poison enemies and to execute criminals.
  • In the Middle Ages, it was believed that witches used foxglove to make their potions and cast spells.
  • In the 16th and 17th centuries, foxglove was a popular poison for murder and suicide.

The famous Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus wrote about the toxic properties of foxglove in the 16th century. He experimented with various doses and observed the effects on his patients, noting that small doses could be used medicinally, but larger doses could be deadly.

In the 19th century, foxglove poisoning became a public health concern, as people were using it for medicinal purposes without professional supervision. This led to the development of modern cardiology and the discovery of the therapeutic benefits of digitalis.

Historical UseEffects
Execution of criminalsFatal in large doses
Use by witchesBelieved to have magical powers
Popular poison for murderLethal in large doses

Today, foxglove is still used in medicine to treat certain heart conditions, but it is strictly regulated and must be prescribed by a physician. The toxic properties of foxglove serve as a reminder of the importance of using plants and herbs safely and responsibly.

Foxglove in Gardening and Landscaping

Foxgloves are popular decorative plants in gardening and landscaping due to their striking appearance and ease of cultivation. They are often used as border plants, accent pieces, and in cottage-style gardens. However, it is important to note that foxgloves are toxic plants and should be handled with care.

  • When planting foxgloves in your garden, ensure that they are not accessible to children and pets. Consider planting them in a raised bed or planter box to keep them out of reach.
  • Wear gloves when handling foxgloves to avoid skin contact with the sap or leaves.
  • Do not use foxglove leaves or flowers in any homemade remedies or plant-based medicines unless under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional.

While foxgloves have a lot of visual appeal, it’s crucial to educate yourself about their risks before incorporating them into your garden design.

Here is a table outlining some basic information about the common varieties of foxglove:

VarietyDescriptionToxicity Level
Digitalis purpureaMagenta-purple flowers with white speckles, grows up to 5 feet tallHigh – can cause heart irregularities, nausea, vomiting, and death
Digitalis luteaYellow flowers with maroon markings, grows up to 3 feet tallHigh – can cause heart irregularities, nausea, vomiting, and death
Digitalis grandifloraYellow flowers, grows up to 3 feet tallHigh – can cause heart irregularities, nausea, vomiting, and death

Be sure to do your research and exercise caution when introducing foxgloves into your garden or landscaping plans.

Alternative sources of digitalis, the active ingredient in foxglove

Foxglove is a beautiful ornamental plant that is commonly associated with the production of digitalis. Digitalis is a medication prescribed to treat heart conditions such as congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation. It is composed of several different glycosides, the most important being digoxin.

While foxglove remains the most common source of digitalis, alternative sources do exist. Here are seven alternative sources of digitalis:

  • Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus): This plant can be found in many regions of the world and has traditionally been used to treat respiratory ailments. It contains the cardiac glycosides verbascoside, leucosceptoside A, and the newly discovered verbascosaponin.
  • Strophanthus gratus: The seeds of this African vine are a well-known source of the glycoside ouabain. It has been used for centuries in Africa to treat a variety of ailments, including heart conditions.
  • Digitalis lanata: This plant is a member of the foxglove family but is grown specifically for use in the production of digitalis. It is considered a more potent source of the glycosides compared to the traditional foxglove plant.
  • Acokanthera: The African shrub contains the cardiac glycoside acovenoside which is similar in structure to ouabain. While it is not commonly used in clinical practice, it has been studied as a potential treatment for heart failure.
  • Convallaria majalis: Also known as Lily of the Valley, this plant contains glycosides similar in structure to digoxin. It has traditionally been used to treat heart ailments, but its usage is limited due to the high risk of toxicity.
  • Crataegus laevigata: Also known as Hawthorn, this plant’s leaves, and berries contain glycosides similar in structure to those found in foxglove. It has been traditionally used to treat heart conditions, with some studies suggesting it may be effective in treating mild to moderate heart failure.
  • Digitalis purpurea: This is the traditional foxglove plant used to produce digitalis. The leaves contain the glycosides digoxin and digitoxin. Despite its popularity, there are concerns about its toxicity and limited availability.

While these alternative sources of digitalis exist, it is important to note that their efficacy and safety have not been extensively studied. Patients should always consult with their healthcare provider before using any alternative medications.

Plant NameGlycosides PresentTraditional Usage
Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus)Verbascoside, leucosceptoside A, verbascosaponinTreatment of respiratory ailments
Strophanthus gratusOuabainTreatment of heart conditions
Digitalis lanataDigoxin, digitoxinTreatment of heart conditions
AcokantheraAcovenosideTreatment of heart failure
Convallaria majalisGlycosides similar to digoxinTreatment of heart ailments
Crataegus laevigataGlycosides similar to foxgloveTreatment of heart conditions
Digitalis purpureaDigoxin, digitoxinTreatment of heart conditions

While traditional digitalis remains an important treatment option for heart conditions, the presence of alternative sources expands the possibility of treatment and research for those medications.

Can foxglove be absorbed through the skin?

1. What is foxglove and how it is used?
Foxglove is a flowering plant that is used to make medicine for heart disease treatments. It contains chemicals called cardiac glycosides that can help to strengthen the heart muscle.

2. Can the chemicals in foxglove be absorbed through the skin?
Yes, the chemicals in foxglove can be absorbed through the skin. This is why people who work with foxglove plants or handle the leaves, flowers, or seeds should be very careful.

3. What happens if foxglove is absorbed through the skin?
If foxglove is absorbed through the skin, it can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and irregular heartbeats. In severe cases, it can even cause death.

4. How can I protect myself from foxglove exposure?
To protect yourself from foxglove exposure, wear gloves and other protective clothing when working with the plants. Be careful not to touch your face or mouth while handling foxglove.

5. What should I do if I think I have been exposed to foxglove?
If you think you have been exposed to foxglove, seek medical attention immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to appear, as they may not show up until several hours later.

6. Can foxglove be used safely if handled properly?
Yes, if handled properly, the chemicals in foxglove can be used safely for heart disease treatments. However, it should only be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

7. Are there any other precautions I should take when using foxglove?
Yes, besides wearing protective clothing, you should also be careful about the amount of foxglove you ingest. Overdose can be fatal and should be avoided at all costs.


Thanks for reading our article on whether or not foxglove can be absorbed through the skin. It’s important to take precautions when working with foxglove plants or handling the leaves, flowers, or seeds. If you do think you have been exposed to foxglove, seek medical attention immediately. Always remember to use foxglove under the guidance of a healthcare professional and take the necessary precautions to avoid overdose and stay safe. Visit us again later for more informative articles!